Nelson Mandela, who spoke earlier in the day of his youthful dreams of Hollywood, met with nearly 1,000 of the entertainment capital’s legends Friday night in a star-studded dinner and reception that swelled the coffers of his South African causes.
“I feel humbled in this room,” he told the crowd of celebrities, many of whom had waited as long as four hours to hear him speak, “and honored by your presence.”
In an affectionate address that touched repeatedly on the films he saw as a youth--and later as a political prisoner--Mandela told his audience that “you were our window on life outside.”
He urged them to fight against apartheid, saying: “In this fight we would like all of you to be on our side. With you on our side, we are certain of victory. Let us use our creative talents, potential and influence to make our world a better place to live in.”
And gently chiding the film industry for its early portrayals of black Africans as savages, Mandela said he was encouraged by more recent cinematic attempts to humanize the image and publicize the South African struggle.
“As a young man,” he said, “I remember seeing the films of Tarzan, and being uneasy and disturbed . . . . Fortunately over the past few years, a few films have sought to partially redress this injustice.”
He added that “it is a damning indictment of apartheid that so many years after Sidney Poitier starred in the film, ‘Cry the Beloved Country, our beloved country is still crying.”
Poitier was among the 960 actors, film makers, entrepreneurs, politicians and activists in attendance at perhaps the most ambitious fund-raising event in Mandela’s eight-city tour of the United States.
The “take” for the event was more than $1.2 million, organizers said. And most of it came from the entertainment industry.
Music producer and composer Quincy Jones, who contributed $100,000 to the cause, described the long years that Mandela spent in South African jails as a harsh payment that most of those in attendance could never fully understand.
“He’s put his life and his soul on the line for what he believes in,” Jones said as he arrived several hours before Mandela’s appearance. “I don’t know how many--even in this crowd--would go to prison for 27 years for what they believe in.”
Mandela strode into the armory of the Museum of Science and Industry at 9 a.m., proceeding down a red carpet with an entourage that included his wife, Winnie, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and entertainers Jones and Lionel Richie. People in the crowd--among them, Jane Fonda, Kris Kristofferson, Muhammad Ali and dozens of other celebrities--sat back and tapped their feet to the strains of American gospel hymns and the music of South Africa’s ghettos for more than an hour before Mandela spoke.
Despite the presence of hundreds of the famous, the South African leader paused briefly to chat with one man without much of a portfolio. He was D. J. Riley, a handicapped UCLA law student in a wheelchair. After Mandela continued on his way, a beaming Riley said that “I told him I loved him. He said it was very nice to meet me and he said he loved me, too.”
Last week, it took New York 24 hours and two celebrity fests to drum up $1 million for Mandela; Los Angeles bested that with advance ticket sales for one event, adding up five-figure tax-deductible checks signed by everyone from Arco to Zomba Entertainment.
Organizers declined to reveal the cost of preparations, but sponsors were pushing for low overhead decor in the high-ceilinged room. “We’d like all the money to go to the ANC,” one said.
In fact, it goes to the Mandela Freedom Fund for education, business and communications projects. Another group, Democracy for South Africa, is political and contributions to that are not tax deductible.
The Friday night affair was a low-key dinner--flattened chicken and Caesar salad--with high octane diners. Fitting more than 900 VIPS into the cavernous armory required sometimes cramming a dozen people around tables meant for 10, people who are not accustomed to being crammed.
“This is the A-ticket crowd, this is the I-want-to-touch-the-hem-of-his-gown crowd,” bragged advance man Willis Edwards, who has insisted that there be only one celebrity on this tour--Mandela himself. Indeed, the get-close clamor prompted the tour’s national coordinator, Roger Wilkins, to caution that Mandela is “not a movable photo opportunity.”
The partial roll call of big contributors read less like they were sponsoring Mandela than optioning him: $10,000 each from talent agencies Creative Artists, International Creative Management, Triad and William Morris; ditto from ABC Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, Fox Broadcasting and Barry Diller, Motown Records and Michael Jackson’s production company (Jackson asked to have two nameless seats held, but didn’t say who would fill them); $25,000 each from Disney’s Jeffrey Katzenberg and Frank Wells, from Ted Fields’ Interscope Records, from the Marvin Davises.
Other contributors included Gregory Peck, Richard Dreyfuss, Debbie Allen, Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte and Mike Tyson. Steven Spielberg and Armand Hammer each ponied up $10,000. Some sponsors donated their seats to local African National Congress members.
At the close of the affair, Mandela and his wife raised their fists in salute as a choir led the glittering Hollywood audience in the unofficial anthem of the anti-apartheid movement. Then, walking tall, he left the room of movie stars and moguls for the Coliseum, where the masses awaited.