SWEET CHARITY

Should I feel bad that one of my favorite jobs in Hollywood came about because of a horrible disaster? Possibly, but I still look back fondly on the week I worked as the researcher for “Tsunami Aid: A Concert Of Hope.” The show, broadcast live on January 15th, 2005, raised money for survivors of the deadly 2004 earthquake/tsunami that devastated parts of India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

My job entailed things like making sure the on-air celebrities said all the names of the foreign cities affected correctly (which I did by calling embassies and even ethnic restaurants), tracking down satellite photos of flooded areas and making sure there were no factual mistakes in the script.

One of the highlights for me was getting to talk to one of my favorite TV personalities, Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s “Hardball.” Chris was going to interview the head of the American Red Cross on the show and it was my job to brief him about the relief efforts over the phone. Chris seemed intent on making sure the money was going straight to the cause and asked tough questions during the telethon. He was definitely determined to keep being a journalist even while trying to raise money during a telethon.

It was also fun getting to spend some time with George Clooney, who helped put the show together. Two days before the program aired, George came into the writers’ room, sat down on the floor (he was suffering from a bad back at the time) and proceeded to entertain us for an hour with the history of his frequent disagreements with Bill O’Reilly and how they came to a truce that meant Bill would appear on “Tsunami Aid.” To Bill’s credit, once he was convinced the money raised would be going straight to relief efforts, he signed on immediately.

I also came into contact with George when I was assigned to write a fact sheet about the tsunami crisis that was handed to the celebrities working the phone bank so they would have the facts at their fingertips. It took three passes before George approved the page. Now I know some of my female readers might have put in mistakes on purpose just to have an excuse to go see George one more time, but I assure you, I just wanted to get it right and get it done!

The night of the show itself was amazing. It seemed like George had recruited every star in Hollywood and they had all shown up for the cause. The L.A. part of the program was broadcast from a soundstage at Universal Studios, and right before the show started, all the celebs crossed from one soundstage that had been set up as a lounge/green room over to the broadcast stage. Now I may have seen every actor and actress in Hollywood at one time or another, but I have never seen a parade of them like this! It was an amazing sight.

I spent most of the show standing near the celebrity filled phone bank. One of the friends I was hanging out with knew Jamie Foxx, so I had a chance to meet him before he took a stint at the phones. I also saw Vin Diesel and told him he was right about how easy it was to keep your head shaved (at a junket, I told him I was thinking about shaving my head and he said it was very simple and easy, which was one of the reasons I ended up shaving my head for the first time a few weeks later).

After the show, there were food and drinks available, so a lot of the stars hung out and chatted. I had grabbed a promotional poster that I wanted George Clooney to sign, but he was deep in conversation with his friend Don Cheadle and I didn’t want to interrupt him. While I was waiting, a publicist came up and asked me if I wanted her client Kenny Chesney to sign the poster. I didn’t, figuring I had worked with George and that was enough, but of course I said yes. Hard to believe Kenny had time to wander around, as that was the night he met Renee Zelwegger, his future (if not for long) bride.

I also spent a pleasant ten minutes talking to one of the nicest guys in show business, actor Jim Caviezel. I had once interviewed him in New York for the movie “Frequency” and when I was later leaving for the airport, he introduced himself to me in the hotel lobby. At the concert, he was standing alone for a moment, so I thought I’d return the favor and say hello.

One of my friends in Pennsylvania always asks me why I don’t hobnob with the stars. I think that night was probably the closest I’ve ever come, all for a good cause.

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