It’s just past midday in New York City, and Lorraine Alterman Boyle answers the phone on the first ring.
Asked about how her October afternoon is going, Boyle, perhaps unknowingly, offers an explanation for why she was so close to the phone. She has just been placing a round of outgoing calls to net top-tier auction items for the upcoming 10th Annual Comedy Celebration presented by the International Myeloma Foundation. So far, her efforts have been successful.
There will be a pair tickets to the Carole King musical Beautiful on Broadway (Boyle is a producer), tickets for the Los Angeles production of Hamilton (Boyle is an investor) and hopefully an item from Bruce Springsteen (he’s a longtime friend). Calling in favors is how the charity game works, and Boyle knows that all too well, even if it can sometimes be an uphill battle.
She helped launch the fundraiser, which this year will feature host Ray Romano and scheduled performers Bill Burr, Jeff Garlin, Dom Irrera, Larry Miller, Kevin Nealon, JB Smoove, Fred Willard, Michael McKean and Annette O’Toole onstage at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre on Nov. 5.
Oh, and Boyle herself will take a spin in the spotlight as the night’s main honoree. Patting herself on the back doesn’t seem like Boyle’s specialty, but the night will again benefit the Peter Boyle Research Fund — named after her late husband, the beloved character actor who passed away on Dec. 12, 2006 — in support of the Black Swan Research Initiative, a program that seeks to cure the type of cancer that took his life by detecting it at the earliest time possible.
“I feel a little embarrassed being honored,” Boyle tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But if you have a loss in the family, you have to turn it into something positive that can help other people. That’s why I started doing this and got so involved. It didn’t occur to me that anything like this would happen. It’s nice to know when you’re appreciated.”
Have you prepared what you will say?
No, it’s too far in advance at this point. I am looking forward to the show. There are other comedy shows, but we worked to make this event unique, instead of having a boring sit-down dinner in a hotel with one entertainer to comedy or sing songs, this is much more fun. You are never trapped sitting down all night. You are getting a real comedy show with all the entertainers who are great to donate their time. It’s nice to be able to laugh right before the election.
Since the launch, more than $5 million has been raised for the Peter Boyle Research Fund. What does that mean to you?
That makes me really, really happy. You’ll have to check the figure, it may be almost $6 million now. It really means the world to me. It’s such a tribute to Peter’s memory and what he achieved as an actor. He brought a lot of joy to the world — and maybe scared some people, too, with performances like Young Frankenstein and other work. It makes me feel so good to know that people are giving back in a way to honor that.
It’s shocking to read that myeloma is one of the fastest-growing blood cancers, and that it remains incurable. What have you learned about the disease since the funds from the Peter Boyle Research Fund have been redirected to the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative?
When Peter was first diagnosed, we had never heard of multiple myeloma. It’s growing so fast. Part of the really distressing thing is that it’s probably caused by environmental toxins. First-responders like firefighters have higher rate of the disease. And a few years back, it was shocking to find out that dolphins in San Francisco were getting it from toxins in the bay. It’s a serious concern to everybody. [The Black Swan Initiative] is an amazing project and I’m glad to be a part of it in some way.
More than 50 celebrity comedians and performers have taken the stage during these past nine years. Do you have a favorite?
Ray [Romano] has always hosted it, and he is amazing. He just has always been there for us. When he and Peter started doing Everybody Loves Raymond, he and Peter lived in the same apartment complex. Peter used to work with him running lines and they always had a very close bond together from the beginning. It’s amazing and wonderful that he keeps supporting us. Fred Willard, who Peter worked with when they both did Second City, is always there for us. I love him and he’s one of the funniest people I know. We will miss Doris Roberts this year. She’s always been there. But I can mention everybody. Everybody has been very generous with their time. It’s a Saturday night when most comedians are booked, but somehow we get people to show up.
You met Peter on the set of Young Frankenstein, which is getting a special presentation now. When was the last time you watched the film? Can you watch Peter’s work or is it too painful?
If I turn on the TV and something is on, I may leave it on for awhile. Sometimes I will watch episodes of Raymond. It’s painful, but it’s also strange to see him so alive in these things. I don’t purposely [watch], but I do like to see it. There are pictures of him all around the house.
You would have been married 40 years next year. You already do so much to honor your late husband’s memory, but do you pause to commemorate those special dates in any way?
I have two daughters and a son-in-law and we live in Manhattan. After Peter died, I bought two benches with plaques on them in Carl Schurz Park on the East River. On [special days or anniversaries], we go sit on the bench and think about him. If we are out in East Hampton where we have a house, we visit the cemetery. We do things that are fun because he loved to laugh. That 40th will be a hard one. It never gets any easier for any of us. My point in life is there are a lot of women I know who are widows. It’s hard especially when someone is a public figure like Peter. You can be flipping channels and there he is. But I’m very proud of him and all the work he did on films and television, and I’m proud of doing this for him to find a cure for this awful disease.
You used to interview people for a living, writing for Rolling Stone and The New York Times among other publications. What do you read today?
I read The New York Times and New York Post every day. I read The Hollywood Reporter online. And I also read New York Magazine and Vanity Fair and travel magazines. It’s overwhelming though. Sometimes you get hooked and say, ‘Where did the day go?’ When I met Peter, I was bored writing about rock ‘n’ roll and I went back a little bit after my kids got a little older. The year after Peter died, I got into this Broadway co-producing stuff. It hooks you. I did some shows that weren’t so successful, and now Beautiful on Broadway is running and it’s wonderful. The show I am most proud of Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons. It’s an important show.