×

Humanitas Prize eyes ‘Mash’ writer

Kieser Award: Larry Gelbart

What: Humanitas Prize
When: Noon, June 26
Where: Hilton Universal Hotel, Los Angeles
Who: 28 finalists in eight categories; $145,000 prize money

For all the good work the Humanitas Prize has engendered over the past three decades, 2007 may go down as the year it finally entered the cultural lexicon. Of course, that entry may be tainted with the mispronunciation — hu-man-EYE-tas — given it by Christopher Moltisanti, seconds before he uses the statuette to bludgeon screenwriter J.T. Dolan in an episode of “The Sopranos” this year.

But the Humanitas Prize dates back to 1974, when it was established by Father Ellwood “Bud” Kieser, a Paulist priest who produced the long-running syndicated religious series “Insight.” In both his life and work, Kieser embodied a fierce brand of Catholic activism, as evidenced in his feature films “Romero” and “Entertaining Angels,” about Catholic lay worker Dorothy Day.

Popular on Variety

The Humanitas Prize org extended that advocacy to Hollywood’s downtrodden: Since its inception, it has disseminated more than $2.8 million to writers of feature films (including a Sundance category), children’s programming and television, as well as a comedy fellowship.

This year, Humanitas’ Kieser Award, launched after Kieser’s death in 2000, will be presented to Larry Gelbart, co-creator of “MASH,” screenwriter of “Tootsie” and “Oh, God!” and book author of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” on Broadway. “MASH” remains the most-honored series by Humanitas, having won four separate awards, and Gelbart himself was singled out for “The Interview,” a 1976 episode structured as an Edward R. Murrow-style documentary.

“Well, I know it’s prestigious,” Gelbart says of the award. “It certainly came out of the blue, which is where the best awards come from. I guess they picked me because I lived long enough.”

In addition to his credits, Gelbart is being honored as a “passionate advocate for writers.” The latter he credits to his work with the Writers Guild, which he sums up in one word: “Gratis.”

“I go back farther than my back can bend these days,” says Gelbart. “I think I was a member of the Radio Writers Guild, if you can believe that. I’m one of the old old-timers.”

Frank Desiderio, president of the Humanitas Prize, believes that Gelbart is a practitioner of a lost art.

“Here we are in 2007 in an undeclared war halfway around the world that’s unpopular,” Desiderio says, “and it just doesn’t seem to be much of an issue (on television). … And here were these guys during the Vietnam War who were writing this 30-minute show, which was supposed to be a comedy, but really took things seriously and had well-developed characters and attacked significant storylines.”

On this latest fortuitous confluence of Catholic activism, his own particular strain of Jewish liberalism and the time-honored defense of writers, Gelbart is succinct:

“In the beginning there was the word, not the close-up.”

More Film

  • Parasite Movie

    'Parasite' Enjoys Record Box Office Boost After Oscar Wins

    Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” is reaping box office riches after its groundbreaking Oscar best picture win. The twisted South Korean thriller collected $5.5 million over the weekend, an exceptional 234% increase in ticket sales and the biggest post-Oscar boost for a best picture winner in the past decade. In the seven days since the Academy [...]

  • Nikita Pearl Waligwa

    Nikita Pearl Waligwa, Actor in Disney's 'Queen of Katwe,' Dies at 15

    Nikita Pearl Waligwa, an actor who appeared in Disney’s biographical drama “Queen of Katwe,” has died, according to BBC and the Ugandan newspaper Daily Monitor. She was 15. Waligwa had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016 and seemed to recover a year later. However, in 2019, another tumor was found. “Queen of Katwe” [...]

  • James Marsden and Sonic (Ben Schwartz)

    'Sonic the Hedgehog' Dominates Box Office With Mighty $57 Million Debut

    Paramount’s family film “Sonic the Hedgehog” ignited over Presidents Day weekend with $57 million in North America and $100 million globally, the biggest showing ever for a video game adaptation. “Sonic” is expected to earn $68 million to $70 million through Monday, one of the best results for the holiday weekend. The better-than-expected start is [...]

  • Shaun the sheep

    How '80s Sci-Fi Films Inspired 'Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon'

    Shaun, everyone’s favorite sheep, is back, and this time he’s facing aliens and robots in “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon.” Directors Will Becher and Richard Phelan teamed together on this film for their first full-length collaboration. While the two have been working at Aardman Studios, Phelan’s background was as a story artist and Becher’s [...]

  • Sonic (Ben Schwartz) in SONIC THE

    Box Office: 'Sonic the Hedgehog' Speeding to $65 Million Opening Weekend

    “Sonic the Hedgehog” is speeding to a $65 million opening at the North American box office this President’s Day weekend, according to estimates. Paramount’s action-adventure, based on the Sega video game character, had been pegged to generate $40-45 million prior to its launch. Should estimates hold, it could break the $54 million record set last [...]

  • China Trade War Illustration Variety

    IFTA Says U.S. Should Punish China for Cheating on Film Trade Deal

    The Independent Film & Television Alliance has filed a complaint to the U.S. Trade Representative, calling for the U.S. government to keep China on its Priority Watch List and to monitor China under Section 306 of the Trade Act. The IFTA lobby group, which represents American and international independent film companies, argues that China is [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content