When a Dinner Party Is an Act of Courage

The Scene: Executive-level Hollywood and a smattering of movie stars turned out Sunday evening on a Sony Pictures Studios sound stage to support the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, a Washington-based lobbying group. Their aim is to end discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and HIV status. Said executive director Urvashi Vaid: "As you in Hollywood are labeled as immoral by the vice president, the very existence of this evening is a living, political act . . . it is courageous."

The Buzz: Politics was in the air. Usual industry gossip took a back seat to talk about the chances of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

Some sported Clinton-Gore buttons. Not surprisingly, there wasn't a Republican button in sight.

Twists: Clinton campaign adviser and gay activist David Mixner said the event did not have the "specialness" that last year's ground-breaking first dinner had, but the political context this year makes it seem more important. "Gays and lesbians are under attack and the entertainment industry is under attack. But this time they're not running scared as they did in the '50s blacklist era. This show of support is very significant," he said.

Actor James Woods also referred to the blacklisting and Joe McCarthy period of the '50s. "Isn't it ironic that the man who played the homophobic Roy Cohn should be at this event," asked Woods, fresh off his TV triumph portraying the late Cohn, who was an aide to McCarthy and later revealed to be homosexual.

Award Time: MCA Inc., the parent of Universal Studios, was honored for being the first major Hollywood firm to provide health insurance coverage to the partners of its gay employees.

Who Was There: Representatives of every major and some minor film companies, including Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Peter Guber, 20th Century Fox Chairman Joe Roth, as well as former Fox Inc. Chairman Barry Diller.

Among others: Dana Delany, Judith Light, Dermot Mulroney, Katherine Keener, Bernie Brillstein, Charles Gordon, Ron Meyer, Marty Bauer, Peter Dekom, Howard Rosenman, Sandy Gallin, L.A. City Councilman Joel Wachs and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Barbara Boxer, singer Melissa Etheridge and comedian Michael Colyar.

Actor Richard Gere said, "it wasn't a big thing for me to decide if I would be here. Civil rights is an extremely important issue."

How It Happened: The party was dubbed "Lights! Camera! Action!" by organizers Alan Hergott and Curt Shepard, and Barry Krost and John Deshane. Hergott credited Sony for doing "a particularly amazing thing by coming on board first. They put their money and their prestige on the line."

Also underwriting the event were the David Geffen Foundation, the Diller Foundation, Fox Inc., Largo Entertainment, Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. The fund-raiser drew about 500 and raised an estimated $170,000.

The Look: They kept it simple. There were no favors, and the table decorations were basic gardenias floating in bowls. But the food--"ah, the food," said several guests who lapped up the first course of a garlicky pasta plate--was decreed quite good for a large event. The catering was by Rococo. As for the fashion, call it subdued by Hollywood standards. Dark colors and suits were the rule.

Surprise: Dermot Mulroney accompanying Etheridge on the cello. Who knew the young actor was into classical music? "I've been playing since I was 7, and I have the public schools to thank," he said. "When I learned what tonight was all about, I was happy to join in."

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