Chilling, charity rev Night Before

Before bash buzz builds

This article was corrected on February 6, 2005.

In just its third year, the annual Night Before party, held at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Oscars eve, has become one of the most sought-after tickets in Hollywood. This year’s edition has so far raised more than $3.5 million, with proceeds benefiting the Motion Picture & Television Fund.

The idea for a pre-Oscar soiree grew out of discussions between Variety and DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg four years ago about how the night before the Academy Awards has traditionally been a fairly dull evening in Hollywood.

For years, the awards ceremony, held on a Sunday, has been sandwiched between ICM agent Ed Limato’s exclusive Friday night party and Vanity Fair’s post-Oscar event, where gossip columnists have become almost as ubiquitous as stars.

Saturday night, however, was open.

But that’s true no longer. This year’s Night Before party, held poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Feb. 26, will draw about 700 people including Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Steven Spielberg and Jamie Foxx.

The event is drawing a growing number of guests from the studio, agency and law firm worlds.

This year will repeat the tradition, started last year, of having a Night Before the Night Before event for sponsors. Held on Friday, the gala will be at Spago, where Jackson Browne will perform after dinner.

Freedom from the press

Press and press agents are disinvited in an effort to keep the night as relaxed and unmonitored as possible. (There has been at least one case when an intrepid press agent was asked to leave.)

“It was really Katzenberg’s intent to do a community night,” says MPTF chief exec Ken Scherer. “He described it as if ‘everyone was coming to my living room.’ No media. No press handlers. People come as they want to dress. It’s about conversation and real camaraderie.”

Adding to the festiveness is the fact that, as Scherer points out, “It’s still a time where everyone’s a winner.”

Last year, Leonardo DiCaprio had a long talk with MGM’s Kirk Kerkorian by the pool. After the first party, in 2003, Scherer says, “Warren Beatty said it was the first time he was able to have a conversation at an event.”

Tickets, which are essentially contributions to the MPTF, start at $25,000 for a group of four.

Contributors also can make a five-year commitment of $10,000 per year in exchange for getting their names placed on retirement cottages on the fund’s Woodland Hills campus. That also means five years of access to the Night Before.

Golden ticket

The event has five corporate sponsors, up from four last year; they are Variety, Hewlett-Packard, Ford, Target and JP Morgan.

Scherer noted Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg are on the level of corporate sponsors, and Jeffrey is chairman of the MPTF Foundation. “Jeffrey leads it and works on it. He puts his money where his mouth is.”

The Night Before tally of more than $3.5 million so far this year has surpassed the $3.4 million raised by last year’s event. Scherer said he hopes to reach $4 million by the end of the month.

That figure is about one-fifth of what the MPTF seeks to raise every year.

“It’s a huge effort and a big part of our annual fund,” Scherer says. “It’s also a great way for us to introduce the fund to people in the industry.”

The nonprofit MPTF, headquartered in Woodland Hills, was founded in 1921 to offer charitable relief for those in the film industry who had fallen on hard times. Today, the fund provides the entertainment industry with a full-scale residential retirement community and child-care center, as well as health care, human services and financial assistance to those in need.

No Oscar party would be complete without swag, of course, and the Night Before does not skimp, even though it doesn’t go the traditional bag route. For the last two years, guests received a new pair of sneakers. This year’s goody wasn’t disclosed, but Scherer insists it will be something unusual.

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