How the Man Behind 'Charlie's Angels' Became an Angel to Migraine Sufferers

Wendy and Leonard Goldberg - H 2015
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Wendy and Leonard Goldberg - H 2015

Leonard Goldberg, one half of Spelling-Goldberg Productions, and wife Wendy Goldberg have given UCLA $10 million to study the disorder. Experts say the gift is a game-changer.

For decades, neurology professor Dr. Andrew Charles has toiled away at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine as a migraine specialist. A hugely prevalent and disabling disorder, migraines have nevertheless failed to be treated as seriously within fundraising circles as marquee diseases like cancer or HIV/AIDS.

All of that changed two months ago, when Charles was informed by hospital administrators that a donation had been made by Leonard Goldberg, Aaron Spelling's longtime producing partner, and his wife of 42 years, Wendy Goldberg.

The amount: $10 million.

"I was flabbergasted. People could have heard me yelling from across town," recalls Charles of his reaction to the gift, which pays out annually through a trust and comes with virtually no restrictions, save one: that the bulk of it be allocated to the field of migraine studies. 

It is the charitable equivalent of winning the Powerball jackpot — a payout so large and unprecedented, it could change the conversation about how a mysterious and widely misunderstood disorder is perceived. 

Since the news has gone public, Charles has been hearing from colleagues around the world. "They're ecstatic," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "They're hoping it will set a precedent. The fact that this is pretty much unrestricted will allow us to do innovative things that we wouldn’t be able to do with traditional funding sources."

For a comparable case study, one need only look to the Ice Bucket Challenge, the social-media phenomenon that since 2014 has raised an astonishing $220 million toward ALS research. That money has been a game-changer, ALS researchers say, in terms of the "high-risk, high-reward" experiments it now allows them to undertake. (The studies have already led to one significant breakthrough regarding TDP-43, a genetic protein that might hold the key to a cure.)

ALS, a degenerative and deadly disease, affects 15,000 Americans. By contrast, migraines — which, while not fatal, often "ruin lives," according to Charles — affects 36 million Americans, making it the third most common of all disorders.

Wendy Goldberg's late mother was one of its sufferers. While raising her children in Los Angeles, her devastating attacks would send her scurrying into dark rooms for hours at a time, leaving young Wendy and her sister — who grew up to be ICM partner Toni Howard, agent to Michael Keaton and Spike Lee — to fend for themselves. (Migraine sufferers are hypersensitive to light and sound.) 

The condition is hereditary, and Goldberg, while never afflicted herself, has stood by helplessly as various family members have succumbed to it over the years. It was in seeking treatment for one relative in particular (whom they do not want to identify) that the couple first met Dr. Charles four years ago.

"We tried New York, San Francisco and here [in L.A.]. Nothing seemed to work," recalls Leonard, who at 81 is still actively involved in the entertainment business, serving as executive producer of CBS police drama Blue Bloods. (His wife has a foot in the family business as well, having recently co-authored The Blue Bloods Cookbook with one of the show's stars, Bridget Moynahan.)

What they found in Dr. Charles, however, was a ray of hope — a compassionate ally who possessed a far deeper grasp of the topic than any other specialist they'd seen. It was then that the couple quietly began discussing the idea of using some of their considerable fortune — spoils from a string of Spelling-Goldberg smashes throughout the 1970s, including Charlie's Angels and Fantasy Island — to "make a difference," as Leonard puts it.

"We both believe in giving back, and we’ve tried to do that to the best of our ability," he says. "Certainly we’ve seen friends who have done that." He cites David Geffen, whose donations to UCLA now exceed $400 million, as being "a fantastic symbol" of Hollywood philanthropy.

He also mentions "good friends" Lynda and Stewart Resnick, the billionaire couple behind Pom Wonderful and Fiji Water, who have donated at least $16 million to UCLA Health Sciences since 2000 and whose names currently adorn UCLA's Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital.

Now the Goldbergs, too, will see their name immortalized, in the newly minted UCLA Goldberg Migraine Program. Dr. Charles, who will head up the program, says contemporaries working in other areas of medicine have been supportive — though, he concedes, jealousies persist.

"It’s a strange world that there is always a competition for these kinds of resources," says Charles. "But I think most medical practitioners would recognize how extraordinarily common the problem is and how much it’s deserving of better attention in terms of research."