The Paley Center for Media couldn’t have predicted when they scheduled their event honoring women in Hollywood that it would fall during a week mired in sexual harassment scandals from Harvey Weinstein to Roy Price.
But although the news was undoubtedly on everyone’s minds leading up to Thursday’s gala, the legendary women that the Paley Center for Media gathered in Beverly Hills for “Paley Honors in Hollywood: A Gala Celebrating Women in Television” were not going to let anything stop them from celebrating eight decades of female achievements in sports, drama, comedy, news, talk shows and music.
Betty White, who received a special tribute at the gala, took the stage to a standing ovation and put it simply and sweetly when she thanked everyone for “spoiling [her] rotten for so many years.” Despite the trials and tribulations that can come from being in a field as tough as entertainment, White has thrived for seven decades as a performer and is also celebrated as one of the first women to have control behind the camera as a producer in the medium, as well.
“It’s just the best business to be in, and thank you for helping me stay there,” White said.
Rita Moreno, who was on-hand to present the package about women in music, did go off-script to come forward with her own first-hand account of experiencing harassment in Hollywood, and Wanda Sykes, who was there to present the talk and news package, commented on how “to appreciate how far [women have] come, we have to go back to the ’50s and ’60s,” which, she noted, “kind of feels like we’re there now.”
Paley Center’s president and CEO Maureen J. Reidy kicked off the evening by promising the company would continue to preserve classic television from its earliest days until today’s modern classics as a way of informing future generations of what came before them.
“Tonight we demonstrate how television, more than any other medium, serves to shatter stereotypes, educate audiences and bring people together,” Reidy said. “We are so proud to celebrate the pioneering entertainers, groundbreaking series, and current hit shows that have sparked conversations and thrilled generations.”
Olympians Nadia Comaneci and Cathy Rigby presented a look at sports through the years, including Billie Jean King’s fight for equality and iconic 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match against Bobby Riggs, while Adriande Diaz and Lynn Whitfield presented drama and Allison Janney and Pamela Adlon presented comedy. In those respective genres, everyone from Cicely Tyson, Dana Delany and Joan Collins, as well as Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Marlo Thomas and Tina Fey were showcased.
And of course the women took moments to celebrate each other, shouting out their personal idols who they saw in the audience or with whom they got a chance to mingle during the cocktail hour. “We’re very into being here,” Adlon said when first coming out on stage with Janney. “I’m dying. Wendi McLendon-Covey knows who I am! I’m shpilking. I just met Betty White!”