Philanthropy: The leaders
EmptyWhen top industry execs bring their know-how to the fundraising arena, millions of dollars are channeled toward good causes. Here are nine who have successfully combined power with generosity.
Lucy Fisher and Douglas Wick, Janet and Jerry Zucker
Inspired by their children's battle with Type 1 diabetes, two prominent Hollywood couples are pushing to keep the promise of stem-cell research at the forefront of government debate.
Producers Lucy Fisher and Douglas Wick and Janet and Jerry Zucker -- who both have a daughter with the devastating disease, which can lead to blindness and amputation -- formed a patient advocacy group called CuresNow in April 2002 after President Bush sharply limited federal funding for stem-cell research.
Since then, the couples have worked hard to raise awareness of the issues surrounding stem-cell research, and have recruited many powerful allies. They financed a feasibility study of a possible stem-cell initiative on the California ballot, which kicked off the Proposition 71 campaign. In May 2004, they produced an event for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation at which Nancy Reagan came out publicly in favor of stem-cell research. They created headline-making commercials in support of the cause and partnered with the Entertainment Industry Foundation to spread diabetes awareness with public service announcements that starred celebrities such as Halle Berry.
After using their Hollywood connections to recruit Brad Pitt to appear in a commercial backing Prop. 71, the quartet saw California's legislature pass the proposition, which authorized the state to spend $3 billion over 10 years on stem-cell research, in November 2004 -- by far the largest pot of public money ever allocated to support the research.
"It was an enormous risk," says Janet Zucker. "It was very scary because if we'd failed, it would have had a chilling effect on the science."
Now, having taken on California, they're setting their sights on the national level. In June, Jerry Zucker posted a three-minute film he directed attacking White House policy on nationalbanana.com. The spot features a Bush impersonator telling fertility clinic workers what they should do with embryos that won't be used by couples. "They're human lives, and that's sacred," he says. "Throw them in the trash."
The film quickly whipped up an online debate. "It's easy for people to criticize films or people's intentions," Janet Zucker says. "It's much harder to put things together and see them through. And this is a long-distance race."
Simply put, Fisher, Wick and the Zuckers have only just begun to fight. "If you're a parent with a child with juvenile diabetes, you will stop at nothing," Fisher says. "It's different if you have it or your parents have it. If it's your kid, you're thinking about it every day of your life."
Jeffrey Katzenberg's financial know-how doesn't stop at the boxoffice. He's been offering it to one of his favorite causes, the Motion Picture & Television Fund, for 15 years. Over that time, estimates the MPTF Foundation's CEO, Ken Scherer, Katzenberg and his wife, Marilyn, have raised about $75 million for the nonprofit that helps entertainment industry veterans with retirement, health services and financial planning.
As the DreamWorks executive said at a lunch to kick off one of his studio's fundraising campaigns, "The Motion Picture & Television Fund has been a passion of mine for some time now. This is an organization that is for the people of our industry and by the people of our industry."
Katzenberg became board chairman of the MPTF Foundation in 1992 when Lew Wasserman recruited him, deciding it was time to pass on the generational torch of the organization's leadership and ensure its future. Katzenberg's first act was to turn the 1993 premiere of "Sleepless in Seattle" into a benefit for the fund, raising $2.5 million. Over the years, he has worked the phones, corralled the support of famous friends and set an example by donating his own money generously. For this year's "Night Before" gala, the fund's annual pre-Oscar event at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Katzenbergs donated $400,000 as presenting sponsors. Scherer says their total contribution has run into the millions.
"He's been a force of nature," Scherer adds. "As a fundraiser, he has engaged the leadership of Hollywood, and that's crucial. Because the way you raise $8.6 million in a given night is you get people to care about what this organization means to our industry. He got the generation of leaders that included Ron Meyer, Barry Meyer, Bob Iger, Peter Chernin, Kevin Spacey, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jodie Foster. And the reason people respond to Jeffrey is they know his money's there."
The national media thought it was bidding adieu to Hollywood's first female studio chief when former Paramount head Sherry Lansing announced her retirement. "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," Newsweek declared in a January 2005 headline.
Not so fast.
The energetic Lansing just left one boardroom behind for another: She's busier than ever as the head of her eponymous foundation supporting cancer research and other health issues as well as education and the arts. Indeed, Lansing's lifelong commitment to philanthropy, culminating with her work on behalf of the Sherry Lansing Foundation, found her back in the bosom of Hollywood only two years later when she took the stage of the Kodak Theatre to accept the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 2007 Academy Awards.
Despite receiving national recognition, Lansing describes her foundation as small. While she gives away an undisclosed portion of her wealth each year, she doesn't fundraise -- she donates sweat equity. She sits on the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, established by Proposition 71 to distribute $3 billion in state funding for stem-cell research. As a regent of the University of California, she chairs the Committee on Health Services, which oversees university hospitals. She is also the chair of Stop Cancer, a nonprofit she helped found with Armand Hammer. She's a trustee of the Carter Center, the human rights organization established by President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn. And the former teacher forged a partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District to place retiree volunteers in local public schools.
"My foundation is mostly interested in changing policy," says Lansing. "That's where you can probably effect the most changes, unless you're Bill Gates. I don't have a billion dollars to throw at a problem. For me, I can access the relationships I have built over 40 years in the areas I'm interested in. It's like someone said to me, 'You're a small foundation, but you're appointed to the stem-cell board and you have $3 billion and 15 people that you're responsible for, so that's really not so small after all.'"
Lansing thinks her background as a studio chief was ideal preparation for her second act as a philanthropist. "It brings to bear everything I learned when I was running a studio, because you were able to make a lot of contacts and you were able to learn collaboration and building consensus," she says. "You take those skills and put them toward changing policy rather than making a movie."
