I’m sure almost every night in New York and Los Angeles, there is a room that contains handfuls of celebrities, bankers and society ladies clinking glasses and pledging thousands to some cause or another. But, though I have been to a whole lot of those kinds of soirees, I feel like the one I went to last night, a benefit for the Joyful Heart Foundation at Cipriani Wall Street in NYC, is a little bit different from the others. I can’t imagine there are many other events where you would see Ice-T and Coco meet wide-eyed teenagers, Debra Messing loudly promising to kiss a stranger, Samantha Ronson teaching a Christie’s auctioneer how to hold a mic, and Hilary Swank dancing in her seat as Harry Connick Jr. improvised lyrics in praise of Mariska Hargitay. (I mean, it’s no Channing Tatum grinding with Elton John, but still.) And in-between it all we are moved to tears by stories of women surviving rape and abuse, and others fighting for a future where “Special Victims Unit” sounds like a quaint relic of the past on par with typewriters and scullery maids.
Variations of this scene have been going down for years, since Law & Order: SVU star Hargitay decided to make it her mission to heal the kind of victims she’d been helping onscreen as Det. Olivia Benson. And I can tell you from experience (and full disclosure, one of my BFFs works for Joyful Heart) that this isn’t some token cause for the actress. She throws herself into it, and brings her very famous friends along with her.
The highlight for a bystander like myself at these events is the auction. Comedian (and wife of George Stephanopoulos) Alexandra Wentworth helped egg on the rich folks in the house to bid for private dinners by Bobby Flay and Mario Batali, backstage tours of 30 Rock and Smash (with that Debra Messing kiss thrown in), and a walk-on speaking role (and a victim or perp named after them) on SVU. It’s great fun to watch people pledge something like half my annual salary for the chance to meet Slash and get a DJ lesson from Ronson. Especially when you realize that cash is going toward child-abuse awareness campaigns, eradicating rape-kit backlogs in police departments and sending victims of abuse and the people who treat them to healing retreats.
Also, I finally met Coco and Ice-T.
[Photos: Getty Images, AllenSpector.com]