Fox exec Tom Sherak says he wants the Multiple Sclerosis fundraiser he’s co-chaired for six years to be known as “the night we all put the swords away.” And so it was. In a take on the biblical axiom, Monday night Hollywood swords were beaten into banquet table chairs.
Those Century Plaza ballroom seats (which went for up to $10,000 apiece) were filled by an industry-heavy crowd of 1,500 that included Michael Eisner, Jim Cameron, Barry Hirsch, Jim Wiatt and Jerry Bruckheimer who came to see Disney Studios chairman Joe Roth honored at MS’s Dinner of Champions.
Roth said his participation in the dinner sprang from a 15-year friendship with Sherak and his family. The Disney chief said he wanted the dinner to be “true to its cause. We’re living in such distracted and cynical times as far as who to root for. Something like this is very pure — we’re here to help raise money to get a cure for a terrible disease. It’s a shining light in a messy time.”
Byron Allen emceed the pre-dinner program that included Frankie Avalon singing “Venus”; Sherak’s daughter Melissa, who has MS, giving a brief but moving speech; and Southern California MS Society board members Rich Corgel, Arthur and Britta Schramm, and Leon LeBuffe joining Sherak on stage to accept a check for the $2,522,670 raised.
At that time Sherak thanked United Artists Theatre Circuit, Planet Hollywood, 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios, Saban Entertainment and Miramax’s Bob and Harvey Weinstein for co-hosting the event.
After dinner, Whitney Houston made a surprise appearance to sing one song. and Avalon presented a special tribute to his former teen pic co-star, Annette Funicello. This was followed by a few words from MS researcher Dr. Anthony Campagnoni, and the presentation of a special award to Steven Hilton for his family’s continued support.
The evening’s big laughs came when a seven-minute video was shown in which Ben Stiller playing Joe Roth had been digitally inserted into a 1950s “What’s My Line” episode alongside Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallen and Arlene Francis. The joke that got the biggest laugh from insiders was when Roth (Stiller), who almost never wears neckwear, received 365 Botany 500 ties for being on the show.
The evening culminated with a surprise appearance by John Travolta, who presented the award to Roth.
Among those applauding were Dick Cook, Bobby and Peter Farrelly, Tom Jacobson, Robert Iger, David Vogel, Bob Harper, Tom Rothman, and Chris Meledandri.
“The great thing about this industry is we care about others,” said Sherak, the chairman of 20th Century Fox’s Domestic Film Group. “Sometimes people don’t realize that, but we do and this dinner is a perfect example of that.”