While attending the University of Delaware, Sony Pictures Television president Steve Mosko, who worked his way through college, didn't have the mandatory minimum grade-point average he needed to snare a coveted internship at a Philadelphia TV station.
Ten years later, Mosko returned to the station as part owner.
"I went to the woman who oversaw the intern program and asked if she remembered me," he recalls. "I said that that 3.0 criterion was going out the window. 'I want kids who are passionate and are working nighttime shifts to pay their way through college. I want women. I want minorities. Let's open this thing up.'"
As chairman of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation, Mosko is still building bridges between youth and the small screen.
The foundation is the academy's educational arm, providing internships and scholarships, administering the archives and contributing to social services and mentoring organizations. In his three years as chairman, Mosko has brought the same boundary-pushing outlook he did to his station in Philadelphia. He has ensured that students from around the world have a shot at the foundation's College Television Awards -- an excellent resume item for any industry novice. He brought the awards onto the Sony lot two years ago and oversaw the move to air winning entries on MTV and the Sundance Channel.
"So it's gotten much greater exposure," he says. "Seeing kids show up on the lot with their parents and be proud of their work and not be spoiled by the town yet is great."
Mosko, who also sits on the Board of Trustees of Loyola Marymount University and the Los Angeles Board of Governors of the Museum of Television & Radio, thinks it's important to extend a hand to the next generation finding its footing in the business world.
"When I was at that point in my life, I had to do it all on my own," he says. "It was a lot of work to figure out what the business was like, where the jobs were, the best way to go after those jobs. You need someone who will tell you, 'This is how it's going to be. This is how you deal with the bumps in the road.' It's giving you a road map. And it's hard to get that in a classroom. You need to hear that from someone with dirt under his fingernails."
A lot of people in the entertainment industry know that if Revolution Studios partner Tom Sherak is on the phone, chances are he's calling to ask for money.
Yet they still take his calls.
"They're really good people," says Sherak, who's not so shabby himself. He's a huge supporter of several organizations dedicated to the fight against multiple sclerosis, a battle he began waging 19 years ago when his daughter, Melissa, now 34, was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease.
If the phone is ringing between May and September, Sherak is wearing his National Multiple Sclerosis Society -- Southern California Chapter Board of Trustees hat and beating the drum for its annual Dinner of Champions, which pays for patient services and some research. The rest of the year, he's collaring friends and colleagues on behalf of the Sherak Family Fund for MS at UCLA, where he's a member of the Film, Television and Digital Media faculty. The foundation that Sherak and his wife, Madeleine, created has raised $10 million for research. The Sheraks bankrolled a UCLA study on estriol therapy for women with MS, which the FDA recently approved for drug trials scheduled to begin in August. The foundation has already raised $4 million of the $5.5 million that will be needed to complete the trials.
"When this whole thing started 19 years ago, we were devastated," Sherak says. "The journey to the top of the mountain is something that's been very slow, but we've never given up hope in helping both our daughter and other people suffering with this disease."
He gives extra credit to generous colleagues and heavy hitters not known for their touchy-feely side. Sherak's belief in the goodness of others prompted him to ask one particularly prominent executive to increase his annual donation of $25,000. "I said, 'Can I ask you to give me $40,000?' There's dead silence," Sherak recalls. "I thought, 'You just broke one of your rules: You just went into somebody's pocket.' After four beats, this person says to me, 'Tom, is that enough?' People can't always say yes, but most people want to help when they can help."
Harvey Weinstein uses his typical bluntness to connect the dots between entertainment industry success and philanthropy. "I've been lucky," he says. "You have to give back. If you don't, you're nothing."
This year, Weinstein chaired two record-breaking benefits: The ann-ual gala for New York City's anti-poverty Robin Hood Foundation raised an astounding $72 million, and the Cinema Against AIDS dinner in Cannes brought in an impressive $7.5 million for amfAR (the American Foundation for AIDS Research). His secret weapon? George Clooney, who offered a kiss to the highest bidder. It went for $350,000.
"If Clooney had done every table, I would have done $30 million," Weinstein quips.
Weinstein is just as tough-minded about where he puts his time and effort for charity as he is about running the Weinstein Co. He joined the board of Robin Hood more than a decade ago at the suggestion of his friend, Robert Kennedy Jr., in part because he likes the way the organization does business.
"Every dollar you contribute doesn't go to pay off some administrator," says Weinstein, who recruited Gwyneth Paltrow to join the board. "We build our own schools. We build our own libraries. We run them. We have oversight, and we run them as we run our companies."
Weinstein credits his close relationship with the late choreographer Michael Bennett with helping to open his eyes to the importance of philanthropy. He produced the national tour of Bennett's "A Chorus Line" when he was 22, which led to a lifelong love of musicals and, eventually, the 2002 Miramax production of "Chicago."
"When he passed away from AIDS, (my involvement with AIDS philanthropy) was an act of vengeance," he says. "You wanted to get involved." He sought out the guidance of Dr. Mathilde Krim, amfAR's founding chairman who also sits on the Weinstein Co. board.
Philanthropy is a family affair for the Weinsteins. His brother, Bob, sits on the board of Connecticut's Hole in the Wall Gang, a camp for children with serious illnesses. For these studio heads, it's all in a day's work -- a very long day's work.
"You have to find the 25th hour in a day to do this," Weinstein says. "When I'm that busy, I don't mind. This is something I'm really proud of."
MORE PHILANTHROPY COVERAGE
Lasting impressions: Hollywood makes it count
Entertainment philanthropy directory
Expert advise on charitable events
Philanthropy news & notes