It was a crowd one guest described as “Hollywood adjacent” that made the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation’s Torch of Liberty Awards dinner the most successful in the organization’s history.
By this, the guest meant that Monday’s affair at the Regent Beverly Wilshire was populated less with actors and filmmakers than with lawyers, agents and music industry powers. It was a crowd that reflected the constituencies of the two honorees--MTV’s creative director Judy McGrath and entertainment lawyer Barry Hirsch.
McGrath was chosen because she’s pushed forward “the socially conscious part of MTV,” Southern California ACLU Chairman Danny Goldberg said. “The voter registration drive, the anti-racism campaign.”
Hirsch was singled out for his longtime support as an ACLU board member and volunteer.
The lawyer is well-known for avoiding publicity. He said this first time in the limelight made him “anxiety laden.”
Goldberg touched upon the realities of fund-raising dinners when he said in his speech that “while the ACLU honors Judy and Barry, they honor the ACLU by letting us hit on their friends for money.” Between MTV and associates of Hollywood’s most successful lawyer, the ACLU tapped a mine that yielded $250,000 for the evening.
Since one honoree deals with law and the other with the music industry, it was appropriate that the evening’s entertainment related to each profession: There were speeches and there were songs.
The speakers included the honorees, Goldberg, ACLU Executive Director Ramona Ripston and President Antonio Villaraigosa, Sen. Barbara Boxer via video, state Treasurer Kathleen Brown and Paula Weinstein.
Singing were Evan Dando of the Lemonheads and Bonnie Raitt, who ended her strong, three-song set with John Prine’s classic “Angel From Montgomery.”
Among the 600 guests were Joe Roth, Ron Meyer, Peg Yorkin, Tony Bill, Rick Nicita, MGM’s Michael Marcus, Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Rosalie Swedlin, Katie Buckland, T Bone Burnett, Elaine Goldsmith and state Controller Gray Davis.
One ACLU fan in attendance was comedian Bob Goldthwait, who mentioned that he’d once been described in a review as “an obscenity spewing troll.”
He said he was grateful for the ACLU’s work in protecting free speech.
“In the pecking order of people who need protection,” Goldthwait said, “it probably goes rap stars first, then foul-mouthed comedians.”