Ron Howard’s Moving Images

By Masha Leon

Published December 30, 2005, issue of December 30, 2005.
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The celebrity-filled Museum of the Moving Image December 4 gala salute to actor-director-producer Ron Howard was akin to a photographer-frenzied Hollywood premiere. Herbert Schlosser, museum board of trustees chairman, and Rochelle Slovin, the institution’s director, welcomed the stellar crowd at The Waldorf-Astoria. A beaming attendee was Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, in whose Astoria bailiwick the museum is located.

Renée Zellweger whistled the theme from CBS-TV’s 1960-68 “The Andy Griffith Show,” in which a thick-maned, redheaded Howard played Opie Taylor. Recalling Howard in the 1974-84 ABC-TV series “Happy Days,” actor Jeffrey Tambor joshed: “I was supposed to play opposite Fonzie [Henry Winkler] as leader of ‘Khell’s Angels,’ a Jewish motorcycle gang.” Producer Brian Grazer disclosed: “Ron was… dedicated to seeing Daryl Hannah’s boobs [in the 1984 film “Splash”].” Goldie Hawn gushed: “Oh, my God! I forgot how much ‘Cocoon’ made me cry!” Kurt Russell, who starred in Howard’s 1991 blockbuster “Backdraft,” said he first met “Ron when he was 7 or 8 and I was 10 or 11.” “[Ron] has welcomed me into a rarified world both playground and school,” writer Akiva Goldsman (“A Beautiful Mind” [2001] and the recent “Cinderella Man”) said. The surprise guest and award presenter was Tom Hanks, whom Howard directed in “Apollo 13” (1995) and in the “The Da Vinci Code” (coming in 2006).

Howard’s daughter, Bryne, said: “My father… offers [audiences] hope and a happy ending.… He believes that just because you are passionate about one thing, it should never come at the cost of your family.” Howard — sans signature baseball cap — recalled directing Bette Davis (then in her 70s), in a small TV movie. “What really irritated her was [my age]. ‘I’ll call you Mr. Howard until I decide [if] I like you,’ she told me…. She looked at me and exclaimed, ‘Oh my God… I saw this child walking toward me,’ then with her head back, she laughed. When I said, ‘Thanks for a great day, Miss Davis,’ she patted me on the ass! As to tonight,” Ron said, smiling, “consider my ass well patted.”

* * *

“What’s a nice Jewish boy like me hanging out with criminals? Tomorrow I’m going to court with a man who was accused of murdering his whole family,” said attorney Benjamin Brafman (who has defended Puff Daddy, now known as Diddy). Brafman emceed the Israel Cancer Research Fund’s December 4 Tower of Hope Ball, held at The Pierre. “Tonight it’s not about dying of cancer, but defying cancer.” Turning to ICRF President Dr. Yashar Hirshaut, Brafman said: “There are people in this room alive because of… ICRF…. You helped save thousands of lives.”

Tony Danza, who presented of the ICRF Awareness in the Arts Award to Judith Light (his co-star in the 1984-92 ABC-TV series “Who’s the Boss?”), joked that on the set, “I learned to kvell, she made me farklempt and I learned to sit on shpilkes [pins and needles].” Light recalled her role as Dr. Vivian Bearing in “Wit,” Maggie Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a woman with fourth-stage ovarian cancer. “There is no one who has been touched by cancer who is not driven… by a wish that no one else would have to suffer the way they and those they love have suffered.” She touted the ICRF “for its funding of… basic research that was validated by the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded to ICRF professors Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko.” ICRF Humanitarian Award recipient Fanya Gottesfeld Heller, philanthropist and author (“Love in a World of Sorrow: A Teenage Girl’s Holocaust Memoirs” [Devora Publishing] — published this year, but originally published in 1993 under the title “Strange and Unexpected Love: A Teenage Girl’s Holocaust Memoirs”), said: “Though relatives have been touched by cancer, I am a survivor of Hitler — not cancer…. I wanted to be a doctor, a Maria Sklodowska [Marie Curie],” but the dream was shattered by the Holocaust…. “I am grateful to be alive.”

* * *

“Penguins are the canaries of the sea,” said Dee Boersma. Associate chair of the biology department at the University of Washington, Boersma was honored at the Chase Wildlife Foundation’s “Black, White & Red” Penguin party, held last month at the Sherry-Netherlands Hotel Doubles Club. Hailed for her work with the Magellanic penguins in Argentina, Boersma was alluding to the birds used by coal miners to detect deadly fumes: “We are trying to convince Argentina to move tanker lanes to prevent oil-slick disasters to the penguins.” Though the event was highlighted by two foot-tall penguin centerpieces and a parade of live penguins(!), the evening’s black-tie crowd included a wide range of environmental champions: wolf experts, ornithologists, marine biologists and habitat reclaimers. Founded in 1988 by Lynn Chase to protect endangered species, CWF has given more than 100 grants to conservation projects worldwide.

A few weeks later I asked the event’s co-chair, David Schiff, “Are you related to Jacob Schiff, the [Kuhn Loeb] financier who met Baron Korekiyo Takahashi in London in 1905 and helped him raise the funds that enabled the Japanese to defeat Tsar Nicholas II’s navy in 1905?” Schiff replied: “He was my great-grandfather…. It was not that he liked the Japanese so much as that he hated the tsar.” Schiff informed me that the family’s involvement in wildlife conservation goes back to Jacob Schiff, who in 1895 was one of the founders of the New York Zoological Society: “My grandfather Mortimer Schiff was a longtime trustee as is my father, John Schiff.”

* * *

Walter Mosley, author of “Devil in a Blue Dress” (originally published in 1990 by W.W. Norton & Company) and “Little Scarlet” (Little, Brown, 2004), is a longtime ceramics student at the 92nd Street Y Art Center. Mosley was the host for the Y’s December 5 Art Center 75th anniversary benefit & award dinner, held at Gotham Hall. Founded in 1930, the Art Center is one of the country’s oldest community-based visual art programs. It currently serves 4,000 adults, children and teenagers each year. Greatly appreciated were the art video presentations and the mini-minute acceptance speeches by honorees Robert Ebendorf, jeweler/metalsmith; Leo Steinberg, art historian; Philip Pearlstein, painter, and Betty Woodman, ceramicist. And to Great Performances, the caterer, I award “Four Napkins” for the imaginative, luscious, multi-course tasting menu.

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