The event: You knew you were in L.A. at the Ambassadors for Humanity Gala, which celebrated the USC Shoah Foundation’s 20th anniversary and honored President Obama for his commitment to human rights.
Celebrity guests and entertainment industry heavyweights were out in force in support of the foundation, which works to preserve the testimonies of survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides.
Liam Neeson, star of "Schindler's List," began the ceremonies on Wednesday evening by recalling the impact of that Holocaust film and how it led director Steven Spielberg to found the Shoah Foundation. Conan O'Brien was the night's emcee.
And for a totally Hollywood moment there was reality star Kim Kardashian, who tweeted about both her ensemble (Balmain blazer, Alexander McQueen top, Lanvin skirt) and her interest in supporting Shoah’s testimonies of Armenian genocide victims.
The scene: The affair at the Century Plaza Hotel began with cocktails amid displays of Shoah’s work. Guests then adjourned to the ballroom for dinner, official ceremonies and a stirring performance by Bruce Springsteen of “The Promised Land” and “Dancing in the Dark.”
The program: “I can't believe it's 21 years since I stood at the gates of Auschwitz,” Neeson said, begining the ceremonies with the chilling image.
O’Brien took over because, he said, gala chairman Spielberg wanted someone to change the tone. “That's right,” O'Brien said, “Steven decided he wanted someone to come onto this stage after all we've seen and heard and get the crowd laughing. I don't know who Steven got, but, man, do I pity that guy.”
There was no shortage of laughs as O’Brien tackled, among other subjects, traffic jams resulting from presidential visits. “I know you left Washington six hours ago, but I left Burbank seven hours ago,” he said to the president, suggesting that people mail the president his next Los Angeles award or “Skype works.”
The honoree: “In the face of acts of inhumanity, President Obama has not stood by," Spielberg said. "He has staked our claim on shaping a better world. He has said that as long as America can do something, be it military, economic through moral example or even grass-roots inspiration, we will do what we can.”
The evening culminated in President Obama's speech, in which he talked about the importance of preserving memories, America’s commitment to Israel and problems of hatred in today’s world.
“The work of this foundation, the testimonies of survivors like those with us tonight, also remind us that the purpose of memory is not simply to preserve the past. It is to protect the future,” Obama said. “We only need to look at today’s headlines: the devastation of Syria, the murders and kidnappings in Nigeria, sectarian conflict, tribal conflicts, to see that we have not yet extinguished man’s darkest impulses. There are some bad stories out there that are being told to children and they’re learning to hate early.”
Nearing the end of his talk, he said: “I have this remarkable title right now: president of the United States. And yet every day when I wake up and I think about young girls in Nigeria or children caught up in the conflict in Syria, when there are times in which I want to reach out and save those kids. … I think, drop by drop by drop, that we can erode and wear down these forces that are so destructive - that we can tell a different story.”
The crowd: “This room is filled with philanthropists, with humanitarians, exemplars of courage and heroes in the struggle for human progress,” O'Brien said. Guests from talent agency CAA "evens it out," he quipped.
The 1,300 guests included Barbra Streisand, James Brolin, Samuel L. Jackson, Octavia Spencer, Rita Wilson, Colin Hanks, Kate Capshaw, Jessica Capshaw and Judge Judy Sheindlin; DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Katzenberg; DreamWorks Chief Executive Officer Stacey Snider; NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer; Fox Filmed Entertainment Chief Executive Officer Jim Gianopulos; Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos; Disney/ABC Television President Anne Sweeney; Warner Bros. marketing chief Sue Kroll; talent manager Guy Oseary; composer John Williams; philanthropist Wendy Goldberg; television writer-producer Phil Rosenthal; film producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall; tech entrepreneurs Jeff Skoll and Marc Benioff.
Numbers: Guests bought tickets from $1,500 or tables ranging up to $100,000, raising a record-breaking $4.3 million. TNT served as presenting sponsor.
Ellen Olivier is founder of Society News LA.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun