In 1992, Hollywood power players Lew and Edie Wasserman asked Jeffrey Katzenberg to help with a new foundation for The Motion Picture & Television Fund. The unit would serve as the fundraising organization for MPTF, which since 1921 has been providing assistance and care to those in the entertainment community with limited resources.
“It was not a request,” says Ken Scherer, chief exec of the MPTF foundation. “He’s been at it ever since.”
The MPTF is not the only charity Katzenberg is involved with. Since 1994, when he and his wife started the Marilyn and Jeffrey Katzenberg Foundation, they have given away about $2 million a year to various charities covering everything from Jewish causes to health to education and culture, according to Inside Philanthropy.
“It is the Jewish guilt that comes with [being rich] that has made me feel so passionate and committed to the philanthropy that Marilyn and I do,” Katzenberg told Variety. “Particularly the Motion Picture Fund, because I always felt that for those of us who are in the one, one-hundredth of the one percent, it’s our obligation to take care of the people on the bottom and help them.”
He added: “That’s the way I was brought up. I’m not a socialist, but I do believe in socialism. There is a greater good and we’re all connected to one another whether we want to be or not.”
MPTF Foundation’s main fundraisers are the Night Before (Oscars) fete, coming up on 15 years, and the Evening Before (Emmys) bash, which just had its 10th annual event.
“The point is, Jeffrey’s philanthropy has allowed us to raise, I calculated recently, a half-billion dollars,” Scherer says.
Katzenberg’s involvement brings other entertainment industry people to the table. “He’s directing and guiding, and pulls the trigger,” Scherer says. “He’s been a great leader and he doesn’t get in the way. He’s a great volunteer and when we ask, he says, ‘Yes, I can,’ or ‘No, I can’t.’”
While most people are familiar with the retirement home in Woodland Hills, the MPTF conducts dozens of other initiatives to help the entertainment community, including health centers, insurance services, and support services for seniors who want to live alone.
“As wonderful as the home is, and it is, there are so many other needs our people have,” Scherer says.
When the organization started, there was something called the payroll pledge that allowed the six studios to withhold a percentage for MPTF from paychecks. “Anyone over age 60 will tell you that you everyone was expected to payroll pledge,” Scherer says. “It’s gone by the wayside now with people working freelance all over the industry.”
That’s where Katzenberg and the foundation come in, helping to raise money for the 5,000 people besides those in the retirement homes who need help.
“The rank and file need to be educated about what we can do for them, and once they know they will help,” Scherer says.
After the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network honored Katzenberg and his wife in 2012, the couple started chairing that organization’s gala dinner every year, says Eliza Byard, GLSEN exec director. “We were just beginning to expand our presence in L.A. and Jeffrey and Marilyn have been absolutely key.”
Despite being injured in an automobile accident, Katzenberg presented an award to entrepreneur Elon Musk at last year’s GLSEN gala because he had given his word to the org. “That’s the kind of dedicated people they are,” says Byard. “They said they would be there, and they were.”
Katzenberg’s involvement has enabled the GLSEN to reach millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students around the country, Byard says. “What is humbling is when an important public figure invests financially, opens up their Rolodex, and tells people it’s important and that they join. People take our calls and come to our event,” she says of the gala, which has honored Jim Parsons, Julia Roberts, Justin Timberlake, and Jessica Biel, among others. “It has made our event start with a capital E.”