It was, as producer/director George Schlatter put it, not a heavily messaged evening.
But if it was light on messages, it was heavy on sentiment at the Commitment to Life Benefit for AIDS Project Los Angeles. APLA honored geneticist Mathilde Krim, Ph.D., and Whoopi Goldberg at its third annual show and party Sunday night at the Wiltern Theatre.
As in the past two years, support for APLA was tremendous. The house was packed and there was an impressive celebrity contingent in the audience and on stage. The upper reaches of the balcony became the loudest cheering section. "I love those people," benefit chairman Barry Krost said. It was that enthusiasm, a continual buzz that lasted the evening, that set this benefit apart from the routine black-tie galas that pepper the Los Angeles social scene.
Celebrities Dealing Programs
The evening was divided into two parts--a two-hour stage show and awards presentation and a post-performance party for $1,000 ticket holders at the L.A. Ole restaurant next door. Celebrities were stationed at the auditorium doors to dole out programs (and occasionally sign them for fans). "I'm trying to do this and get my next film deal," said actor Martin Short. Jimmy Smits from "L.A. Law" was politely seating people as well. "I used to do this in college for bands and stuff," he said. "But I wouldn't want it as an alternate career. Besides, there are no tips."
Other star ushers included Carol Kane, Brooke Adams, Valerie Harper, Susan Ruttan, Mike Farrell, Shelley Fabares, Joel Brooks, Sandra Bernhard, Sam Harris, Meg Tilly, John Ratzenberger, Roddy McDowall, David Naughton, Lainie Kazan and Lorna Luft.
With sophisticated production values that weren't too slick, the show left room for some hilarious improvisation, most notably by Martin Short and Steve Martin. Almost all the presenters, from Madonna to Faye Dunaway to APLA execs Matt Redman and John C. Wolfe, made brief pleas for more understanding, money, support and education for AIDS. Many remarked how the disease had touched their lives.
Entertainment highlights included the Cornerstone Church Choir, which opened the show, the Nylons, one tune from Linda Ronstadt, a hilarious taped routine from Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler that had the feel of a home movie, Toni Basil and dancers and a short skit from Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna. Billy Crystal did a few minutes of shtick, including a monologue dealing with AIDS that was moving without being maudlin.
Jon Lovitz of "Saturday Night Live" appeared as the pathological liar, saying after the choir had cleared out, "Did you like that song? I wrote it . . . yeah, this morning, as I was running the New York Marathon. Which I won!" He then introduced the West Hollywood City Council, which turned out to be hunky, hairless Men of Chippendales, poured into black spandex pants.
Patti LaBelle closed the show with "Gone Too Soon" as portions of the National AIDS Quilt, courtesy of the Names Project, appeared from above.
Ovations for Honorees
Krim and Goldberg received standing ovations when their awards were presented. Krim, a research scientist at Columbia University's medical school, worked in interferon research before founding the AIDS Medical Foundation (which later merged with another group to become the American Foundation for AIDS Research). She accepted her award "in the name of all those who work in the laboratories and hospitals battling AIDS, and also those who are fighting AIDS in their own bodies. We will not give up until the job is done. . . . Let's all continue to work in our community to do what's right and necessary, just and honorable. And let's never doubt that we best do this work together, hand in hand."
Said Goldberg, upon accepting her Entertainment Buddy of the Year award, "I got into a lot of trouble in Washington because I referred to the President with the f-word." Goldberg was alluding to her involvement in the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights last month in which she criticized the Administration for not responding to the plight of Ricky, Robert and Randy Ray, the three Arcadia, Fla., boys who contracted AIDS and became the targets of harassment and violence.
"I find it offensive," she said, "when not a letter or phone call or word of cheer was passed on to these children by our legislators. . . . It all has to do with the fear that apathy is setting in."
Holders of high-priced tickets made their way next door for the party to quaff Mexican beer, eat quesadillas and listen to a mariachi band joined by Linda Ronstadt, who sang a few impromptu numbers with them.
"Do I look less frazzled than last year?" said Barry Krost, who indeed looked relaxed and happy as he received kudos from friends and colleagues.