The Motion Picture & Television Fund, whose maxim is “We take care of our own,” took care of Edie and Lew Wasserman Saturday morning.
At a dedication ceremony attended by some of the entertainment industry’s most formidable leaders, the MPTF’s 40-acre Woodland Hills healthcare and residential campus was formally named after the couple who spearheaded many of the recent campaigns to pay for it.
“I fell in love with this place 18 years ago,” said Edie Wasserman during the pre-dedication reception. She pointed to the lush grounds and told a story of how MCA founder Jules Stein had once asked her husband how long it had been since he’d visited the campus (“three months”), told him it looked terrible and how they were both going to donate $1 million for an upkeep fund. This led to Lew Wasserman to refer to himself as “the gardener.”
On this occasion, the garden was filled with guests including Sid Sheinberg, Frank Biondi, Ron Meyer, Howard Koch and Bob Daly, who said the industry “will probably never see someone of Lew Wasserman’s stature again.”
Also on hand was Aaron Spelling, who had the best line of the morning. He was warmly greeted by an elderly actor who told the TV producer he’d had three major surgeries in the last three months. Without missing a beat, Spelling said, “Well, I’ve had three major flops in the last three months.”
The ceremony itself was held beneath a white, tentlike canopy where 300 guests were seated at banquet tables. MPTF CEO William Haug began the speeches by recalling the Wassermans’ “legacy of caring.” He was followed by chairman Roger Davis, who said that “as a longtime friend of Edie and Lew, I know that brevity counts” and he was.
The Wassermans’ goddaughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, praised Edie Wasserman “as the coolest godmother on the planet” who has “intellect, generosity and fundraising ability.”
Steven Spielberg began by saying “I guess I’m the godson” before recalling his early days on the Universal lot where he only vaguely knew Lew as “the Big Cheese.” He said there was a legend that the MCA chairman would take a 30-second call from anyone and “I knew I had a home at Universal when we talked for 60 seconds.”
Other speakers included Henry Winkler; Jack Valenti, who “before my own enchanting words” read a letter from Lady Bird Johnson; video remarks from Kirk Douglas, and President Clinton and first lady Hillary, who said “I can’t think of two people who deserve recognition more but sought it less.”
Jeffrey Katzenberg (who is chairing MPTF’s current $250 million capital campaign said at the reception that what Lew had taught him about fundraising was “there’s no such thing as asking for too much or giving too much”) unveiled a model of the ivy-covered gates that will bear the Wassermans’ name.
In closing, the couple’s grandson Casey spoke on their behalf on the responsibility of giving back to the community.
Though neither of the Wassermans gave speeches during the formal program, as the gate was unveiled, Lew did turn to Edie to say, “Didn’t I tell you I had a future 63 years ago?”