The tributes were for Steven Spielberg but Kirk Douglas was just as inspirational in his appearance at the Anti-Defamation League's gala Wednesday honoring Spielberg with its America's Democratic Legacy kudo.
He moves slower and his voice doesn't have the command it once did, but through his will and his good humor Douglas had the crowd in his palm as he spoke of visiting Oskar Schindler's grave in Israel and his fears for the generations who will follow him once he inevitably moves into "the void." And just as it got really serious and somber, he hammed it up over a challah loaf and made off with a carafe of wine. Then, in a moment I'll never forget, the entire International Ballroom sang "Happy Birthday," because today in fact marks the start of Douglas' 93rd year. Yes, 93.
As various speakers read off the list of Spielberg's personal, professional and philanthropic accomplishments, it was impossible not to be in awe of the man. As always he comes across as humble and down-to-Earth.
He called Drew Barrymore, who was among the evening's presenters, his "training wheels" for fatherhood during the making of "ET: The Extra-Terrestrial." He spoke of how he marvels at his children's ability to multi-task while doing homework and how he'd "put a stop to it" if only their grades weren't so good. And he made the larger point that in a world that moves ever-faster, with advances in communication and media coming at lightning speed, it's important not to lose sight of history, not to think that we're so enlightened, because "all the old evils still exist," and racism and intolerance "have found a new frightening home in cyberspace."
"We have to fight against the centrifugal forces of technology to slow the world down." This battle makes the ADL's central mission all the more important: "Defense of human dignity, and all human life," Spielberg said. Coming from the man who made "Schindler's List," "Munich," "Amistad," "Saving Private Ryan" and "Band of Brothers," who launched the Shoah Foundation, who lends his money and his name to innumerable worthy causes, it's not just talk.