Dan Fogelman on Real-Life Tragedies That Inspired 'This Is Us' and 'Life Itself'

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Dan Fogelman (left) and Ken Olin

The writer/director was honored by Our House, an organization that bereft Angelenos have turned to since 1993.

Our House Grief Support Center — a Los Angeles nonprofit that has helped more than 150,000 people cope with losing loved ones — borrowed the Sony lot's John Calley Park on Saturday night for its 25th anniversary fundraiser.

About 600 guests, among them Michaela Watkins (Casual) and Whitney Port (The Hills), attended The House of Hope Gala, an event that included silent and live auctions and a meal catered by Wolfgang Puck. 

"Those of us at Our House know better than most that you never really know when someone that is near and dear to you is going to be taken from you," said Ben Platt, star of Netflix-bound The Politician, Ryan Murphy's next musical series. "The only thing we can all really do is spend the time that we have here loving people that are around us." He and his brother, Jonah, then sang a duet of James Taylor's "Shower the People."

This Is Us director/executive producer Ken Olin presented series creator Dan Fogelman with the organization's Good Grief Award. "As far as normalizing the grief experience, I think based on the number of people who have died on This Is Us and in Dan's movie, Life Itself, you might easily conclude that Dan's career goal for the past three years has been to get this award," quipped Olin, who attended with his wife and former Thirtysomething co-star, Patricia Wettig. However, he choked up when he brought Fogelman to the stage, calling him "someone I love."

Fogelman abandoned his prepared remarks to speak candidly. "I never imagined that I was writing something about getting past losing somebody … it was only stepping back from a bunch of the things I'd worked on that I realized I was writing some stuff that I probably wasn't strong enough to talk about in therapy," he began.

"The last 10 years of my life have seen a great deal of those things that bring you to your knees. I lost my college roommate when I was 31, I lost my mother when I was 32, I lost my mentor in a tragic car accident when I was 33," he revealed. "In the last three years, I have lost an aunt who I was the primary caregiver for, I've lost one of my best friends just a month ago."

He continued, "While I'm no expert on grief or loss, I'm able to watch myself from above as I realize some stuff would make a really good TV show or movie … What you all are doing here so clearly helps give people the tools — people of all ages and of all kinds of loss — to help turn the brutal into the beautiful." Previous recipients of the Good Grief Award include Party of Five's producers and cast, Greg Berlanti (Everwood) and Melissa Rivers.

In a videotaped tribute, she introduced H.U.G. Award honoree Edie Lutnick. Soon after the Twin Towers fell, Lutnick co-founded The Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund to honor her brother, Gary, and his 657 colleagues who perished there that day. The Founder's Award went to former board chair Jory Goldman and her four children. Sixteen years ago, Goldman's husband Joel died suddenly, and she joined Our House's young widows group. Her children also worked through their hurts with its counselors and remain active in the community created by founder Jo-Ann Lautman.

"There's a time to be born and a time to die, and birth is celebrated and death … people don't want to talk about it," Lautman pointed out to The Hollywood Reporter. "This was needed. It doesn't belong in a church, or a synagogue, or a hospital; it has to be freestanding, where you can be angry, you can be real, you can just grieve and laugh and play, and people have." Besides operating three facilities, Our House also has a presence in 60 L.A.-area schools and offers services in Spanish.

Program alumnus Patton Oswalt lost his wife, author and journalist Michelle McNamara, in April 2016. Following a friend's recommendation, he called Our House "immediately," and was told, "'You actually need to wait a couple of months and let all this come out in a kind of ugly way, and then you come in,'" he recounted to THR. "They so know the flow of grief and what you have to do; it's a terrible thing to be an expert in, but they're experts."

Once Oswalt entered Our House, he was expecting to attend therapy sessions with his then-7-year-old daughter, Alice. "What I found out to my surprise was Alice goes in by herself with kids, and it's like the first steps with her … Alice has to become her own little person now, and they're so good at kind of easing her into that. And then I would stay in the waiting room, and then meet her on the way out, and then we would have a nice talk on the way home." For a decade, Our House has also hosted Camp Erin, a weekend-long summer getaway where 50-plus volunteers welcome bereaved children ages 6 through 17.

A first-time attendee at the House of Hope Gala, Oswalt also co-sponsored the night, along with 10-time Emmy winner James Burrows (Cheers, Frasier, Will & Grace) and many others. More than two dozen celebrities donated signed drawings, such as Don Cheadle, Idris Elba, Sally Field, Calista Flockhart and Harrison Ford. The organization exceeded its projected $850,000 fundraising total for the evening.