Bonnie Hammer added another first to her long career on Tuesday night as she was feted with the Steven J. Ross Humanitarian Award from the UJA-Federation of New York.
Hammer, chairman of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, is the first female exec to receive the kudo, named for the late leader of Time Warner, in the 19-year history of the award from the Jewish service org that supports a range of charities and causes.
And Hammer undoubtedly was the first recipient to eschew the podium while delivering a heartfelt speech from the stage that recalled her bat mitzvah — she was the first girl allowed to experience that rite of passage at her temple in Queens — and her first real brush with anti-Semitism.
The latter came when she was a junior in college and spent a year studying in a foreign land — Lawrence, Kan. A professor there displayed naked prejudice after he realized she was a Jew.
“I went from an A average to flunking the class,” she said. The jarring experience taught her that “prejudice and discrimination based on our differences is an unfortunate fact of life.” (As a footnote she added that the professor was fired two years later after more incidents of bigotry.)
For more than a decade Hammer has championed the “Erase the Hate” public service campaign at USA Network, and the initiative is rolling out to other NBCU cablers. The goal is to tackle “all the -isms that surround and divide us,” she said, on the theory that “we are not born knowing how to hate, we are taught how to hate.”
Hammer saluted UJA-Federation for its broad-based efforts to support inclusion in many forms. She cited the org’s support for a startup LGBT advocacy group, Mosaic, started by a mother in Westchester County who was moved by her son’s struggle to be accepted as gay.
The dinner at the UJA-Federation’s Park Avenue headquarters brought out a strong turnout of TV and business leaders including CNN’s Jeff Zucker, GE’s Jeffrey Immelt, Tribune’s Peter Liguori, Conde Nast Entertainment’s Dawn Ostroff and NBCU’s top brass including Steve Burke, Ron Meyer, Ted Harbert, Linda Yaccarino, Pat Fili-Krushel, Frances Berwick, Chris McCumber, Dave Howe and Adam Stotsky and a host of NBCU talent. Elizabeth Hurley, star of E!’s drama series“Royals,” intro’d Hammer as someone who she thought might be “super-scary,” given her lofty exec position, but turned out to be “really good company.”
Mark Feuerstein of USA’s “Royal Pains” and Meghan Markle of USA’s “Suits” emceed the dinner. Feuerstein charmed the crowd with an energetic rap in Hebrew and by quickly teaching his gentile co-host the HaMotzi blessing for bread.
But it was actor Christian Slater, who stars in USA’s upcoming drama “Mr. Robert,” who impressed the most with his quick thinking during the three-song performance by Sara Bareilles. When Bareilles had trouble with a loose foot pedal under her piano, Slater jumped up on stage, dove under the piano and held it in place until a roll of duck tape arrived.
“People always ask me about things that happen on stage,” Bareilles said. “Now I have the best story to tell.”
(Pictured: Bonnie Hammer and Elizabeth Hurley)