The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed nearly 1,000 supporters at its annual dinner Saturday at the Biltmore to celebrate the 196th birthday of the Bill of Rights. "It's the most successful dinner we've ever had," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the Southern California affiliate of the national rights organization. "It broke our hearts that we had to turn people away."
The dinner also served as a welcome back for Ripston, who returned in September to her post after an 18-month stint with People for the American Way.
This year's Bill of Rights Award went to Hollywood screenwriter Fay Kanin.
Kanin, former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, greeted friends and colleagues who came to honor her, including Ed Asner, former recipient of the ACLU Bill of Rights Award and former head of the Screen Actors Guild.
Actor Rod Steiger reinforced the Hollywood connection by serving as master of ceremonies, while his old friend, Harry Belafonte, whom Steiger called the "conscience of the industry," took the stage as honorary chairman of the dinner. Belafonte recalled, "Rod and I were blacklisted together." As he table-hopped before the program began, Belafonte said that he and the ACLU "go way back together . . . some 40 years to the McCarthy period. But now, more than ever, there is a greater demand for the ACLU because of the rights of blacks, Hispanics, women."