The National Conference of Christians and Jews had dual blockbusters at its 31st annual Entertainment Industry Humanitarian Award dinner Thursday at the Beverly Hilton.
The first was the take: More than $1 million was raised for the non-sectarian organization's work in reducing prejudice and interracial tension. The second was the honoree: H. Wayne Huizenga, the Florida-based chairman of Blockbuster Entertainment.
The financial support came because of strong Hollywood backing, particularly from companies owned by Viacom, which merged with Blockbuster and bought Paramount earlier this year. The honoree came because of his support for the NCCJ, especially its Brotherhood/Sisterhood summer camps for helping teen-agers overcome stereotypes and racism.
"My wife says we're involved with kids, critters and a couple of good diseases," said Huizenga. "I think the camps are a terrific program for kids. I think we should start them in cities all over the country."
Aaron Spelling, who co-chaired the dinner with Disney's Michael Eisner and CAA's Mike Ovitz, said he feels the NCCJ deserves strong support, though its mission isn't as clear-cut as other charities. "You can't say it cures this or that disease," said the producer of "Beverly Hills, 90210." "It's for friendship between people--and we need that more than we need anything."
The evening began with remarks by emcee Bob Saget, an invocation by Rabbi Harvey Fields, a video on the NCCJ's work, and speeches by the local chapter's Executive Director Jim Hilvert and national President Sandy Cloud. There was a high-decibel performance by Patti LaBelle that tested both the sound system and the guests' hearing.
Blockbuster President Steve Berrard spoke of Huizenga and his work, then introduced the cleverest entertainment of the evening, a witty, professionally done video that parodied "Unsolved Mysteries."
The theme was looking for the "real" H. Wayne Huizenga. In one scene, an actor portraying a restaurant owner talks of the great service Huizenga gave when he owned Waste Management Inc., the garbage disposal company he had before Blockbuster.
"The man wasn't a trash collector, he was a showman," said the actor. "When he'd pick up the trash, he'd also do the death scene from 'Goodbye Mr. Chips.' There wasn't a dry eye in the alley."
The evening ended with Spelling presenting the award to Huizenga, who spoke with enthusiasm about the NCCJ's work.
Among the 1,200 guests were Lew and Edie Wasserman, Sid and Lorraine Sheinberg, Sherry Lansing, Warren Littlefield, Frank Biondi, Jonathan Dolgen, Natalie Cole, Fred Rosen, Al Teller, Bruce McNall and Sumner Redstone, who said the relevance of the NCCJ is "almost perpetual. Whenever you see tension in the world and tension between people, the work of this organization becomes more important."