“We must demand more from our government officials,” Bob Iger said tonight at the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance tribute dinner. “I want to hear a pitch that isn’t grounded in the contempt of others,” the Disney boss added passionately in a call for “tolerance in action” in America and around the world.
“We must once again renounce and reject hate in all forms,” the 2019 Humanitarian Award winner told the crowd of industry heavyweights at the Beverly Hilton. “Each one of us has the obligation to be part of the solution.”
On a night where the legacy of the Holocaust and the vile scourge of discrimination and rising anti-Semitism were lamented again and again, Donald Trump’s was never mentioned by name but clearly implied. Asserting that “Hitler would have loved social media” for its echo chamber effect, Iger called out Democrats and Republicans alike in warning against the disappearance of civility in public discourse and the transformation of the “common ground of democracy into scorched Earth.”
For a media giant chief who has repeatedly publicly stated that he is not interested in running for the Presidency next year, Iger sure sounded like a voice of more than just Tinseltown leadership.
“When it comes to giving, its not just giving money, but giving of yourself,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg in remarks about Iger on Wednesday from the stage.
“Bob gives as a friend, whenever I asked he gave — except one time,” the WndrCo CEO and top-tier Democratic donor teased. “No matter how much I begged Bob, he just wasn’t willing to run for President of the United States. Our loss.”
“He promised me he would never bring that up again, particularly with my wife in the room,” a nearly deadpan Iger responded when it came his turn to speak. “Not politically correct,” he said to laughs from the ballroom. (Iger is contractually obligated to Disney until 2021.)
Iger may not be seeking high office, the awards ceremony and dinner this evening was certainly a media Congress of Vienna. The gathering saw the Disney commander-in-chief feted by industry chieftains who put their smiles forward and sheathed their usual swords.
Disney corner offices alum Katzenberg, Paramount’s Jim Gianopulos, Disney Studios boss Alan Horn (who is co-hosting a pricey fundraiser next week with Iger for Senate Dems up for reelection in 2020), and NBCUniversal’s Ron Meyer were in attendance as well as serving as chairs for the dinner that raise a record $3.6 million. L.A. Olympics leader Casey Wasserman, CAA’s Richard Lovett, Peter Chernin, Brian Glazer (seen chatting with WME’s Ari Emanuel, Ron Howard and Disney’s now-largest-shareholder Rupert Murdoch) all were listed as chairs of the event.
Former Warner Bros kingpin Kevin Tsujihara was also listed as a chair, but that was because the Wiesenthal Center’s invites had been printed before the ex-CEO resigned his gig under misconduct allegations on March 18.
Emanuel, California’s senior Sen. Diane Feinstein, Interim CBS CEO Joe Ianniello, David Geffen, Star Wars overlord Kathleen Kennedy and UTA’s Jeremy Zimmer were listed as co-chairs of the event, priced at $1,500-$250,000 a ticket.
Ex-HBO chief Richard Plepler, super lawyer Daniel Petrocelli, Will Smith and Jade Pinkett Smith, J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath, healthcare exec and recent Trump fundraiser host Lee Sampson, ex-Disney CEO Michael Eisner and Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos and spouse Ambassador Nicole Avant were also among others on that co-chair list.
Like a number of the chairs and co-chairs, Sarandos was not present at tonight’s Beverly Hilton event for the Disney+ principal. However, don’t read too much streaming rivalry into that –Sarandos had long-scheduled business in South America this week, I hear.
With moving words that brought many in the ballroom to tears, also honored Wednesday with Medals of Honor were Rabbi Jeffrey S. Myers of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, immigration activist Florence Phillips, and Holocaust remembrance activist Kurt Kleinmann.
Although his voice was strained at times, Wiesenthal trustee Katzenberg delivered the introduction of the evening’s MC Jimmy Kimmel, as well as that clearly heartfelt tribute to Iger later in the evening.
Of course, the dinner had a healthy dose of humor too.
“The last time I hosted an awards show, that show decided they didn’t need a host and the ratings went up,” ex-Oscar frontman Kimmel said soon after taking the stage.
The ABC late-night host further ribbed the crowd by noting that his boss was joining the likes of “Les Moonves and Harvey Weinstein” among former honorees for the Wiesenthal Center. “Mistakes were made, some as recently as last year, but let’s move on,” Kimmel noted with deadpan delivery to big laughs from the well-heeled.
Tonight’s dinner comes literally hours before tomorrow’s anticipated Disney Investors Day. The afternoon shindig will see Iger and other execs from the expanded Mouse House unveil details of their upcoming Disney+ streaming service.
Those details could prove a partial blueprint to the next big thing for the small screen.
Even with Apple entering the streaming wars this fall, the Disney arsenal of its vault, Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel plus new offerings like the potential Hawkeye series presents possibly the greatest challenge to Netflix and Amazon when it debuts later this year.
Stripping off Disney properties from the Reed Hastings-run streamer over the past several months, the Burbank-based company has recently become even more muscular with its completed $71.3 billion acquisition of a slew of Fox assets from Murdoch and his sons.
Like the company he has led since 2005, Iger has “never been short on ambition,” to quote his note to Disney staff upon the Fox merger taking that took effect on March 19. Certainly, with a market capitalization of $210 billion as of today, that ambition has been on point in the multi-armed company’s rapid growth and market share in the past decade of Iger’s reign over the film studios, ABC network, cable units like ESPN and now FX and the global theme parks he surveys.
Which, in “the business of manufacturing happiness,” as Iger put it tonight, may be a step or two unto itself towards the “compassion our world needs right now.”