Neil Diamond Performs at Kerry Fundraiser

Hollywood Turns Out for Kerry Fundraiser

Article from the New York Times (
AP Photo/Michael Caulfield,

Published: June 25, 2004

LOS ANGELES, June 25 It could have been Oscar night, what with Billy Crystal cracking wise about movies and politics, money and baseball just like the old days when the Academy Awards ceremony was held across the street at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. But when Mr. Crystal tried a joke about former President Clinton's forthcoming children's book "It's called the Little Engine That Could Because It Could" it fell flat.

More business suit than ball gown, this audience of 2,000 Democratic donors had paid too much ($2,000 to $25,000) for seats in Walt Disney Concert Hall on Thursday night to laugh at itself. Fun was to be had, sure, but at Republicans' expense.

So Mr. Crystal fared much better when he recalled having met President Bush at Yankee Stadium during the third game of the World Series in 2001 and realizing, "9-1-1 is also his SAT scores." Or when he described him as "charming in that NASCAR-pull-my-finger-kind-of-way" and, invoking the "Godfather" trilogy, mused, "I get the feeling he is the Fredo of the Bush family."

Part Woodstock ("for really, really rich people," Mr. Crystal said), part red carpet and part Gridiron dinner, the event featured an A list of Hollywood celebrities sharing the stage in the architectural splendor of Disney Hall to raise a show-stopping record $5 million for Senator John Kerry and the Democratic National Committee. Having been slow to swirl around Mr. Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee-to-be, Hollywood is now giving him the full treatment, with the hottest of hot headliners offering heartfelt tributes, spurring a seemingly endless series of ovations.

"We had Oscar winners, Emmy winners, Grammy winners out here," Mr. Kerry said, trying his own bit of stand-up when his turn at the microphone came at the end of the two-hour program. "I'm at the stage of my life where I am just thrilled to get a nomination."

The much-heralded highlight was the reunion duet of Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond, "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," which they had not performed together since Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Ms. Streisand crooned at center stage, where a stool, table, vase with red roses, teapot and cup had been placed for her performance, while Mr. Diamond sang from remote stage right, walking into the spotlight only for the final chorus, and the tender kiss the two shared afterwards.

Then Ms. Streisand, in a lacy black gown with a plunging V-neck and greenish fringe hanging off the back, upstaged herself with a political parody of "People" that made Mr. Crystal's material sound almost centrist.

"Now Rumsfeld / We must get rid of Rumsfeld / He's the spookiest person in the world," she sang to the audience's delight. "Let's discuss this war we're lost in / Don't ask what it's costin' / What's a trillion or two to rule the world?"

Throughout the night, though, the performers strained to say that they were not just anti-Bush, but pro-Kerry. Ben Affleck, who grew up in Massachusetts, Mr. Kerry's home state, declared, "I know the man." Leonardo DiCaprio called him "a lifelong champion of the environment." And Mr. Crystal, invoking the Vietnam War, said, "John Kerry was an actual action hero."

Hollywood, a critical constituency for Democratic fund-raisers, had been hopelessly split during the primaries, enchanted for a time with retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, then dancing a turn with former Gov. Howard Dean, and flocking to Mr. Kerry's banner only after he secured the nomination this spring.

Mr. Kerry, as he is happy to tell you, has longstanding friendships with the songwriters James Taylor and Carly Simon, as well as Mr. Affleck and Matt Damon, but he lacks the cachet of Mr. Clinton in these parts. Still, he has raised more money $1.2 million as of April 26 from the television, movie and music industries than any candidate this season.

Thursday's concert was preceded by a dinner of filet mignon and shrimp at the Chandler Pavilion for couples forking over $25,000 ("I know people who don't make $25,000 in a day!" Mr. Crystal cracked). Postponed from earlier this month because of Ronald Reagan's death, the concert was the first of a pair; Jon bon Jovi and the Dave Matthews band head the bill at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan July 8.

Kerry campaign aides said the performers had agreed to appear on the condition that cameras and recorders be barred. The press, too, was originally prohibited from covering the concert, save for one journalist sent to record Mr. Kerry's remarks. But Thursday afternoon, the campaign announced that its traveling press corps would get an audio feed, and then, an hour before the curtain, tickets were handed out.

The show kicked off with Leah Hansen, an 8-year-old cellist in a sleeveless lavender dress with matching bow, who brought the crowd to its feet with a soulful "God Bless America." Willie Nelson, his gray braid hanging to his belt, did three classics, and Angie Stone flew in from Amsterdam, where she was on tour, for a two-pack, including Marvin Gaye's antiwar anthem, "What's Going On."

The comedian Jamie Foxx, who is black, pointed to Senator Kerry, seated with his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, in the front row of the second of five tiers, and asked: "You find somebody to run with you yet? I'll give you my cell number. We need some color in the White House." Ben Stiller introduced Mr. Diamond as "the man who helped me get to second base for the first time in my life," recalling a date at "The Jazz Singer" in 1982, and "my personal savior in a very rocky adolescence."

Mr. Diamond, in a black smock with triangles of red sequins dripping from the shoulders, started with "Forever in Bluejeans," got the crowd swinging and Mrs. Kerry swaying with "Sweet Caroline," and finished with "America."

Ms. Streisand, who entered and exited from stage left, the opposite side from everyone else, did the longest set, interrupting her songs with political riffs. Then Mr. Crystal returned to introduce the man of honor, whom he chided earlier by saying, "You're the front-runner, you've raised $200 million if you're having a good time, tell your face."

Showing that essential Hollywood skill of self-deprecation, Mr. Kerry's opening line was, "I just want you to, I'm having a ball I'm having fun and my face got told."

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