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Cancer Society Salutes Herbert Ross

March 18, 1993|JEANNINE STEIN | TIMES SOCIETY WRITER

Before Herbert Ross received the American Cancer Society's Allan K. Jonas Life Achievement Award, he had this to say about being the center of attention: "I don't like it. It makes me nervous. I like doing what I do for a living, but I don't like this."

After he received the award, an emotional Ross told the crowd as he choked back tears: "I accept this happily. I accept it for my mother, who gave me life, and for Nora, who made my life possible." Dancer Nora Kaye, Ross' late wife, died of cancer in 1987.

The director of such films as "The Sunshine Boys," "The Turning Point" and "Steel Magnolias" received his honor at a $300-per-person benefit for the American Cancer Society at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Tuesday night that drew 435 supporters and grossed about $250,000.

And although Ross may have been a somewhat reluctant honoree, he didn't discount the society's work.

"I think they asked me because of Nora's death," he said during a cocktail reception/photo opportunity. "It was a death that was caused by cancer, but it didn't have to be. Had there been more research and more awareness, it might not have occurred. I thought it was important to do this for her."

Ron Weisner, president of the American Cancer Society's Entertainment League, said Ross was chosen for the award because, "He's really touched a tremendous number of people, and he's also changed people's perception of entertainment, about getting a message across. . . . He's also had tragedy in his life, and when you've confronted that head-on you have a whole different outlook."

The evening featured the debut of a public service announcement starring actor-comedian Richard Lewis. Said the perpetually neurotic Lewis of the spot: "They called me and asked me to do it. . . . It's a very traumatic thing. I have relatives who've passed away (from cancer) and friends, and we have to get a cure. It dawned on me a couple of days after I did the spot--why did they choose me? I know I've been around, but I guess I am the Every Worrywart. It's a pleasure to be a worrywart to find a cure, believe me."

Among the notables at the party were honorary co-chairs Sherry Lansing and Ken Ziffren, award namesake Allan K. Jonas, the society's executive vice president John Seffrin, Eddie Albert, John and Julie Forsythe, Larry and Maj Hagman, Dyan Cannon, Susan Anton, Beverly D'Angelo, Ed Begley Jr., Neil Simon, Mike Connors, Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows, Irving Lazar and Ross' wife Lee Radziwill, who, he said, "made me understand that life is worth living and the world is a great place."

Providing the entertainment were emcee Jay Leno and singer Al Jarreau.

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