The Philanthropists: Industry's Protectors of the Environment, Arts and Education

4:17 PM PST 07/27/2011 by THR staff
Joe Pugliese

The Hollywood Reporter celebrates those whose big hearts help improve and enrich lives outside an industry where everyone knows how to make money -- but sharing it, wisely and with compassion, is another skill altogether.

THE CULTURE CLUB: Peter Morton, Lauren King, Lilly Tartikoff, Brian Grazer, Steve Tisch, Terry Semel, Michael Rubel, Peter Benedek, Bob Gersh and Jeremy Zimmer

Photographed by Joe Pugliese on July 13 at Siren Studios in Los Angeles

It isn't every day that a group of people as high-powered as these 10 Hollywood heavyweights show up for one photo shoot. Chalk it up to the surging support that L.A.'s art institutions are garnering from the entertainment world.

All serve as avid trustees of three of the city's world-class art museums. Terry Semel, 68, former CEO/chairman of Warner Bros. and Yahoo, and producers Steve Tisch, 62, and Brian Grazer, 60, sit on the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Downtown's Museum of Contemporary Art counts philanthropist Lilly Tartikoff, 58, Hard Rock founder Peter Morton, 63, and interior designer Lauren King, wife of former King World exec Richard King, among its supporters. The agencies, meanwhile, seem to be flocking to Westwood's Hammer Museum, where Bob Gersh, co-president of the Gersh agency, 60; CAA general counsel Michael Rubel, 62; and UTA co-founders Peter Benedek, 63, and Jeremy Zimmer, 53, all serve. (The Getty Museum board, dominated by financial leaders, does not include industry names.)

"Los Angeles has become one of the art capitals of the world. The number of emerging artists and new galleries here is exciting," says Tisch. Adds Morton: "I think more people in the business are collectors. It's great for the museums."

In a time of declining support for nonprofits, trustees like these play a crucial role in contributing to the creative character of a city. They help fund exhibitions, donate artworks, provide guidance and pay yearly dues (from $25,000 to more than $100,000), all in the name of bringing art to everyone. Imagine if all the eye-opening and reverie-inducing art in L.A. was locked up in the mansions of Beverly Hills?

At LACMA, the city's one truly encyclopedic museum, two great new halls for viewing art have sprung up -- the Broad Contemporary and the Resnick Pavilion -- under the tenure of director/CEO Michael Govan. Its entertainment world trustees are helping to make movies a bigger part of the museum's focus. "We have the Tim Burton exhibit [through Oct. 31], and next fall will be a Stanley Kubrick exhibit. If not on the West Coast, where else?" says Semel, who is excited about this fall's relaunch, with Film Independent, of LACMA's film program with critic Elvis Mitchell as curator.

Since director Ann Philbin took over the Hammer 11 years ago, it has become the small museum that could. It has gained an international reputation for incubating emerging talents and for "rediscovering established artists that aren't getting their due," says Gersh. For him, the show not to miss is the retrospective of the work of Paul Thek, through Aug. 28, one of the earliest artists to create installation-based pieces.

Known for its stunning permanent collection, MOCA, led by new director Jeffrey Deitch, is regaining its luster after a financial meltdown three years ago. This summer, crowds are flocking to Art in the Streets, through Aug. 8, the first major U.S. museum show of graffiti and street art. "There's just an authenticity to it -- you feel like you're on the street. They are having 10,000 visitors a week, which is fabulous," says Tartikoff. "That's what makes it worth the check -- someone has to help keep those doors open."  -- Degen Pener

 

THE MASTERS: Jeffrey Katzenberg, Sherry Lansing and Tom Sherak

Photographed by Art Streiber on July 18 at Dreamworks Animation in Glendale

If it's money that you want for a charity, you could do a lot worse than having Jeffrey Katzenberg, Sherry Lansing or Tom Sherak doing the asking. Each has shown just how effective a single person can be in rallying the industry to their causes.

