November 30, 2015

Pat Boone, the greatest celebrity charity fundraiser of all time.

So who are the top ten entertainment-celebrity charity fundraisers of all time?  With dollars raised adjusted for inflation?  And counting only money raised from the private sector, not factoring in money raised by influencing government legislation? And not counting business celebrities such as Bill and Melinda Gates?

This is not an easy question to answer.  Many donations are anonymous. Forbes Magazine wanted to make a list but thought better of it.  Instead they tried to measure how the coattails of a celebrity endorsement benefited their chosen charity.  This gave them a metric on how much of a celebrity’s fame was “given” to the named cause.

This subjective list below comes from 45 years of experience working with six presidents and first ladies and hundreds of charities around the world.


1.) Pat Boone: His years of fundraising for the national Easter Seals telethon, which involved a massive nationwide ground game, brought in millions of dollars.  The ground game is the key here.  Easter Seals involved multiple charities and causes, not just Muscular Dystrophy as in the case of Jerry Lewis.  Thus multiple NGO’s, corporations and donors were involved at the grassroots.  Boone also had a prominent role in co-founding Mercy Corps which alone has distributed $2 billion in food and medicine around the world.  And he has helped found countless other charities.  By any money measurement, Pat Boone is at the top of my list as the number one celebrity charity fundraiser of all time.

2.) Jerry Lewis: His national Labor Day telethons were watched by millions and raised $2.6 billion for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.  At one time, the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon dominated every television channel available to American viewers.

3.) Oprah Winfrey: She is just getting started and is likely to some day top this list.  She has probably given more personally to charity than anyone else mentioned here.  By 2010 she had donated $400 million to educational charities, including 400 scholarships to Morehouse College in Atlanta.  Meanwhile, at last count, Oprah’s Angel Network has raised $80 million in private funds.

4.) Danny Thomas: As a poor actor he promised himself that if he ever made it big he would remember the less fortunate.  He made it big and he founded the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

5.) Bob Hope: He may have put in more miles in behalf of charity than any other celebrity, including those listed above who out-raised him.  Between 1941 and 1991 Bob Hope made 57 USO tours for American armed forces.  Hope tried several times to launch his own televised charity effort, and had some success with the project “Fight For Sight” in 1960. Bob Hope never met a charity he didn’t like and never missed the Annual Charity Awards.

6.) Bill Clinton: This former president, as a private citizen, raised more money for charity than all other American presidents combined. And we are not counting government money here.

7.) Lady Diana, Princess of Wales: Yes, former president Bill Clinton actually raised more private money for charity than Lady Diana.  But if her life had not been cut short, who knows what would have happened? At one point, Lady Diana was making more than 300 appearances a year, most of them for charity.

8.) Bono: He has raised millions in private and corporate money and funneled it into the neediest projects. Bono is listed by TIME magazine as one of the most influential persons in the world.

9.) Paul Newman: Along with writer A. E. Hotchner, he co-founded Newman’s Own, a food-beverage company. Newman dedicated all after tax proceeds from the business to charity.  As of this writing it has topped $400 million.

10.)  Angelina Jolie: She is still young enough to eventually out raise them all. Her world travel and selfless appearances for UNHCR have inspired many.

This list above is quite inadequate and establishing a “top ten” is not really very fair.  There is a long list of many others who have changed the world.

Elizabeth Taylor worked for AIDS research. Phyllis Diller worked for many charities in a long public career. The actor, Michael J. Fox has been the visible figure of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Cheryl Ladd and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. were fixtures for ChildHelp USA.

Sean Penn has mixed art, charity and politics in a career that has helped raise thousands of dollars for needy victims. Christopher Reeve, who portrayed Superman onscreen, teamed up with his wife Dana to create The Christopher Reeve Foundation and later co-found The Reeve-Irving Research Center.  William Shatner, Justin Beiber, Ben Affleck, Jon Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney and Don Imus are just a few of the many others who have given much and have been quick to champion a good cause.

Their songs have soothed our fears and their onscreen dramatics have provoked us and entertained us.  But it is their off screen work for people in need that makes them true celebrities to me.


The Collapse of the House of Cards: How the video series imploded, can it come back?

July 7, 2015

It was too good to be true.  The American version of House of Cards, as in the case of its British predecessor, was so unique in capturing the real life atmosphere and attitudes of Washington politics that it soon developed a cult following in this very jaded city.

