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Ryan Kavanaugh evoked the spirit of the late Tom Sherak when he accepted the Fulfillment Fund’s initial award named after the late film executive at the organization’s 20th annual Stars gala Tuesday at the Beverly Hilton.
The Relativity Media CEO called Sherak “a driving force pushing people to give” who reminded the world “we have a moral obligation to donate money and time to those in need.”
Kavanaugh said he was at first skeptical about being the honoree at a dinner that’s known for bringing the entertainment industry together because “I’m not exactly the least polarizing person in Hollywood.”
However, he was non-polarizing enough for the evening to raise over $2 million.
On the red carpet before the dinner began, Kavanaugh recalled how he got involved in the Fulfillment Fund because of Sherak, and the little-known role Sherak played in helping him build Relativity Media into a movie studio.
“I had called him when nobody believed I could build a distribution company,” said Kavanaugh. “Everybody was telling me it was impossible, it’s going to take 10 years. Anybody else would have been, like, ‘Yeah, right, goodbye.’ Next day, he was in my office and he said, ‘Tell me your plan.’ I told him how I was going to do it differently. And he’s, like, ‘I’m in.’ And I said ‘What, we don’t even have a deal.’ And he goes, ‘I’m just going to help you build it.’ And he said, ‘I want you to write a charity check for $250,000 to the Fulfillment Fund, and I’m in. I’ll help you build the whole thing.’”
The evening began with remarks from Fund founder Dr. Gary Gitnick and wife Cherna, who presented the organization’s Founders’ Award to composer Charles Fox, best known for writing “Killing Me Softly” and myriad TV-show themes.
Fox spoke of the Fund’s work with mentoring, and how being given the opportunity to be mentored by Nadia Boulanger in Paris completely changed his life.
Dr. Gitnick returned later to pay tribute to Sherak, who served on the organization’s board for two decades.
Entertainment came from John Oliver, star of HBO’s Last Week Tonight. Oliver, who also acted as master of ceremonies, did a riff on America that noted the three pillars of its society are “education, apple pie and catching something shot from a T-shirt cannon.”
He also noted that the U.S. is a country where “in the midst of a recession, $310 million is spent on Halloween costumes for pets.”
Offstage, Oliver admitted he hardly knows Kavanaugh, but came to support the Fulfillment Fund: “I’m not friends with [Kavanaugh]. People like me are not friends with Ryan Kavanaugh. I know of him. If you have this kind of face, with the things that it’s doing, you are not on the hemisphere of movie producers. This [face] does not work on a large screen. This works to laugh at in-person.”
The live auction, run by Grant Snyder and Kathy Griffin, saw Kavanaugh come on stage to encourage his friends to be generous bidders. At one point, Kavanaugh agreed to pay $85,000 to buy an all-electric Cadillac ELR coupe, which he then immediately donated back to be re-auctioned. It brought another $80,000 the second time around.
Other stars in attendance included James Marsden, Teri Hatcher, Michelle Monaghan, Amber Valletta and Danica McKellar.
The evening concluded with Jennifer Hudson performing a five-song set that ended with a standing ovation when she hit the high notes on the Dreamgirls torch song, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”
The more than $2 million raised at the event will go to scholarships and other kinds of support for education and students in need. Griffin said she came to the event and helped raise money at the auction because she now appreciates the importance of education for everyone.
“When I was a teenager I thought, ‘College? I don’t need college,’ ” said Griffin. “’I’m going to grow up and be a hilarious actress. But I do need college. Now I go to dinner parties and events, and I don’t know things that I should know, and I think, ‘I should have gone to college!’ ”
She added, “I think it’s so great that this organization, along with many others, can give scholarships and funding for you to go to school.”
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