Led by host George Clooney, Hollywood’s A-list turned out to celebrate the 95th anniversary of the Motion Picture & Television Fund, the longstanding support system for entertainment industry seniors and industry professionals. But it was an even older showbiz institution who stole the show: soon-to-be-centenarian Kirk Douglas.
Clooney, who with his wife Amal toured the expansive Woodland Hills, California, facility that provides housing, medical care and other assistance programs for aging and ailing members of the show business community earlier in the day, opened the song-and-dance-filled celebration with a nod to both the MPTF and legendary film star Douglas’ impressive longevity.
“Wow, 95 years – that’s a long time for most of us,” said Clooney. “I mean, for Kirk Douglas, not so much. He’s not impressed!”
Douglas, who turns 100 on Dec. 9, was on hand for the celebration, sitting stage-side with his wife, Anne, as his son, actor and producer Michael Douglas, took the stage to pay tribute to the couple’s renowned charitable generosity.
But first, Michael offered a competitive nod to Clooney.
Noting that his father initially invited him to pen a foreword for his 2012 memoir I Am Spartacus: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist, Michael discovered not long after that Kirk had instead chosen someone else: Clooney.
“He replaced me with a younger actor!” exclaimed Michael.
Speaking to attendees who included Robert Downey Jr., Hugh Jackman, Jeremy Renner, Chris Pine, Bryan Cranston, Jane Lynch, Kevin Spacey and Derek Hough, Michael commented on his dad’s personal and professional longevity.
“My dad turns 100 years old in a few weeks,” he said. “It’s an amazing personal century, filled with so many accomplishments and achievements that, if I recounted them all, we’d still be here for Kirk’s 105th birthday. My dad is an icon. He’s a legend. He’s a true movie star from an era when movie stars were looked at as our version of royalty, and Kirk earned that status. Three Oscar nominations, two Golden Globes, over 90 films that spanned seven decades – and not one sequel.”
He praised his father’s many philanthropic efforts, including donating a surgical robot (nicknamed for his famous film character Spartacus) to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, establishing over 400 playground parks for children across Los Angeles, funding minority scholarships at major universities, and donating over $40 million to ambitious programs and centers at the MPTF alone.
A cake made out of strategically tiered cupcakes was brought out as Michael and the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to the screen legend, who took a microphone. And though he still struggled with some speech difficulties – the result of his 1996 stroke – the film icon proved he was still sharp and witty.
“I’d like to thank my son Michael,” the senior Douglas said. “I always said to him ‘Be a doctor or a lawyer’ – but after hearing him tonight, I think he’s a good actor!”
As he nears his centennial, he noted many modern-day actors he’s heard from, including Jennifer Lawrence, Anna Kendrick and Kevin Hart – and then he joked, “I don’t know these people!” He closed by thanking “everyone who came here tonight to support a worthwhile cause.”
Prior to the start of the event, Clooney – who was tapped to host the evening by former 20th Century Fox head and new MPTF chair Jim Gianopulos – said he was pleased to help his industry take care of its own. “It’s actually a pretty small town, and it really is a family, and part of our job is to make sure that that family doesn’t slip through the cracks along the way, and that’s why we’re here,” the star said on the red carpet.
He noted that his wife Amal was nearby with some of his old colleagues who were now MPTF residents. “She’s over there with some friends that stay here that I worked with 35 years ago, so she’s getting the down-low on some old stories!” he said with a laugh.
Other attendees noted their personal connections to MPTF: On stage, Pine revealed his memories of visiting his grandmother, 1940s-era horror film actress and pinup Anne Gwynne, during her twilight years as a resident there, while Cranston shared a warm, hilarious and slightly scandalous story of his mother, actress Audrey Peggy, in her final years at the campus, striking up a passionate – and apparently quite torrid – romance with one of her fellow residents. Spacey, whose mother volunteered there during his youth, recalled caroling there as a child during the holidays and meeting aging stars like The Three Stooges‘ Larry Fine.
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Spacey was among the evening’s many performers as well, singing and dancing to Frank Sinatra’s “Can I Steal a Little Love?” and Sammy Davis, Jr.’s “Mr. Bojangles.” Among the many other one-of-a-kind performances included Jackman singing a medley of songs from “Les Misérables,” Derek Hough dancing to tunes from “Singin’ In the Rain,” Jane Lynch and The Office‘s” Kate Flannery staging “Mairzy Doats,” Johnny Mathis crooning his classic “Misty,” and a surprise performance of “You and Me Against the World” by MPTF resident Helen Reddy.
“It’s really nice to know that this is here, and it’s been 95 years, and let’s do 95 more,” Lynch told PEOPLE before the event. “I, of course, am thinking I hope it’s here for me when I need it.”