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Big Guys Do Cry--When Scholarship Recipients Say Thanks

August 08, 2000|PATT DIROLL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's hard to watch a grown man cry. Especially if he's 6 feet 9 and a living legend. However, Earvin "Magic" Johnson lost his famous cool before more than 1,000 guests at the dinner for corporate sponsors preceding the 15th annual A Midsummer Night's Magic Mardi Gras gala on Saturday night at Paramount Studios.

Johnson choked up at the microphone and required several seconds to recover his composure after the 37 recipients of the 2000 Magic Johnson Foundation's Taylor Michaels Scholarships presented him with a commemorative T-shirt on stage. "I can handle Larry Bird and Michael Jordan," he said, "but I can't handle this."

Then, it was the kids' turn to get teary when Hewlett-Packard exec Roderick Brown announced that each of them would receive an H-P laptop computer and printer. The youngsters, who must be residents of Atlanta, Cleveland, Houston, L.A. or New York to apply for the scholarships, will enter schools across the country in September, from Brown to Berkeley.

"No basketballers in this group though," Magic noted. "All we ask is that they come back and join our organization in helping more kids."

The scholarships don't just consist of a check and a handshake. Recipients are also provided with emotional support through their undergraduate years--including mentors, seminars on practical life skills and internships.

After Johnson thanked his benefactors, including dinner chairman Ron Burkle, it was time to let the good times roll. Promptly at 8 p.m., stilt walkers welcomed revelers to the New Orleans carnival scene on the studio back lot, where there was an array of Creole fare and band music at every turn.

Taking it all in, Johnson said, "We've got 6,000 people; there's something for the young and the old. That's what's wonderful about this night . . . and we're raising about $2 million."

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Before the curtain rose on the opening-night performance of playwright Lisa Loomer's comedy "Expecting Isabel" at the Mark Taper Forum on Thursday, Gordon Davidson, artistic director of Center Theatre Group, bounded on stage to announce this year's Skipper Awards. Named in honor of his father, the late Jo "Skipper" Davidson, professor of drama at Brooklyn College for 44 years, the awards are presented each year to behind-the-scenes stalwarts at Center Theatre, the folks who "are in the trenches," said Davidson.

This year's honorees were Kiyomi Emi, marketing/promotional events manager, whose responsibilities include creating the opening-night celebrations; Center Theatre veteran staffer Dave Bergeson, "our totally unflappable box office treasurer with nerves of steel--especially at the window during the precious minutes before curtain time," and Lupe B. Ramirez, who manages the processing of more than $10 million in season subscriptions including, noted Davidson, "the ticket problems that arise from a divorce settlement."

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Patt Diroll's column is published Tuesdays. She can be reached at pattdiroll@earthlink.net.

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