It was back to the filming site of “A Prairie Home Companion,” St. Paul, Minn. It wasn’t to check out the site where Meryl Streep and her “daughter” Lindsay Lohan and “sister” Lily Tomlin sang up a storm and cavorted with Garrison Kellor, Kevin Kline, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly and company in “the Fitz” (Fitzgerald) theater. And it wasn’t to sample the Mulligan Stew at Mickey’s Diner– which is still open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. It was to attend “An Evening of Stars,” with 1,600 black tie’d and ball-gowned in the St. Paul River Center. The benefit is Bill Austin’s annual “So the World May Hear” fund-raiser to support missions world-wide where he creates hearing for children who live in a silent world.
Through his Starkey Hearing Foundation, he has personally diagnosed and helped over 155.000 individuals. And to make it possible, celebrities who have returned to the land of the hearing, perform in the most selfless manner I’ve yet to see. They come from the world of showbiz and sports, as well as business. The gala opened with a taped message from both Ozzy and Sharon Osborne — then went live with emcee Norm Crosby, who was hilarious. He was brought back on later on the five-hour show when he did yet another turn and announced that $4.8 million had been raised for the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
Jay Leno not only took a generous comedy turn, but stayed on stage to participate in all the fund-raising led by auctioneer Drew Done. Mission after mission to faraway places brought in six-figure bids by the generous crowd.
For his efforts, Austin will receive an honorary doctorate from Pepperdine University on July 8, noting his global contributions. He will address the commencement as well.
Freda Payne was followed by Dionne Warwick, whose singing of “That’s What Friends Are For” was shown with film clips of children receiving their first hearing aids as teary-eyed parents stood nearby. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The entertainment went on non-stop with Carl Carlton, Kathy Sledge, and John Mellencamp, who had the entire arena applauding and dancing.
Sports stars who were honored also bore witness to the “treatment” by the Austins. On hand to express their thanks were Richard Perry, Jackie Stewart, Johnny Rutherford, and Al Unser. Paul Newman, another recipient of aid, appeared via message on screen. Glen Taylor, owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, was also an honoree for his philanthropy. Giants’ great Willie Mays received a standing ovation and Leno was able to urge a $40,000 donation just for Mays’ autograph on his coffee cup saucer. Then a member of the audience got Leno to donate his shirt for yet another $4,000. It was that kind of night.
Children from as far away as New Zealand who had benefited from the Starkey Hearing Foundation also performed and received a reception equaling that given by the super stars. Others participating celebs included Lou Ferrigno, Bob Feller, Marie Osmond, Peter Graves, Alan Kalter and Scott Carpenter. Steven Sawalich produced the mammoth show with musical coordinator Paul Peterson. An emotional seg will also be seen on “Extreme Makeover.”
The Austins also opened up their home on the previous night to those contributing to the gala. A giant rainstorm didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits for this crowd.
The Minneapolis community will also celebrate this coming Sunday June 25 with the new Guthrie Theater complex bowing in a $125 million building, three times larger than the previous site and with three theaters. “Live” theater is very much alive in the twin cities as demonstrated. And judging by the past weekend’s support ($4.8 million) for the “Evening of Stars,” the Twin Cities are very much alive.