Kirk Douglas doesn’t turn 100 years old until December 9th, but he got an early birthday celebration and a huge cake from the industry at last night’s 95th Anniversary show for the Motion Picture & Television Fund at the MPTF Wasserman Campus in Woodland Hills. It was an irony lost on no one that perhaps the most celebrated member of the audience was actually five years older than this venerable organization which has, as they like to say, been “taking care of our own” for nearly a century.
Introduced by host George Clooney, Kirk’s son, Michael, led the crowd of movie industry heavyweights in singing Happy Birthday to his dad, who was sitting in the front row with wife Anne. He mentioned that in a career that included 75 movies, his father has never made a sequel which in this day and age counts as shocking, but during Douglas’ prime time was the norm. “There was no Spartacus 2, no 8 Days In May, no Another Gunfight At The OK Corral,” he laughed. The elder Douglas took the mike and told the crowd he’d always hoped his son would be “a doctor or a lawyer. But seeing him tonight, he’s a pretty good actor.”
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Kirk also amusingly reeled off a list of current top stars, including Jennifer Lawrence, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone among others before joking (I think) “I don’t know who any of them are,” but he was clearly laying down the gauntlet for the next generation of superstars to continue supporting this cause that is so near and dear to his heart, and to which he has donated $40 million over the years including $15 million for a new two story building, the Kirk Douglas Care Pavillion, as an adjunct for the original Harry’s Haven Alzheimers unit he helped finance.
In his opening remarks Clooney noted a relatively new resident at the Home, former studio head Terry Semel, to much
warm applause from the crowd. I heard Clooney arrived nearly three hours before the scheduled show time to tour the entire campus with wife Amal, and to see the residents (for whom the two hour star studded show was being closed circuited). Among those performing were Hugh Jackman doing music from Les Miserables with a large chorus; Johnny Mathis singing his hit “Misty” and later helping to close the concert with a soaring “Somewhere”; Kevin Spacey doing a couple of numbers including singing and dancing to “Mr. Bojangles”; Dancing With The Stars Emmy winner Derek Hough previewing his Singin’ In The Rain Broadway turn; Loretta Devine with the stirring “Listen” from Dreamgirls that brought the crowd to its feet; Scandal‘s Norm Lewis with a powerful Phantom number; Jane Lynch, and many more.
There were also dramatic moments, with Jeremy Renner’s account of a 40 year old working actor who got much needed support from MPTF before succumbing to pancreatic cancer at such a young age, and Matt Bomer’s touching reading of an essay detailing the near half-century relationship of gay couple George and make up artist Ben and how the MPTF came to their rescue before and after Ben’s death. Bryan Cranston and Chris Pine both told of personal connections to the campus where Cranston’s mother and Pine’s grandmother both lived out their final years. Cranston’s hilarious account of how the Fund discovered his Alzheimer’s -stricken mom carried on a steamy affair with a fellow patient at Harry’s Haven was a highlight.
But perhaps the most unexpected appearance of the night came from 70’s Australian superstar singer Helen Reddy, who was introduced by actress Sheryl Lee Ralph to the strains of “I Am Woman”, her female power anthem from 1972. “She didn’t have to come far because she lives right over there,” said Ralph, pointing to the MPTF housing units where the 74 year old Reddy now resides. She sang a flawless rendition of her hit, “You And Me Against The World” that also brought the crowd to its feet. Reddy and Semel are examples of how the Motion Picture Country Home is now home to so many different people from so many different facets of the industry.
The event, held outside under perfect weather, was chaired by Ann and Jim Gianopulos, directed by Richard Jay-Alexander and produced by Jay Landers. William Ross led a 17 piece orchestra. Among those receiving acknowledgements from Gianopulos, newly-elected Chairman of the Fund’s Board Of Directors, were CEO and President Bob Beitcher, CEO of the MPTF Foundation Ken Scherer, and of course Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was mentioned many times from the stage for his tireless fundraising efforts over the past couple of decades as leader of the organization.
Earlier in the show, Gianopulos got a heartfelt tribute from Jackman who said he owed the career he has now to the former Fox Chairman who has used his considerable clout to spearhead many special events like this for the Fund. When it came to his turn to talk, Gianopulos spoke about another big event he attended, the 80th MPTF anniversary 15 years ago where the massive Stark Building was dedicated. He talked about the impact being there had on him, and of meeting legendary casting giant and CBS executive Ethel Winant, who told him how she came to be an MPTF resident after her storied career finally came to an end at the network. “She told me, ‘I just never thought I would live this long’,” said Gianopulos. “Those of us who have worked and thrived in our industry owe a special duty to give back to our comrades in need.”
It has been a busy few weeks for MPTF money-raising efforts with successive events including The Evening Before Emmys party, and then last weekend’s “Deal With It” women’s Conference held at the Beverly Hills Montage Hotel, which drew
nearly 400 participants. Last night’s 95th party also signaled the launch of the Fund’s new “ALL IN” program which is aimed at involving industry members, particularly those from the next generation who will carry on the mission. The MPTF is already planning their 100th for 2021. It will be hard to top this one.
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