Television and film star George Clooneypresents Leslie Moonves with the Sherrill C. Corwin Human RelationsAward
"Jewish people have always been in my life,whether I wanted them there or not."
So joked Bill Cosby to the capacity crowdattending the American Jewish Committee's annual Sherrill C. CorwinHuman Relations Award Dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. Thehonoree that Thursday evening: CBS President Leslie Moonves,recipient of the AJC's distinguished Corwin Award.
Originally established in 1906 in response toczarist Russian pogroms, the AJC has long fought to protect civilrights and celebrate those who have vocally fought discrimination.Honorees of previous star-studded AJC affairs have included StevenSpielberg, Clint Eastwood and Ted Turner.
A plethora of CBS suits and celebs turned out tohonor Moonves, as well as people connected to his previous tenure aspresident of Warner Bros. Television, where he helped launch hitshows such as "ER," "Friends" and "Lois and Clark: The New Adventuresof Superman." Jane Seymour, Steven Bochco, Robert Stack, John Ritter,Elliott Gould and cast members of "Everybody Loves Raymond" wereamong the friends and fans visibly enjoying the evening.
But none were more proud of Moonves than his ownfamily -- including his wife of 20 years, Nancy; his parents; brotherJohn; and children, Adam, Sarah and Michael.
After dessert, a "60 Minutes" parody, hosted byMike Wallace and Lesley Stahl, appeared on the video screen,comically recapping the actor-turned-executive's career. Cosby'saddress came next, followed by some words by longtime friend GeorgeClooney, and Moonves' own acceptance speech. A well-receivedhighlight of the night was a videotaped message by President Clinton,which was received with a roomful of supportive applause.
AJC leader Rabbi Gary Greenebaum cited Moonves'"long history of involvement in bringing the community together."Celebrities in attendance echoed Greenbaum's praise. Fran Drescher,who on "The Nanny" arguably portrays the most unabashedly ethnicJewish character in television history, shared her high esteem forMoonves with The Jewish Journal. She labeled the Eye Network chief "apillar of the community..." and praised his firsthand philanthropicinvolvement in important causes. "He doesn't just write out a check.He really gets into life [and] works very hard." Indie film queenIleanna Douglas singled out Moonves' "sense of loyalty." TeriHatcher, perhaps the only woman ever coveted by the Man of Steel andAgent 007, glowed: "He makes every person feel special."
Brad Garrett, Ray Romano's towering TV brother onCBS's hit comedy "Everybody Loves Raymond," duly noted that, unlikeother network programmers, Moonves' word is bond. "When he says he'sbehind [a show], he's behind it," Garrett said.
Moonves himself told The Journal: "It isimportant, whether Jewish, Irish or Italian, to maintain [culturalidentity in programming]. Assimilation is a dangerous thing, and itis important to portray diversity on TV."
He opined that, by and large, depictions of Jewsare handled responsibly by the networks. He also recalled a dinnerwith his granduncle in Israel 28 years ago as a defining moment inhis life "that will stay with me always" -- particularly noteworthysince his granduncle happened to be first Prime Minister of IsraelDavid Ben-Gurion.
Moonves' contributions to television andJewish-American culture did not escape the young Jewish minds behind"Diagnosis: Murder." Executive producer Lee Goldberg evaluatedMoonves as "one of the most creative people in the business...[notyour typical] stand-offish, icy exec," to which partner WilliamRabner concisely pointed out: "And he put 'The Nanny' on theair."