Much of Washington laughs at Hollywood’s naive attempts to capture its elusive character, or lack thereof, but soon after the arrival of House of Cards a holy hush descended on the city with whispers of “have you been watching?”  One could see glimpses of Atwater, Axelrod, the Clinton’s, the Bushes, Panetta, Sununu, Ben Bradlee, Mary Matalin, Jim Carville, Katherine Graham and on and on the list goes.  But alas, the third season appeared and the very hubris that comes to all men of power in Washington, so ably captured by this theatrical drama, came to the producers themselves.  The third season retained its compelling drama but it knack for accuracy – the very thing that made it a masterpiece of art meets reality – collapsed before our eyes.

The one scene that symbolizes this disheartening fall better than any others, has the White House Chief of Staff driving one of the president’s political allies to the airport.  Huh?  The White House Chief of Staff is a chauffeur?  Boy did they get that wrong.  In fact, so relaxed is Remy Denton that he usually stands around the Oval Office waiting for something to do.

In the first three seasons I would often pause the show to tell my children real life stories.  “Yes, that sort of thing actually happened. This famous public figure was bisexual.  President Bush, Senior typed many of his own notes. Lee Atwater would only smoke on Thursdays to prove that he had power over the habit. This reporter slept with that Senator and actually flaunted it.  So and so runs a non profit and takes money from companies who depend on her husband’s decisions as Chairman of the Oversight Committee.”  But in this third season I was more often than not, pausing the show to tell them why it would never happen that way.

Let’s start with the cabinet meetings and work our way back to the Chief of Staff. These cabinet officers who meet with president Frank Underwood, lined up like little choir boys and girls, lacking personality or opinion, are in fact, prima donnas, Lords and Ladies of enormous ego and power.  They rule departments with hundreds of thousands of employees.

The Secretary of Interior, for example, traditionally arrives at work in her chauffeur driven limousine which parks in a private underground garage.  The Secrtary takes a private elevator to the floor of her office and walks down a long corridor to get there.  The walk is purposeful, designed to humble the visitor.  Looking down from the wall on this stunning corridor are magnificent oil portraits of her predecessors.  She knows very well that her own face will be haunting her successors for generations to come.  The building she presides over is only the headquarters, one of thousands, yes that’s right, thousands, in her vast domain.

I remember working late at the White House one night and as I was passing by the basement West Wing a breathless staffer came running up to one of the Secret Service Stations just inside the door.  Two limos were outside, their engines running.

“What time does the Secretary need to be back in the morning?” the harried staffer asked.

“The guard looked at his colleague nearby and said in an irritated and puzzled voice, “The Secretary of what?”

I giggled to myself as I passed by.

In “The Secretary’s” domain, whether it was State, or Defense, or any one of many others, the boss was simply known as “The Secretary.”  As in, “The Secretary wants this on his desk tomorrow morning.” But at the White House, simply throwing out the title “Secretary” shakes down no thunder.

Above all of those Lords and Ladies of the Cabinet is the Chief of Staff to the President of the United States.  He is not shown as their boss in the flow chart but believe me he is in position.  There is no oil portrait of him.  But there should be.

Now, I have known several Chiefs of Staff.  I have never seen one stand around the West Wing with nothing to do.  He is surrounded by clamoring aides and administrative assistants. And I have never known of one to drive a donor to the airport.  Not when he was in power.  It is not that he is so prideful as much as he doesn’t have the time.

Let us hope that the House of Cards can comeback in its Fourth Season.  Having teased us with greatness, like so many newly elected presidents, we now want it badly. If we can’t have it in real life, lets have it in art.

Forge of Empires: Best strategy game for iPad

August 3, 2014

At last there is a strategy game for iPad.  Forge of Empires.  Nothing else I’ve tried really compares.  And like everything else on iPad it has forced me into a wider community and to my surprise I like it.

Since Christmas, 1992, when my son first tempted me to make a move in Sid Mier’s Civilization, I have been a rabid fan of computer strategy games.  And I have enjoyed all of the variations since.  Some of today’s mods are just amazing and make it an entirely different game.

Once, in between speaking engagements in Asia, I was sent to the South Pacific island resort of Bali.  The company put me in a five star hotel-resort.  When I opened my sliding doors, cool winds blew in off the ocean.  I spent the week taking food in my room and battling the demons in the computer.  Who needs a beach when you have the whole world to conquer?

But try as it may, Sid Mier’s Civilization has not yet made the transition to iPad that I want.  And I grow tired dragging around a heavy computer.

Forge of Empires was a perfect fit for iPad.  The basics of the game are simple enough to work and yet the options are endless.  The first few weeks I was totally on iPad and only reluctantly checked out the extra features by going online with my desktop.