DreamWorks Animation CEO Katzenberg, 60, got his first glimpse of a real master fundraiser at work 20 years ago when Universal chairman Lew Wasserman invited him to his office. On arrival, the pair immediately drove to the Motion Picture & Television Fund campus in Woodland Hills, which provides independent and assisted-living housing for retired members of the entertainment industry. Katzenberg, who now sits on the MPTF board, says Wasserman's tour of the facility had him hooked "from the very first encounter with it."

The secret of a fundraising pitch, he says, is "telling people a good story. It's about articulating and explaining the why and where the money is going and how it changes people's lives."

Lansing, 67, says the seminal moment in her philanthropic work came when her mother succumbed to cancer at 64 in 1985. "I remember thinking the only way I could honor her memory was by trying to help fund scientific research that would someday lead to a cure," she says.

As founder of the Sherry Lansing Foundation and a co-founder of Stand Up to Cancer, which has raised $180 million, Lansing says the secret of her fundraising work is: "You have the same passion for your cause as you do for making a movie. And never taking no for an answer."

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In 2001, Sherak was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which he continues to fight. But that hasn't slowed him down. As chair for the annual MS Dinner of Champions gala, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president has raised more than $43 million in the past 18 years for multiple sclerosis research and programs. It's a cause close to his heart: His daughter Melissa, 38, was diagnosed with MS when she was 15.

As for his fellow master fundraisers, Sherak, 66, says: "With Jeffrey and Sherry, you never want to say no to these people because they're there when you need them. I look at that as the catalyst for why people care -- you need my help, I'm going to try and help."  -- Bill Higgins

 

THE ENVIRONMENTALISTS: Kevin Reilly, Kelly Meyer and Norman Lear

Photographed by Autumn de Wilde on July 11 at Lear's home in Brentwood

Writer-producer norman Lear, 89, an activist's activist who founded People for the American Way in 1981 with the high hopes of "making the promise of America real for every American," is also the elder statesman among industry environmentalists. He founded the Environmental Media Association with Alan Horn in 1989 because "the world didn't need another environmental group. All the bases were covered. But what all of the environmental groups needed was a mouthpiece to get the message out."

By the time Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly, 48, joined the EMA's board, he felt the environmental message first needed to be preached at home, where industry practices on recycling and using endangered woods "were really pretty pitiful. So we began in our own industry then expanded out into the world."

Reilly says he likes how the EMA tends toward nonpartisanship, and he doesn't see much good in environmental groups creating polarizing positions. "I try to have a balanced point of view. You can't have an anti-business attitude," he says. "You can't be anti-development when you live in the United States."

Taking a strong position toward business is what drew Kelly Meyer, 50, to head the L.A. Leadership Council of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has 350 lawyers dedicated to environmental issues. "I liked that they were hard-core," she says. "It's suits meeting suits. I want to see the environment defended like a corporation or a wealthy human being would be by the best lawyers."

Meyer's own environmental passion focuses on oceans, especially in the arctic, where, with polar ice melting, there are new opportunities for oil drilling. "There are no resources that could be brought in for a cleanup," she says. "You have a BP spill or an Exxon Valdez-type accident up there, and it's over."  -- Bill Higgins

 

THE GUARDIAN ANGELS: Kristin Davis and Kerry Washington

Photographed by Andrew Macpherson on July 19 at his Hollywood Hills studio

If their obvious warmth for each other was an indicator, then Kristin Davis and Kerry Washington have more in common than busy acting careers. Through multihyphenate commitments to causes such as Oxfam International (Davis), which fights global poverty and injustice, and V-Day (Washington), an activism-meets-the-arts platform for educating women and girls about equality, the women have cemented their place as "It" girls who crave more than writing checks. Davis recently made a trip as an Oxfam ambassador to Africa, where she visited Kenya's drought-stricken Dadaab refugee camps, and she is a board member of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which rescues orphaned elephants in Nairobi. "Thank God we are there to help," says Davis, 46, who adds that the hardest part of her work with elephants is creating awareness on the home front about poaching. "We must change our mind-set here about ivory. We simply don't question where it's coming from." For Washington, a lifelong commitment to the arts has kept her heart -- and calendar -- in our nation's capital: Hers is a voice frequently heard on the Hill as a member of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. "I grew up a latchkey kid in the Bronx, so the arts were like my third parent," says Washington, 34. "I truly believe through the humanities we learn how to better understand each other and ourselves."   -- Stacey Wilson

