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A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
It sounds like something out of an L. Ron Hubbard novel, but The Thalians is one of the longest-running celebrity charities in Hollywood, helping to build Cedars-Sinai hospital, among other L.A. institutions. On Nov. 14, one of its founding members, Debbie Reynolds, 83, who served as the group’s president for six decades, will be presented with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, the honorary Oscar for public service.
“Every star in Hollywood would come and participate in The Thalians‘ shows,” says actress Ruta Lee, 80, of the group, which had its first meeting on Mother’s Day in 1955 at Jayne Mansfield’s “Pink Palace” in Beverly Hills. Now the group’s chairman of the board emeritus, Lee adds, “Nowadays, you ask a celebrity to be the honoree, you have to send a private plane and give a Rolex.”
As for Reynolds, there’s no price tag you can put on her efforts, Lee says. “Debbie is the one who taught me from the beginning that you can go in any store or corporation as long as you’re not asking for yourself. They will respect you for asking,” Lee concludes. “She jumped in with both feet right from the beginning and is still available to this day no matter what. She’s just the best.”