I have been to countless award dinners in the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom and I have listened to an equal amount of acceptance speeches. But I have never heard remarks more touching, charming, poignant and informative as those spoken from the heart of 12 year-old Dakota Fanning at the Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation “Stellar Night.” The audience of 800 rose to its feet to give her a lengthy ovation.
Dakota received her Heart of Gold award from (the very expectant-with-her-third-child) Elizabeth Shue with whom Dakota costarred in “Dreamer” and “Hide and Seek.” It capped an evening in which Debbie and Glen Bickerstaff were also honored with the Jackie Carlish Humanitarian Award presented by John Stamos. Jamie Lee Curtis hosted the program. She and Dakota had teamed earlier this year to present Shirley Temple with the SAG’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Dakota told me she’d received an autographed picture from Shirley that evening. Shirley added, they’ve been on the phone several times. “She’s my new young friend.” When I told Shirley about Dakota’s acceptance speech at Starlight, she confirmed, “She is very well-spoken. I was very independent, too. At the (SAG) Awards, her mother was standing back — like my mother did.
Steven Spielberg is Chairman Emeritus of Starlight Starbright, and Dakota, in her speech, thanked him for his good citizenship guidance during the making of “War of the Worlds.” She also thanked Peter Samuelson, founder–and chairman of the organization — for 24 years of service. The evening raised $800,000.
Others participating in the show were singers Kristy Fank and BO Benton and Bob Saget. Dakota will next be seen in “Charlotte’s Web” and next month starts “Hound Dog” — and she even sang a few bars to Selma and I of that Leiber and Stoller song made famous by Elvis. Robin Wright Penn costars. For this film, the Georgia-born Dakota must regain her Southern accent — the one she’s had to lose for several of her movies! Ah, that’s showbiz.
Showbiz and charities, like the Starlight, Starbright Children’s Foundation have long worked hand in hand. Of course the grand daddy of those tandem charities is the Motion Picture and Television Fund. Then there is the Thalians, Saint Jude. And Variety International which has included among its International Humanitarian Awardees Winston Churchill, Danny Kaye and Audrey Hepburn. This year, at the May 31 Gala at Bally’s in Las Vegas, Bill Austin, the head of the Starkey Hearing Foundation, is the honoree. Monty Hall, Variety International’s chairman (and past honoree) says Austin travels the globe with his crew –completely at his own expense — giving away over 150,000 hearing aids to those in need.