 

THE HEALERS: Haim and Cheryl Saban

Photographed by Ramona Rosales on July 13 at The Saban Free Clinic in Los Angeles

Univision executive chairman Haim Saban, 66, says he wants his giving to be "narrow and deep," with a focus on health care in the U.S. and Israel. He tries to split his giving evenly between the countries. Haim, who made his fortune via Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Fox Family Channel, says the execution of his philanthropy goes this way: "Cheryl makes the plans, and I show up."

With the Free Clinic, the connection with Cheryl was personal. In 1983, she was a divorced working mother with two kids who had some health coverage but not enough to cover herself. She says she was "mortified" at the thought of going to a clinic for free care ("I thought I had a big tattoo that
said 'Loser' written on my forehead") but swallowed her pride and went.

"But I was treated like a regular person," says Cheryl, 60, who married Haim in 1987. "Very respectfully. Nobody looked at me like I was an oddball, just as a patient, with all the rights. And I was blown away."

She describes the experience as "a tectonic shift in how I was able to relate to myself in terms of worth." It also led to a $10 million donation in 2008 that eventually made the very same West Hollywood facility the Saban Free Clinic. "I was giddy about it," she says. "To be able to come full circle like that."

The couple also has made a $40 million donation to Children's Hospital Los Angeles' Saban Research Institute. But there's one area to which Haim has little interest in making donations. "We don't need another museum," he says. "If someone says they want to launch a museum, maybe for arts and crafts from Israel, I'll say: 'Good luck with it. If you invite us to the opening, we'll come and get some hors d'oeuvres.' "  -- Bill Higgins    

 

THE DYNAMIC DUO: Robert Iger and Willow Bay

Photographed by Dan Monick on July 10 at The Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills

Robert Iger's real heft in the philanthropy world is with the business he leads. The Disney president and CEO, 60, says the company focuses on "guaranteeing and promoting the well-being of kids and families. That's a sweet spot for Disney." But corporate donations, which run about $200 million annually in cash, products and in-kind support, are only part of the equation. "It's not just about Disney's money; it's our time and talent," he says. "We can send Imagineers into a children's hospital to help design an experience for kids that makes it better for them and their parents."

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Where there's an intersect between his and wife Willow Bay's personal philanthropic interests and Disney's is with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. But, says Iger, "the overlap is only coincidental. We've tried to separate personal from corporate." Bay, 47, a senior editor at the Huffington Post, was already involved with EGPAF in the early 1990s before she met her husband; the company was one of the early corporate sponsors. She joined the board eight years ago, just as the foundation was meeting its initial goal, at least in the U.S., of eradicating pediatric AIDS. "We looked around and thought, 'We're done,' " she says. "But we're not when children around the world don't have access to the same preventive measures our own do."

Together they've visited AIDS hospitals in South Africa. She's gone on to other facilities in Uganda and Tanzania. "You have to learn what this disease is like in a completely different culture and what the fight against it looks like," Bay says. "It's both an emotional and intellectual challenge."  -- Bill Higgins

 

THE EDUCATION CHAMPIONS: Stacey Snider and Jane Rosenthal

Photographed by Wesley Mann on July 13 at The Four Seasons Hotel in New York City

Stacey Snider, co-chairman and CEO of DreamWorks Studios, cites her years at a service-oriented Quaker high school in Pennsylvania with informing her work with City Year, the youth service corps that administers school-based service and youth leadership programs. A Los Angeles City Year board member, Snider, 50, this year helped organize its first fundraiser, raising nearly $1 million. "I believe that the problems in our communities can theoretically be ameliorated if kids stay in school," she says. "From a larger perspective, that has always rung true to me. And I wanted to put my efforts in that."