The best part is that you can play a game and be part of the family.  I am no longer in “the computer room.”  I can be right there on the couch watching a movie or at Panera Bread or Starbucks, while managing my growing empire.  And how can the family complain if they are checking their Facebook or pictures on Instagram?

Now don’t just rush to your iPad and download the app.  Go to your desktop and put in the url below.  Just cut and paste.  Or go to this link. It will sign you up as my friend and I will be able to give you some supplies or even coach you if you need or want it.  For this is a game where allies can be of help.

There is war, there is economy, there is city building and long range planning.  And it can all be carried around with your iPad.


Jean-Luc Perrois “Talent finds a way”

August 22, 2013

Jean-Luc Perrois celebrates his birthday today and I wanted to get a little of his remarkable story on the record.  Perrois, my French brother in law, is a successful husband, father and businessman who lives in a beautiful chalet, high in the Alps overlooking Geneva, Switzerland.   The house is actually on the French side of the border but from its vantage point one can see Mount Blanc on one side and Lake Geneva with its Jet d’Eau on the other.  At night the sight of Geneva, lit up along the black lake, snaking its way through the Swiss mountains, is truly spectacular.  The Perrois also have apartments in Romania, where they visit the family of Jean-Luc’s wife, Delia.

As a youth, not many would have predicted such success for Jean-Luc.  He opted out of high school, working as a carpenter’s apprentice, specializing in door frames, working with wood and then aluminum and glass which would end up being one of the small factors that would direct his later career.  At some point, early in this process, Jean-Luc started classes with the Compagnons du Tour de France, an organization of craftsmen that dates back to the Middle Ages.  Even this work didn’t last.  The recession hit,  Jean-Luc had no employment and so went back to school, this time finishing his high school education and getting a vocational degree in construction.  It was here that his natural gift for mathematics and accounting came together and his work product caught the attention of professors and colleagues.

When the 1992 Olympics was announced for Albertville, France, Jean-Luc, and many others of his profession, were swept up into the process.  Perrois’ quick calculations allowed builders to anticipate the costs of construction.  He soon emerged as a top appraiser.  Others bids came in low or high, Jean-Luc’s numbers, no matter how far off they seemed at the time, always turned out to be uncannily accurate.  The proof was in the numbers.

In the post Olympic construction world of Geneva, Switzerland, Jean-Luc emerged as a nascent phenomenon in his profession.  Architects brought him their dreams of glass, aluminum, steel and marble and Jean-Luc could spit back reliable numbers for what it would all cost.  All around him men and women rose and fell in the corporate hierarchy.  Companies opened and closed and merged.  Boards of directors were elected and dismissed.   Jean-Luc remained.  He was too valuable.   Art could be debated, style could change, but who could argue with the numbers?

In 1993, Jean-Luc married Delia Sechel, a Romanian artist whose tapestries, oils and crafts appear in books and exhibitions across Europe.  They have one son, Luca Perrois.  Jean-Luc is currently working as an Associate and as the director of constructions metalliques for Revaz SA.

In the end, Jean-Luc Perrois’ gift made a place for him.  The artists could dream and create their visions on paper.  They needed him to tell them what it would cost and how it could be done.

Michael Jackson’s White House visit

September 8, 2010

Sometimes what seems important isn’t.  And what seems so ordinary is really special.

In 1990, I was serving as a special assistant to the president in the George H. W. Bush White House.  One day a staffer named Joe Watkins brought Michael Jackson in for a visit.  Joe was a floater who reported to several different members of the senior staff but I suppose I was the action officer since the stop-by fell into one of the categories that I was supposed to be tracking.  In any case, Joe generously offered to bring him by for a visit.

Now I have to explain that the gloved one’s career was in decline and no one made a lot of fuss on this visit and everyone was so busy we let Joe just take him around.  It was a far cry from the 1984 Rose Garden – Ronald Reagan hey day for Jackson.   And in 1988, then vice president George H. W. Bush had his own White House event with him.  So yes, we genuinely respected and admired Michael Jackson but there was something like that happening all the time and everyone was very busy.

I had my hands full that day with a gaggle of French students.  We had an event ready in the ornate, Indian Treaty Room of the Old Executive Office Building where vice president, Dan Quayle would greet them and give a short speech.  My wife is French and would be translating for the vice president so she was nervous and that made me nervous too.  So I was totally preoccupied.

Well, just as we were about to open the two grand doors and introduce the vice president, who was waiting in the adjacent room, one of the students looked out of another doorway into the hall of the Old Executive Office Building and saw Joe Watkins strolling his way with Michael Jackson at his side.

