On the subject of their vast philanthropic endeavors, “We believe in the word ‘yes.’ We tend to say ‘yes’ a lot,” Jeffrey Katzenberg says of himself and his wife, Marilyn. The DreamWorks CEO says that his interest in his No. 1 charity — the Motion Picture & Television Fund Foundation, of which he is chairman of the board — began with his Hollywood godfather, Lew Wasserman.
“Twenty years ago, Lew summoned me to his office and literally took me by the hand, taking me to the Motion Picture Home to show me around,” Katzenberg recalls. “He was basically ordering me to go to work on its behalf. He was an amazing man who didn’t ask. He just stated things. You said, ‘Yes, sir.’ And so, something that started out as sort of put upon me I very quickly understood the importance of and fell in love with it.”
Most people still think of the showbiz retirement home (the Country House) in Woodland Hills as the foundation’s sole charity. “But its reach in our industry is so much greater than that,” says Katzenberg, pointing to day care and outpatient services. “It’s a spectacular $120 million operating budget with over 130,000 patient visits each year.”
Katzenberg also serves on the boards of AIDS Project Los Angeles and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, among other charities. If Wasserman is the one who got him started, Kirk Douglas played his part too.
“Many years ago, I asked Kirk about philanthropy, and he said, “First, you need to know that you haven’t learned how to live until you’ve learned how to give,’ ” Katzenberg recalls. “I never forgot that line. He is such a living Spartacus. I’d follow him anywhere.”