When Jane Rosenthal, 54, took her husband, Craig Hatkoff, to a New York hospital for a routine operation, she was reminded how the education programs of the nonprofit Tribeca Film Institute, of which she is co-founder and co-chairman of the board, make a difference. The admitting nurse recognized Rosenthal's name and said her son had attended Tribeca Teaches. "He didn't want to do his homework before and now he wants to be a filmmaker," she said. The in-school and after-school media program that includes instruction in documentary filmmaking is administered by TFI, which grew out of the Tribeca Film Festival, co-founded by Rosenthal, her producing partner Robert De Niro and Hatkoff to revitalize downtown Manhattan post-9/11. Says Rosenthal: "You find that kids who could not express themselves through writing are now expressing themselves through media literacy."  -- Marisa Guthrie

 

THE KID CRUSADERS: Usher, Scooter Braun, Adam Braun and Questlove

Photographed by Wesley Mann on July 15 at Shoot Digital in New York City

"Sometimes, just the idea of success can carve out your story," says Usher, 32, who started his New Look Foundation in 1999 to give underprivileged kids what they need most: opportunity. He would know. As a kid, the singer credits Boys & Girls Club for providing him with "a place to be and a reason to stay positive, because there was negativity all around." Now, his endeavor, founded on four leadership tenets -- talent, education, career and service -- has a partnership with Emory University's MBA program, an annual conference, the support of presidents (Clinton) and media titans (Turner) and a 98 percent high school graduation rate. Around the time Adam Braun's brother, Scooter, discovered Justin Bieber, the 27-year-old Brown grad saw the most impoverished corners of the globe while backpacking in 50 countries. "In India, I asked a boy begging, 'If you could have anything, what would you want?' He said a pencil, so I gave him mine, and he exploded with this big smile and an overwhelming sense of possibility. It was an incredibly transformative moment." Braun quit his finance job and started Pencils of Promise with $25. Two years later, Braun had built 41 schools in Laos, Nicaragua and Guatemala and raised more than $3 million, thanks in part to spokesman Bieber, who earmarked profits from his Someday perfume for the charity. "I could see how smart Adam was, but it was about the cause for me," the phenom says. A quality education is on Questlove's mind, too. After watching the damning 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman, the drummer for Roots and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (nee Ahmir Thompson, 40) was inspired to raise money for Harlem Village Academies, charter schools that boast top-tier performance while defying socio-economic expectations (74 percent of students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch). Growing up, Thompson attended a creative arts program, sidestepping public school in West Philadelphia, which he describes as "season four of The Wire but worse. … Forget an education, your goal was not to get stabbed, killed, raped, humiliated -- just to survive for seven hours," he says, adding that HVA's emphasis on teachers gets to the heart of the issue. "Success starts from the top, and our school system needs a complete retooling."  -- Shirley Halperin

 

THE NEXT GENERATION: Sarah Hyland and Hailee Steinfeld

Photographed by Jeff Lipsky on July 21 at Milk Studios in Los Angeles

She may not be old enough to vote, but Hailee Steinfeld, 14, doesn't let age stand in the way of her making a difference. That's why when her True Grit co-star Jeff Bridges told her about his No Kid Hungry Campaign, which aims to eradicate child hunger in the U.S. by 2015, she jumped at the chance to get involved. Says Steinfeld, "I was completely shocked to learn there are kids my age who don't have access to food like we do."

In the past two years, she's been spreading the word about the awareness campaign, which enlightens city and state officials about existing federally reimbursed food programs for kids that often go unused. "I've gotten all my friends and family to take the No Kid Hungry Pledge on nokidhungry.org," she says.

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Bridges also inspired Modern Family's Sarah Hyland, 20, to join the cause. "The message just touched me so much," she says. It's not Hyland's first foray into philanthropy. She's also a youth ambassador for the Lopez Foundation, which seeks to create positive change for underprivileged children and adults with kidney disease.

"I hate the word celebrity," Hyland says, "but by using our voices we can bring attention to these causes and help spread the word faster."  -- Noela Hueso

 

THE MORNING STARS: Jim Bell and Al Roker

Photographed by Dorothy Hong on July 15 on The Today set in New York City

Al Roker Grew up in a working class neighborhood of Queens, the eldest son of a New York City bus driver. His parents were very involved in local charities. "And we were expected to do the same thing," says Roker, 56, one of six kids -- three biological and three adopted children. "That's the way I was raised."

