Dinner honors Acts of Courage

GOOD MORNING: Politics and religion, philanthropy and showbiz — mix ’em all together and what do you get? The Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance 20th Anniversary National Tribute Dinner honoring Merv Adelson as Humanitarian of the Year plus a special program recognizing Extraordinary Acts (6) of Courage. President Clinton took time Monday to tape special congratulatory greetings to Merv — and the six courageous honorees. And the dean and founder of the Center/Museum, Rabbi Marvin Hier, said late Tuesday, on the eve of the event, that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu taped a lengthy message of thanks to Merv, “A true friend, a brother” (who was responsible for getting CBS to air Israel’s 50th anni special). Netanyahu also used the occasion to remind all on hand of his policies, “A commitment to fight terrorism — to achieve a peace that can be sustained — a peace that can be defended.” Calif. Gov. Pete Wilson, a longtime supporter of the Center/Museum, announced that another $2.5 million would be given for the development of an elementary school children’s program on tolerance. “I view it as an investment,” Wilson said, in cutting down future hate crimes … And the evening raised $1,250,000 … The room was heavy with heavy-hitters/showbiz toppers including dinner chairman Gerald Levin, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Terry Semel, Bob Daly, Leslie Moonves, Jack Valenti (in from D.C. just for the event), Kirk Douglas, Bud Yorkin, Irving Azoff, Kevin Costner, Jeff Wald.

WHO BETTER TO TALK about tolerance — than Whoopi Goldberg? She femceed the awards and said, “I’m black, a woman, Jewish — and a friend of the President. You are looking at tolerance!” She noted “History will show that Simon Wiesenthal is one of the great heroes of this century and that Merv Adelson is one of the great guys.” She admitted, “I get a lot of hate mail — everyone has an opinion of who I am and what I do.” Goldberg said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was surprised to learn she’s Jewish — “another surprise for her — she’s my cousin!” The six who received awards for their acts of courage during WWII — and in the U.S. (Congressman John Lewis of Georgia) received standing ovations. Adelson also received a prolonged ovation. Earlier in the program, his wife Thea introduced a short (by Richard Trank) starring Adelson in a serio/comedic pitch for tolerance with the “cast” including Bob Wagner as the fiddler on the roof(!). Thea said Merv was available for acting jobs after that one! Seriously, Adelson found it difficult to make his speech following the six heroes, but he, of course thanked all there (live and on tape) for the tribute. He then pointed out the need for Jews to respect one another — Orthodox, Conservative or Reform Synagogues, he noted, as Rosh Hashanah is coming next week … Rabbi Hier presented Adelson with a unique trophy — a ship, equipped to take him through the coming years. The evening welcome was by Rabbi Meyer H. May, and the program appropriately started with the U.S. and Israel National anthems sung by the Children of the World Choir directed by Marina Waks.

ABOUT ALL THE DREAM-UPS by you-know-who claiming DreamWorks and homes owned by one of the principals would be the future address of President Clinton, Jeffrey Katzenberg told me (at the above dinner), those reports were “demeaning to the President and his office.” As for the residence of DreamWorks in the Playa, he allowed, “I can’t help but think it will happen — but then again, I’ve been saying it for four years,” he smiled … Eric Douglas is now at the Vatra Natural Weight Loss Spa in Hunter, N.Y., readying for his role as a psychotic killer in David Wolper’s NBC “Family Shield.” The spa, owned by George Borkachi, was visited by Monica Lewinsky, Borkachi says, in 1996 and he sold the story of his brief “romance” with her to the Star … First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is rearranging her sked to join Jimmy Smits, Esai Morales and Sonja Braga for the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts’ “Noche de Gala” dinner Sept. 22 in D.C. at the Mayflower. Rep. Richard Gephardt and Rep. Mary Bono (widow of Sonny) join Clinton plus “Law & Order’s” Benjamin Bratt, and “Homicide’s” Joe Seda … On the sports scene: Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes and Robert Townsend are guests of legendary promoter Butch Lewis at the Vaughn Bean bout vs. Evander Holyfield Sept. 19 at the Georgia Dome … Joni James, the first pop singer to solo at Carnegie Hall in 1959, returns Saturday after a 25-year absence with her (sold out) “Jubilee Concert” … Reba McEntire, here to receive her Walk of Fame Star on Friday is also p.a.’ing her highly dramatic role in CBS’ “Forever Love” which airs Sept. 27. While “broadening out” with her acting career, Reba also goes back into the studio to record a Christmas ’99 album in October and heads out on her European (singing) tour in January … Dionne Warwick recorded “Time Takes Time” for HBO’s “Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child” series. The tune’s by Spencer Proffer, Carol Connors, Steve Plunkett and Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the seg, “Sissy Duckling.” Warwick tries out her one-woman show Oct. 20-25 in the Berkshires.

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