For all its wealth, glitter and dizzying array of charity events, Hollywood's biggest names are largely missing from the list of America's major givers. In a recent survey of the most generous philanthropists, only two entertainment industry figures are in the top 50, and neither is based in Hollywood.
Media mogul Ted Turner, who is based in Atlanta, topped Slate magazine's 2005 list, providing more than $70 million to a broad list of charities. TV superstar Oprah Winfrey, who works out of Chicago, was next. She gave $50 million to her foundations for the support of educational programs for women and girls.
That's not to say Hollywood isn't opening its hearts and wallets. The fundraisers come fast and furious. Even in the summer, when the charity carousel slows a bit, there can be as many as four fundraising golf tournaments on a single day.
But an involvement in charity is to a degree a business imperative in Hollywood, and many acknowledge that while they're giving to a worthy cause, they're often maintaining and grooming business relationships.
And while it can't be called philanthropy, a great deal of show business and media money goes to political causes and candidates, the vast majority liberal-leaning and many advancing social issues. Frequently today, many of Hollywood's biggest names are also directing their donations to specific causes, such as medical research to combat cancer, AIDS or multiple sclerosis.
Former Paramount head Sherry Lansing the first woman to head a Hollywood studio is using her namesake Lansing Foundation to give away her fortune to cancer research organizations. She also chairs the celebrity cabinet of the Red Cross.
"When (Sherry) resigned from her post and left Hollywood, she decided to try to harness the power of entertainment," said Laura Brown, director of the Lansing Foundation. Brown said that the foundation is trying to collaborate with other organizations to support cancer-related work. "Interestingly, we're not really partnering with any in the entertainment industry, though we would love to do more with them."
Another reality of Hollywood giving is its global nature. When Angelina Jolie witnessed the plight of refugees in Cambodia while filming on location there, she was moved to devote months, energy and funding to improving their situation through her work with the United Nations.
Giving has been a way of life in Hollywood since 1942, when Samuel Goldwyn founded the Entertainment Industry Foundation to centralize charity giving during World War II. That was the primary good works clearing house until the 1980s, when Lew Wasserman of MCA dominated the town. His wife, Edie, raised millions for the Motion Picture and Television Fund.
As Hollywood power has diffused, so has charity, and today there is a seemingly endless list of worthy causes calling for celebs' attention, either through donations, personal appearances or simply attaching a famous name.
Appearance requests for a popular celeb can reach into the hundreds per day, according to Rita Tateel, who founded Celebrity Source in 1988. Her organization matches charities with a database of 6,000 celebrities who are tracked with personal details. These include whether a celeb has been affected by a specific disease that might make them more inclined to help.
A number of Hollywood's younger celebrities, lacking the bankroll to bestow millions, lend their time and their names to worthy causes. "It's not just money, it's leadership, and it makes a lot of difference," said Linda Gross, executive director of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District's Educational Foundation.
Some of the giving is done closer to home, of course. Producer Greg Coote and his longtime friend Mel Gibson are behind a $15 million fundraising drive to endow arts programs in the district.
"We're incredibly fortunate. They have been extremely generous with time and money," Gross said. "You just don't see that around here."
Coote said he chose to focus on the local education sphere because he has children in the district and said he felt California's public school system was "a mess."
But even in places like Malibu, raising money can be tough work, especially in the wake of a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina that commanded so much attention and goodwill.
"It's very difficult to raise money because I think people are somewhat bored with philanthropy," Coote said. "You can have a fancy party and raise maybe six figures, but things are so expensive these days that you really have to do more to make a dent."
Still, there have been notable examples of industry types making a difference here. David Geffen, the co-founder of DreamWorks, donated $200 million to the UCLA's School of Medicine in 2002, the largest contribution ever to a U.S. medical school.
Other major Hollywood givers include Steven Spielberg, who launched the Shoah Foundation and its archive of Holocaust testimonies, DreamWorks Animation's Jeffrey Katzenberg and Univision's Jerrold Perenchio.
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