Says Today exec producer Jim Bell, 44: "He has not forgotten where he came from and considers himself to be the luckiest guy. He loves giving back."

Roker has given back and then some. For 10 years he has spearheaded Today's annual weeklong Lend a Hand tour, crisscrossing the U.S. in a truck filled with millions of dollars worth of supplies -- everything from food to clothes to cars are donated by businesses -- for needy charities. Lend a Hand also takes in cash donations, often from viewers who can give via the Today website. This year, the tour kicked off in Anchorage, Alaska, giving youth services charity AK Pride more than $1.8 million in donations. Subsequent stops included Houston, where Casa de Esperanza de los Ninos -- a home for children affected by abuse, neglect or HIV -- received $2.6 million in donations, and Birmingham, Ala., where American Idol champ Taylor Hicks helped Roker give $1.7 million to Community Kitchens. All told, Roker's team raised $9 million in donations and goods in 2011. The tour and the Today Toy Drive, in its 18th year this holiday season, are responsible for about 40 percent of NBC's charitable giving. Says Roker: "We're busy bees."  -- Marisa Guthrie

 

Fundraising with Oscar Flair

Melding philanthropy with film since its first academy awards party at Maple Drive Restaurant in Beverly Hills in 1993, the Elton John AIDS Foundation has raised more than $225 million to fund HIV prevention programs, help eliminate the stigma of the disease and directly care for those who need it. Like everything the legendary singer does, the fete -- now an annual must-attend post-Oscar event -- is pulled off by Sir Elton with unmistakable style, but how does the host judge each party's success? "The number of dollars raised for our cause, firstly," John tells THR. "And second, the people who attend the event -- not just the number but the contacts that are made, the relationships that are established and reinforced, the conversations that are started, the projects that are conceived and the messages that are sent and received."

1994: "His presence helped make the movie Philadelphia much more accessible to the general public," recalls John of Tom Hanks' Oscar-winning performance from that awards season. "We were given a very real insight into one man's struggle for justice in the face of AIDS-related discrimination." At the table that night (clockwise from front left): Kate Capshaw, John, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, Rita Wilson's sister Lily, Hanks, Wilson and Steven Spielberg.

2005: "Elizabeth Taylor took tremendous personal and professional risk by associating herself with HIV/AIDS and speaking out so publicly," says John, seen here with Christina Aguilera and Taylor. "She could have jeopardized the extraordinary legacy she had built in film, but her personal philosophy was that celebrity is not something that comes without responsibility. Her courageous example has inspired many other celebrities to become involved in the fight against AIDS. Being with her was always energizing and inspiring."

2001: While the party's purpose is undoubtedly serious, guests often find themselves having a little too much fun. Case in point: this end-of-the-night shot of LeAnn Rimes (left), Jenna Elfman and Andrew Keegan. "We work hard to create a comfortable environment," says John, "and clearly we're successful in doing so because people return again and again and always have a wonderful time."

2011: "I hope the younger set will learn from the more seasoned Hollywood philanthropists," says John of guests like Vanessa Hudgens (left), Josh Hutcherson and Ashley Tisdale. "But I don't think we need to teach them to be generous. These young Hollywood stars are already actively involved in charity and bring new ideas and energy to the table."

2007: It has become a tradition of the EJAF Oscar party that the host and his partner, David Furnish, stop at every table to greet guests. Why? "To thank them personally for their generosity and support," says John, pictured with Simon Cowell. "So many of our donors are cherished friends."

2002: "Halle Berry's performance was astonishing," says John of her Oscar-winning role in Monster's Ball. Denzel Washington also won that year for Training Day, but his performance in Philadelphia nearly a decade earlier would leave an indelible mark on John, who says, "Through Denzel, we got to see how hearts and minds can be changed and how we as a nation can grow together by reaching out across issues that divide us."

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