If there was ever a fund-raiser where a rendition by Jon Bon Jovi of “Money” was appropriate, it was Sept. 9’s Dinner of Champions at the Century Plaza benefiting multiple sclerosis research.
The dinner honoring 20th Century Fox’s Bill Mechanic raised $3,081,272 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Southern California Chapter, a record for the org.
Despite the huge take, dinner chair (and fellow Fox exec) Tom Sherak said, “This is about more than money. It’s about everyone in this room being here because they want to be here, not because they have to be here.”
With that in mind, the dinner began with the noble resolve not to keep those 1,500 generous souls too late. Emcee Byron Allen said the dinner would end by 9:45. Sherak said it would go until 10.
To expedite that vow, emcee Allen would say “You got three minutes, babe” as he introduced speakers who included Sherak’s daughter Melissa (who has MS), chapter board chair Chuck Wolf and dinner co-chairs Arthur and Britta Schramm.
One speech that could have gone longer came from David Lander, who’s best known for his role as Squiggy on “Laverne and Shirley.” Longtime friend Penny Marshall introduced him. Lander was honored for revealing his MS condition and working as a spokesman.
The actor-comedian started by saying he originally thought the Dinner of Champions “was some kind of eating contest,” which got a big laugh. Then he recalled how the doctor who diagnosed him said he soon wouldn’t be able to walk. This left Lander wondering “how many parts there are for a 36-year-old Jew in a wheelchair.” This also got a good laugh and Lander walked off stage to great applause.
Following a strong performance by Mariah Carey came a clever video that showed Jason Alexander as Mechanic in a “Let’s Make a Deal” episode highlighting the exec’s negotiating skills.
Afterward, Steven Spielberg presented the main award to the man he called “a true champion. Tonight you are king of the world.”
Mechanic began his speech by quoting Jack Benny, who on a similar occasion said: “I don’t deserve this award. But I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either.” He went on to deftly defend the entertainment industry against “Washington rhetoric … it is shortsighted demagoguery, a cheap ploy for votes.”
Among those who rose at 10:01 p.m. to exit were Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, Alan Horn, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mike Medavoy, Lou Pitt, Andy Licht, Dale Goldsmith, Armyan Bernstein, Bob Levin, Drew Barrymore and Bill Pullman.