NEW YORK — Maybe it was the hostess’ occasionally high school humor or all the throwback music, but Katie Couric’s National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance benefit left some guests feeling lighter than their years.

The honoree of last Wednesday night’s event, Carmen Marc Valvo, a cancer survivor and research advocate, told the crowd he was concerned about how to accept the award “without any idle chatter about his derrière.” He urged attendees to be screened and praised Couric, whose husband, Jay Monahan, died eight years ago from colon cancer, for educating the public about the disease.

The five hour-plus extravaganza at the Waldorf-Astoria, “Hollywood Meets Motown,” featured performances by Tony Bennett, John Legend, Mary J. Blige, Chaka Kahn, Nile Rodgers, Smokey Robinson and others. The event raised more than $4 million for the cause.

Before the party started, a few among the 1,500-plus crowd were touchy-feely for other reasons. Relaxed and sun-bronzed, outgoing “60 Minutes” correspondent Mike Wallace and his wife, Mary, were greeted by a stream of well-wishers. Among those first in line were Maury Povich and his wife, Connie Chung, who complimented Wallace on the New York Times article announcing his decision to scale back his workload.

“You know what the best part was? It sent me looking for the dictionary,” Povich said.

“That’s good. Was it ‘appurtenances’?” laughed Wallace.

“I’d never seen your feet before,” Chung said, referring to the photo of a barefoot Wallace that ran with the article.

Dressed in a sleeveless Sixties-inspired pale pink Carmen Marc Valvo dress, Couric told the designer’s gang, “I’m wearing industrial strength Spanx,” slapping her stomach.

Asked if the media makes too much of Couric’s on-air appearance, Gloria Steinem said, “It’s ridiculous. First of all, what she has most is trust, which is what Walter Cronkite had. The idea that people write about bare legs and high heels and they don’t wrote about men’s toupees is just…”

Blige, who was wearing one of Valvo’s strapless brown dresses and a fur shrug, said she is ironing out plans for “dressy, dressy couture” and sportswear collections, but was short on the particulars. “I already know who I want to do it with. Trust me. It’s going to happen.”

This story first appeared in the March 21, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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