The Fulfillment Fund’s Stars 2013 Honoree Chris Meledandri may have been the man of the hour at the foundation’s Stars 2013 Benefit Gala, but Los Angeles film czar Tom Sherak was the evening’s true star.
Despite not being the evening’s official host — that was Ed Helms’ charge — the former prexy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences scored himself a microphone and bounced around the Beverly Hilton ballroom personally soliciting donations for the Fulfillment Fund from attendees between presentations of honors to Meledandri, Sidney Poitier (recipient of the Founders’ Humanitarian Award) and Josh Klinefelter (recipient of the Founders’ Distinguished Service Award).
Sherak smooth-talked matching donations between $15,000-$25,000 from a laundry list of execs, including Jeffrey Katzenberg, Mark Gordon, Peter Chernin, Tom Rothman, David Ellison, Tony Sella and Ryan Kavanaugh.
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The Fulfillment Fund, a foundation dedicated to helping students in educationally and economically under-resourced communities earn college degrees, has long been a favorite among Hollywood philanthropists.
“We are a community — we dine, we play golf, we yell at each other,” Sherak said before launching his crusade. “But bottom line, we care about the things that are important in our community.”
The Fund’s co-chairman Eric Esrailian called Sherak “the guiding force behind the event,” which he has co-chaired for 19 years. Sherak proved that point when he convinced Kavanaugh to give up the Subaru BRZ he’d won in a raffle so it could be auctioned off for the Fund. When the auction capped at $27,500, an insatiable Sherak asked the winning bidder to donate the car once again, and a third philanthropic guest dropped $27,500 to take home the car.
The spirited live auction boasted such items as lunch with Miranda Cosgrove, which went to Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl for a cool $8,000, and a Martin Katz pendant necklace modeled by Allison Janney during the bidding. By evening’s end, Helms announced that the gala had raked in $1.6 million.
While Sherak brought the spunk, Poitier brought the gravitas; upon receiving the Founders’ Humanitarian Award, Poitier delivered a sober speech about taking care of the planet, and each other.
“We are now seven billion of us on this very small planet, and we have a responsibility to nurture this planet, which is our home,” he said, advising the audience to take heed from the Fulfillment Fund’s top brass. “I have seen the children who are nurtured by these people standing behind me. I shall be here, God willing, for at least another 40 years.”
Meledandri’s friends and colleagues came out in droves to show their support for the Illumination Entertainment chief. Pharrell, who collaborated with Meledandri on both “Despicable Me” soundtracks, performed three tunes that had most execs in the room on their feet and singing along. For “Happy,” an original track from “Despicable Me 2,” Pharrell was joined by a choir of students from Hamilton High School, a Fulfillment Fund partner school; for “Blurred Lines,” he was joined by surprise guest T.I.
Another surprise guest: Steve Carrell, who provided his V.O. stylings as “Despicable Me’s” Gru for a video detailing Meledandri’s early life and climb up the Hollywood ranks before presenting the evening’s highest honor to Meledandri.
“I’m here tonight out of love, respect, and an intense fear of professional retribution,” he said.
Carrell roasted Meledandri’s upbringing: “From humble beginnings on the Upper East Side. . . he managed to gain admittance to a little known community college in New Hampshire called Dart-mouth” — then lauded his recent B.O. coups.
“Chris has provided Universal with a string of hits,” he said. “Conventional wisdom tells us that he will soon be fired.”
Once Meledandri took the stage, he shifted the focus off of himself and back onto the organization.
“Education is supposed to be our great equalizer, but when only half of low-income students are enrolling in college, and only three tenths are graduating, you have to figure some of our children are getting a great equalizer than others,” he said. “This organization is the great equalizer. Children succeed when grown-ups care about them. The work starts and ends with empathy, and it is empathy that the Fulfillment Fund has provided in so many ways for 35 years.”