“Fight is a word you’re going to hear a lot today,” warned Universal Pictures president and event co-chair Jimmy Horowitz at the start of the fifth annual Celebration of Babies luncheon benefiting March of Dimes on Friday. “Because that is what it takes to defeat the number one killer of children under five,” he continued to the starry set packing the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in support of honorees Jessica Alba, Bela Bajaria and Dr. Michele Hakakha, and the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health.
Horowitz’s connection to premature birth is personal. “We had a very early preemie — she weighed 1 pound 10 ounces when she was born,” he told Variety earlier about his and his wife Joi’s 26-week-early daughter. “I wanted to figure out a way to reconnect Hollywood with the March of Dimes.”
He began by enlisting producer Wyck Godfrey and wife Mary Kerr to co-chair the fundraiser, which has raised $5 million in the last five years, and pulled in a record $1.2 million this year. “Mary and I are blessed with three healthy children, but Mary is an OBGYN, so it felt like a really important cause that touched her and touched me,” said Godfrey, who’s starting work on the third “Maze Runner” and “Power Rangers” movies in February, and gave introductory remarks alongside Horowitz. Afterwards, three-time event emcee, father of two and “Chi-raq” film star Nick Cannon kicked things off.
Molly Sims first honored Dr. Michele Hakakha. “When I first met Michele 12 years ago, she was kind of like my little secret. She’s kind, she’s smart, she spoke Farsi — in case I ever needed that,” Sims said. “She has an answer to every question you can possibly imagine,” she continued. “Even the stupid ones, like ‘do you think my Parisian cream with elderflower will hurt my baby?’”
But her husband Scott Stuber took over at the part he suspected might cause Sims to cry, recalling how their first child Brooks had a condition called velamentous cord insertion. “Many of us in this room are Type A people, and we try to control everything,” Stuber said. “The moment when something happens with your child, you get very tunneled. It becomes very narrow. And so the things you thought were important — Jimmy Horowitz getting my deal done — become very secondary.”
|Mindy Kaling and Bela Bajara at the March of Dimes Celebration of Babies
Katie Jones/Variety/Rex Shutterstock
Mindy Kaling brimmed with enthusiasm over presenting the Inspiring Woman of the Year award to Bajaria, president of Universal Television. “I so often get to go on TV and do interviews about my cast, and the writers of the show, but I don’t get to talk about the person who helped make it all possible — and talk about her contributions as the head of a studio and somebody who’s been championing my career,” she told Variety.
“The Mindy Project” star immediately summoned laughs upon taking the stage. “Hello, I’m Mindy Kaling. I am Bela Bajaria‘s stunt double,” she began. “Most people think that I know Bela because she runs my studio, and she developed my show, but that is not true. I first met Bela in 2008, at a meeting of the Indian mafia that secretly runs Hollywood,” she joked.
After enumerating Bajaria’s television successes, like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” Kaling reaped further praise: “Years before the television landscape was as exciting and diverse as it is now, Bela was my champion — even though I did not look like any other leading lady on television.” Kaling also noted how she thought multitasking was a quality viewed as being exclusive to white men. “So Bela, from one white man to another, congratulations on your award.”
Bajaria — who’s behind Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix show “Master of None” and upcoming projects like “Telenovela” and “Superstore” (“and 25 other shows,” she told Variety) — initiated her relationship with March of Dimes over 20 years ago. “I used to work at a nonprofit for third world countries, where polio vaccination was a huge part of our job,” said the mom to three on the red carpet. “So it’s been really amazing to sort of be part of the first disease they cured, and now be part of the second major thing they’re going to do (tackle premature birth). It’s very personal to me.”
Fashion designer, stylist and talk show host Rachel Zoe presented the Grace Kelly award to Honest Company founder Alba — after just flying in from New York five hours prior. “Jessica not only encompasses the style, the elegance, obviously the beauty, the perfect skin, the whole thing, that Grace Kelly had,” she said, “but she too has really made it her life’s mission to be an advocate for a better, healthier future for moms and babies.” Zoe recalled how Alba had first mentioned her business idea six years earlier, and equated her friend to a “real-life superhero.” “She actually is changing the world; she actually is doing everything she set out to, and a thousand times more.”
In accepting the final honor, Alba described how, during her first pregnancy, she became aware of the harmful and illness-causing chemicals that children are exposed to through everyday products — prompting her to create a brand that mothers could trust. “The foundation for my company, the Honest Company, is built upon a universal experience of motherhood — the boundless love and relentless need to create a healthy, happy world for your child,” she said. Though she’s only been in business for under four years, her company has donated over 750,000 products, and over 7,000 employee volunteer hours, to help more than 120,000 children and over 90,000 families.
“When Franklin Delano Roosevelt started the March of Dimes, he encouraged ordinary people to give a little something. Ten cents to achieve a large and extraordinary goal,” she said. “It’s a reminder that just a small act can be a small step towards a healthier, happier world.”