Two nights ago, exercising great wisdom and insight, the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to honor Jeffrey Katzenberg with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. At MPTF, where Jeffrey is Chairman of the MPTF Foundation, we are absolutely delighted for him and I want to share some thoughts with you about Jeffrey’s involvement with our organization. While others in the industry can speak more expansively about the many years and many causes of Jeffrey’s (and his wife Marilyn’s) philanthropy, I feel that I can speak best about a different kind of contribution that Jeffrey has made to MPTF – time, energy and passion.
Jeffrey was handed “the keys” to MPTF by Lew and Edie Wasserman 20 years ago or so; Lew and Edie got them from Jules Stein and others, who got them from …you only have to go back to the early 1940s and it’s a guy with the name of Jean Hersholt, a Danish-born screen actor who served as president of the Motion Picture Relief Fund (as MPTF was then called) for 18 years and as President of the Academy for four years. Hersholt had a dream for MPTF that included buying 48 acres in Woodland Hills and building a sanctuary for industry members who needed support – a place to get better, a place to live in retirement, a place to age with dignity. That vision hasn’t been lost on Jeffrey, nor has the urgency in ensuring that it is sustained, and no single industry member in our “era” has worked harder, committed more of his professional and personal time and goodwill, to help it get fulfilled.
As MPTF’s CEO since early 2010, I can share two insights with you. First, I wouldn’t have taken this assignment unless Jeffrey asked (I think that’s what you call it when he phones and says “can you start tomorrow?”) because I knew how committed he was to partnering with me and the rest of the Board in finding a way out of the challenges that faced us; challenges that we had at least in part created for ourselves. And second, every day he has lived up to that commitment in word and action and smarts and time and energy and sheer force of will. Through holidays, through weekends, through two-week long international film junkets, through early morning emails and late night phone calls, Jeffrey has demonstrated his abiding support of MPTF and his desire to provide a stewardship of an organization that will flourish for the next generation. And for the most part, I’m proud to say, we have succeeded in our mission – in no small part due to Jeffrey’s leadership and dedication to the cause.
During the long, often complex process of the MPTF Board working with management to rectify the issues surrounding our Long-Term Care unit, many spears and arrows from upset family members and members of our entertainment community were launched in our direction, and Jeffrey was all too frequently the target. He is who he is in the industry and I guess that’s to be expected. But never, not once, did I see Jeffrey duck, hear him express any regret or consider taking a lower profile, or deflect any of the criticism. In fact, he demonstrated what true humanitarian leadership and commitment are all about: taking the good with the bad, standing up to fight for something you feel is worth preserving, making it clear to your detractors that you’re not going to back down, and working alongside the Board to reconsider its actions in a systematic way.
For me, the legacy, connected by the thread of leadership of the Motion Picture Relief/Television Fund and all the good it does for industry members, between Jean Hersholt, for whom the award is named, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who is now officially the 2012 recipient, is profound. The Academy has done us all proud and everyone at MPTF applauds Hawk Koch and the Board of Governors for its action.
And we can only continue to offer humble appreciation to Jeffrey for everything he has done for us.
Check out this article for more coverage: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118058774