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Hollywood Elite Says Hello, Dalai

August 05, 1996|BILL HIGGINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Unlike Bob Dole, Tibet's 14th Dalai Lama has no beef with Hollywood. In fact Tenzin Gyatso has much to be happy about.

There are two major films in production about his life, influential stars like Richard Gere focus media attention on Tibet's occupation by China, and Thursday the American Himalayan Foundation and the Tibet Fund's dinner in his honor had enough entertainment industry support to raise $650,000 for his beleaguered countrymen.

"Hollywood gives a lot of money to causes," said MGM President Mike Marcus, "and that's the good side of Hollywood."

The evening began with a reception where hundreds of major donors nibbled on baby asparagus wrapped in prosciutto as they stood in the receiving line. The 61-year-old Dalai Lama wore a monk's saffron and maroon robes with laced, gum-soled shoes as he welcomed each guest with a smile and a two-handed grasp. The greetings took almost an hour. It's at potentially tedious times like this that His Holiness' role as an incarnation of a deity of compassion would appear to be an advantage.

Among those lined up at the Regent Beverly Wilshire was Sharon Stone who said she came because she had worked with Gere and thought he "was the most egoless, decent, gallant, loving person. I thought, 'This man shouldn't be an actor--he's much too sane.' "

REM's Michael Stipe came in support of the Dalai Lama's policy of nonviolent struggle with the Chinese. "It's important for everybody to see that somewhere in the world there's a place where people will not pick up arms, will not resort to violence to get their way."

Garry Shandling joked that he came "because I heard the Dalai Lama was great live."

After the last hand had been grasped, guests made their way to the hotel's darkened ballroom where eight monks in foot-high, Mohican haircut-style ceremonial hats chanted in guttural Tibetan. It did set the tone quickly.

To accommodate the Dalai Lama's sleeping schedule (one monk said he rises at 3:30 a.m.), the speeches preceded dinner and the honoree left before the sea bass entree was served.

The first speaker was American Himalayan Foundation founder Richard Blum, who described his organization's work in cultural preservation, health care and social issues. He also recounted political meetings he had had with his wife, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and the Chinese government.

Harrison Ford, who co-chaired with his wife, Melissa, introduced the Dalai Lama, who spoke for almost an hour on humanity's responsibility for the future, the promotion of compassion, the need to resolve conflict through dialogue and his desire to talk with Beijing. He asked the crowd to: "Please help us bring the Chinese to the negotiating table."

Co-chairman Gere thanked the crowd for its generosity, talked about the specifics of Chinese repression in Tibet and what kind of enlightened society had once existed there. "Spiritual development was their gross national product," he said.

Among the 1,000 guests listening were Oliver Stone, Meg Ryan, Dennis Quaid, Steven Seagal, Ruben Blades, Steven Dorf, Orville Schell, Leonard Nimoy, Garry Marshall, Shirley MacLaine, Lou Pitt, Shirley and Seth Hufstedler, David Bonderman, Sean Daniel, Ed Limato and Erica Stone.

A fair percentage of the crowd left when the Dalai Lama did. Those who stayed either sat for dinner or strolled the room socializing. It was interesting to see how many Tibetan monks travel with auto-focus cameras and how much they enjoyed having their picture taken with Ryan. Obviously "Sleepless in Seattle" was a big hit in northern India.

Among those staying was Gere, who talked about how much he personally likes Tibetans. "Once you come in contact with these people, you're in the family and you never want to leave," he said. "You feel like you're onto something true and right."

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