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First Comes the Juggling Act, Then the Benefit

May 31, 1999|IRENE LACHER

How tricky is it to throw a huge benefit show?

"I've done this show for seven years, and I'll tell you something: This show started at 8 o'clock. At 7:15, Rupert Everett said, 'I can do it.' "

Yowza. That tidbit comes from Dana Miller, executive producer of AIDS Project Los Angeles' 11th annual Commitment to Life show, which raised $2.1 million. The high-wire event lured some 4,000 supporters to the Universal Amphitheatre on Thursday to hear a smorgasbord of movie stars, young recording artists and AIDS activists rally around this year's honorees--Time Warner Chairman Gerald Levin as well as major donors Janet Jackson and Gucci designer Tom Ford.

With more established performers becoming harder to snag because they're reaching benefit burnout, uber media exec Levin helped save the day by recruiting a new generation of artists on the Warner Bros. recording label--teen screams All 4 One, Edwin McCain and Ziggy Marley.

Joining them were Taylor Dayne and 98 Degrees, as well as host Nathan Lane and award presenters Jeffrey Katzenberg (who introduced himself as "Hollywood's first professional plaintiff"), Brendan Fraser and Warren Beatty. Oh, yes, that's the same Warren Beatty who made a little Warner Bros. movie called "Bulworth."

In accepting his award, Levin blew off the TelePrompTer and used the podium to send some zingers Washington's way: "This is a wonderful evening, and it demonstrates again that this wonderful entertainment industry . . . [cares] about taking care of our society's problems. And in this season of political cheap shots, I think that's terribly important for us to restate. Because I think we should all continue to do what is our job, and I think it's the government's job to provide for our safety and security, and get off the political dime and do something about guns in this country."

*

"Buena Vista Social Club" isn't the first time director Wim Wenders and rocker Ry Cooder have made beautiful music together. After Cooder's successful album of the same name, Wenders made the documentary about the great old Cuban musicians Cooder rediscovered. It's the third film they've worked on together, but they've been clicking as friends even longer.

Por que?

"I think of Ry very much as a brother," Wenders said at the May 24 premiere in West Hollywood at the Directors Guild, which benefited Operation USA's Cuba Medical Assistance Program. "We've known each other for 25 years, and we have a lot in common. We're both teddy bears. I mean, I'm trying to get thinner."

Good. They won't let you stay in L.A. if you don't.

"Actually, I didn't mean teddy bear physically but mentally."

In the sense that you're both warm people?

"I think teddy bear describes it. We're furry."

Hmmmmm. Later we asked the other teddy bear what made them teddy bears.

"I don't know," Cooder said. "He's a cryptic individual, Wim. He always draws pictures of teddy bears. Maybe he feels like one."

Wenders also feels like the German he is, which is a teddy bear of a different color from the spirited Cubans that he documented during Cooder's three-week trip to Havana last year. Cooder was producing Cuban crooner Ibrahim Ferrer's imminent solo debut on Nonesuch as a follow-up to his 1997 Grammy winner, the "Buena Vista Social Club" album.

When Wenders filmed Cooder's return to Havana for Artisan Entertainment, Cuba was a revelation to him.

"The Cuban way is very different from the German way. We Germans are very organized. They are not. Everything there is easy, and if you want to get something done, especially try to write and record this album in three weeks, it was Sisyphean work."

Irene Lacher's Out & About column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on Page 2. She can be reached by e-mail at socalliving@latimes.com.

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