Honoring a Broadcaster and Remembering a Song Master

By Masha Leon

Published June 17, 2005, issue of June 17, 2005.
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Julie Chen, anchor of CBS News’s “The Early Show,” served as emcee at the May 19 UJA-Federation of New York Steven J. Ross Humanitarian Award Dinner, held at The Waldorf-Astoria. The evening’s honoree was Viacom chairman of the board and CEO Sumner Redstone, whom Chen described as “a man who has built what is… the most impressive media company in the world today.” Under the Viacom umbrella, noted Chen, are “MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, UPN, King World, Showtime, Simon & Schuster, Comedy Central and… CBS.”

Chairman and CEO of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch — a self-described “supporter of UJA-Federation for more than 32 years” and the recipient of the federation’s 1997 award — praised Redstone for his broad range of philanthropic activities. “Sumner has said many times that the way to really get to know someone and make him a lifelong friend is to sue him,” Murdoch said. “As a result of litigation — instigated by Sumner — I came to know him quite well…. While Sumner and I are still competitors, we are also friends.”

“Rupert is my nemesis,” Redstone responded. “We compete like gladiators, but he is my friend… I love the entertainment business… We sell fantasy, hopes, dreams… make people think…. Media plays an even larger role in its social obligation to… expose corruption… shed light on poverty, persecution… expose evil [and] hypocrisy around the world.” Redstone, whose father supported the family by selling newspapers, grew up in a Boston tenement and attended the Boston Latin School, Harvard and then Harvard Law. His fluency in Japanese helped break the code that led to the sinking of part of the Japanese fleet in World War II. In 1970, he survived after being trapped in a devastating fire.

In the March 21 issue of Fortune, Redstone responds to the magazine’s question about the “best advice” by turning “to Ace Greenberg,” chairman of Bears Stearns’s executive committee (and, coincidentally, one of the dinner’s journal chairs). “He has consistently advised me that you must follow your own instincts. I had a terrific battle with Terry Elks for Viacom. People said… that I had overpaid…. MTV was a fad… Nickelodeon would never make it.… My instinct as a parent and as a grandparent told me…. Children are pretty much the same all over the world…. My investment was $500 million….Today my stock is worth many many billions.… And that is… why Ace’s advice has been so valuable.”

Highlighting the evening’s entertainment was keyboardist and singer Michael McDonald, formerly of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, in a knockout performance of some of his greatest hits. Among the black-tie guests who helped raise $1.5 million to support UJA Federation’s 100 affiliated human services agencies, which chair Michael Wolf said “touched the lives of more than 4.5 million people in New York and in 60 countries,” were Leslie Moonves, Henry Schleiff, Jack Valenti, Howard Rubenstein and the dinner’s “welcomer,” NBA Commissioner David Stern.

* * *

“It flowed like good wine from Cy Coleman’s vineyard,” said Neil Simon, a participant in the 92nd Street Y’s gala May 23 benefit, It Started With a Dream: A Celebration of the Life & Music of Cy Coleman. What a joy to see and hear Lucie Arnaz, Robert Goulet, Judy Kaye, Chita Rivera, Elaine Stritch, Michele Lee, James Naughton and Tom Wopat performing excerpts from Coleman’s musicals: “Wildcat,” “Sweet Charity” (for which Simon wrote the book), “On the Twentieth Century,” “Barnum,” “City of Angels” and “The Will Rogers Follies.”

While scuba diving the Red Sea at Sharm-al-Sheikh, taking a break from his TV shows in Israel and the Netherlands, Mike Burstyn described a call he got to audition as a replacement for Jim Dale in “Barnum.” Would this be a wasted trip? Cy (né Seymour Kaufman) assured him, “If you’re what we’re looking for, we’ll make you someone.” Burstyn reasoned, “If I could learn Dutch in three months, I could learn to walk on a wire. It changed my career.” He wowed the audience with the English and Dutch versions of “The Museum Song” from “Barnum.”

Shelby Coleman, Cy’s widow, praised the Y’s cornucopia of programming telling the audience that “Cy helped me with my homework” when she took music theory classes. “It was important that [our 4-year old] Lily Cye be raised in the Jewish tradition, and the Y seemed the perfect beginning.” Y president Michael Goldstein announced that $1 million had been raised. He summed up the Y’s mandate as: “To offer the best in Jewish culture, education, arts…. Our role is in changing the world.”

* * *

Sophie and I thank you for joining [us] for this special event — a first of its kind,” said François Delattre, France’s consul general in New York, at the French-Israel consulates’ joint-sponsored June 8 Concert Amical — A Concert of Friendship — held at the French consulate. “Tonight this consulate is as much Israeli as it is French. You are always welcome here,” Delattre said to the guests, who included Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Ann and Kenneth Bialkin, Raphael Rothstein, Vera Stern, Harriet Mandel and WQXR’s Robert Sherman. “It is our common wish to express deep friendship that unites our two countries and binds us to the United States.”

Arye Mekel, Israel’s consul general in New York, who came with his wife, Ruth, said, “France to Israel is not just another country…. France has always been a friend to Israel…. [It] has the largest Jewish community in Europe.” The evening’s musical program opened with French vocalist Valerie McCarthy singing “La Marseillaise,” Israeli mezzo soprano Magda Fishman singing “Hatikvah” and the two merging in a thrilling rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Works by Maurice Ravel, Ernest Bloch, Claude Debussy and Darius Milhaud were performed by an ensemble of Israeli and French artists: Alexander Fiterstein (clarinet); Inbal Segev (cello); Arnaud Sussmann (violin), and Vincent Sangaré Balse (piano).

FRIENDS AND NEMESES: Sumner Redstone (left) was honored by the UJA on May 19. Rupert Murdoch (right), who spoke at the event, received the same honor in 1997.

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