Denzel bridges gap at fete

Washington grins at film org honor

It’s rare when the honoree at a tribute dinner has the wittiest three-word quip of the night, but such was the case at Friday’s American Cinematheque fund-raiser honoring Denzel Washington at the Beverly Hilton.

Host Jamie Foxx was on a roll with a laugh-getting opening monologue that centered on a giant photo of a “St. Elsewhere”-era Washington when the actor’s front teeth had a gap worthy of David Letterman.

“Those are supporting actor teeth,” said Foxx, who then pointed to a more recent photo of Washington smiling. “He moved on to leading man teeth. Man, that’s a $2,500 cap.”

Foxx then segued into some jokes about his own career, how highly paid Washington is and how he himself would like to be making $20 million a film.

From halfway across the ballroom, Washington called out the three words that brought down the house: “Get new teeth.”

Though not with lines that got that kind of laugh, the evening included remarks from Mike Medavoy, Peter Dekom, Henry Shields Jr. and Rick Nicita.

Themes and luminaries

The retrospective on Washington’s career was cleverly broken into segments labeled “justice,” “women,” “sports,” etc. Those introducing segs included Bruce Willis, Angela Bassett (who read a note of congratulations from Nelson Mandela) and baseball great Barry Bonds, who said he was unaccustomed to public speaking “because in my profession all we get to say is ‘I got it.’ ”

Also intro’ing clips were Robert Downey Jr., Ice Cube, Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Cedric the Entertainer, Antwone Fisher, Ethan Hawke and Steve Harvey, who made reference to Foxx’s monologue with this comment: “There’s got to be more than nice teeth to Denzel, because I got nice teeth and all I got are seven years on the WB.”

The award presentation was made by Tom Hanks, who praised Washington as an artist who “is able to make walking across the street a riveting actor’s decision.”

Spreading the praise

In his acceptance, Washington thanked at least a dozen people, notably his first agent, the late Ruth Aronson; the recently deceased Bruce Paltrow; and, most enthusiastically, his wife, of whom he said: “20 years from now they’ll be saying. ‘That’s the guy who’s married to Pauletta Washington.’ ”

Among those attending the event, scheduled to air in March on AMC, were Cinematheque exec director Barbara Smith, Jim Robinson, Alan Horn, Jeff Berg, Ed Limato, Ron Meyer, Alex Yemenidjian, Chris McGurk, Dick Cook, Rob Friedman, Tom Rothman, Sandy Climan and Norman Jewison.

The dinner raised about $500,000.

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