“Michael Jackson!” he yelled.  And the French students rose as one person and raced out of the room and into the hallway.  They surrounded Jackson asking for autographs and giggling and smiling as the cameras popped.  Joe Watkins was beaming.

I was with the vice president’s assistant who was dumbfounded.  He had just lost his audience. “What’s going on?”

“It’s Michael Jackson,” I said.

“And this is the vice president of the United States,” he snapped back angrily.

There was an awkward pause.  The vice president’s schedule was pretty important.

“These kids have never heard of Dan Quayle,” I explained gently.  “But they do know Michael Jackson.”

“You’re telling me that these university students don’t know the name of the vice president of the United States?”

“Well,” I responded mischievously, “Do you know the name of the vice president of France?”

The aide only glared back with a puckered expression on his face.

“I rest my case.”

Of course, it was a trick question because there is NO vice president of France.  The office doesn’t exist in the French government.

We patiently waited for the tide to come back in and the vice president graciously gave his speech to the students from France but they were still glowing with smug satisfaction, their cameras sated and their minds already formulating the stories they would tell back home.

And so it was, that day I missed my chance to meet Michael Jackson, or to get his autograph for my kids, but then, if any of you are interested, I do have lots of signed pictures with Dan Quayle.

And the kids from France?  They returned with full hearts.  My guess is that when Michael departed last year, every one of them had a story to tell.  And a picture to prove it.

Micah Buckley: Better than Jim Carrey

March 16, 2010

Micah Buckley:  Better than Jim Carrey

During a visit to Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida a couple of weeks ago, my wife and daughter and I took in a remarkable stage performance of The Imaginary Invalid.  It is a modern, Beth Millis, adaptation of Moliere’s witty parody of the French noble classes.  It uses a whiny, spoiled aristocratic hypochondriac to tweak the noses of pompous doctors.  Perhaps it is indicative of how little those inbred nobles learned from the great French Revolution that Moliere’s farce still plays to packed houses in that country and lo, even in the United States, leaving crowds rolling with laughter while the doctors in the audience sit in stupefied wonderment.

What was so surprising about this performance was just how good it was.  And how underreported it was in the Lakeland Ledger.  This was as good as anything I have ever seen on Broadway or West End. And I don’t know who should get the kudos, Gordon Miller, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences or Director Nickolas Dixon, who was also choreographer and sound designer.  My guess is that Dixon is the genius but Miller should get some credit for turning him loose instead of applying a short chain.

The casting was uniformly superb, without a weak link in the bunch.  One wonders at that.  What kind of university drama department casts talent over the sons and daughters of alumni donors, board members and cronies?  Not to mention illicit lovers.

The star of the show was Micah Buckley and one cannot help but say, “He reminds you of Jim Carrey.”  And one would say that because he is very, very good, always in character, uninhibited onstage, and if he is not like Jim Carrey, well, that is about the closest comparison one can find.  But it is not really fair.  In fact, he is better than Jim Carrey.  Just as funny but a tad less animated and awkward.  A true talent.

The unquestioned showstopper was Rossanna Mercedes, who played the hypochondriac’s wily maidservant.  Rossanna raced from one scene to the next, confidently tossing her one-liners in a Hispanic accent, letting them drop like little bombs all over the stage, playing her outrageous, comic character as straight as an arrow, indifferent to the audience and as self absorbed as a cocky flamingo dancer.

Jamie Burns was so funny, so clever, so good with such limited lines, that one suspects she and the whole cast were hauled off to see the show on Broadway and copied their appropriate characters.  I haven’t the time or interest to check that out.  If she copied some good moves from another professional performer, good for her, smart girl, she did it with perfection, which is in itself, a testimony to good acting.  If it was at the suggestion of the ubiquitous Dixon, wow.  Can you say “underpaid.”  But if it was Jamie Burns, herself, expect to see her in your living rooms any day now.

What was truly eerie was that all of this was happening at an Assemblies of God university.  We walked out into the night, passing bronzed plaques of District Superintendents, with overgrown side burns from the 1970’s, wire rim glasses with plastic ends, polyester suits and matronly wives with mousy gray hair.

Be assured, there was nothing ungodly in The Imaginary Invalid.  The script would sail right past the most fanatic censor from the Potomac District.  But the grunts and grinds and malapropisms and choreography on stage showed true irreverent genius.  If Moliere had been born and raised in the A-G and had been there that night, enjoying a performance of his work, he would have smiled at the double entendre.  Pompous nobles or stern faced religious legalists, both make good foils.

The Imaginary Invalid, performed at SEU two weeks ago, was a triumph of laughter over fear, joy over anger, brains over surly spirituality.