Monday, August 23, 2004

Celebrity affiliation helps open wallets

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is just the latest organization to harness the power of celebrity. More than 50 years ago, the Muscular Dystrophy Association approached Jerry Lewis about being its spokesman.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
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Photo Gallery: National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Lewis and MDA came up with a telethon which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the association.

"You really can't put a dollar amount on what Jerry has done for us," says Bob Mackle, MDA's director of public information. "But he took an organization and a disease no one has ever heard of and put us on the map.

"Besides his very significant fund raising, he brought us huge attention, credibility and awareness. I think it's safe to say that he has done more for this organization than any celebrity has done for any organization going."

Peter Cleary, director of media at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Association, agrees. Mary Tyler Moore, herself a diabetic, is not only the group's spokeswoman, she's also an active fund raiser and an unofficial liaison to Congress and civic groups.

"What Mary gives us is a high profile and increased awareness with the public and funding sources."

The United Negro College Fund can easily quantify how much money singer Lou Rawls brought in. It's in excess of $200 million, most of it made from an annual TV show Lou Rawls Parade of Stars, this year retitled An Evening of Stars.

The power of celebrity works on the local level too. Cincinnati attorney and Ohio Cancer Research Associates fund raiser Buck Niehoff is living proof. His annual fall fundraiser regularly books a celebrity because, "Celebrities in this country are like royalty. Having one enhances an event and they make people want to show up," he said.

In the past 12 years, Phyllis Diller, Judy Collins and Patti Page have helped his group raise $4 million, a sum that translates to more than $40 million thanks to matching grants.

About the gala
$1,000 a plate buys elegance

The $1,000-a-plate gala dinner kicking off the Freedom Center's public dedication Sunday night took place in a tent the size of a football field erected between the Center and Great American Ball Park.


• Roses: 4,500

• Candles: 280

• Guests: 1,500

Inside the tent

Guests were greeted by a 14-foot-tall Freedom Center logo with the U covered in red and white carnations.

The main portion of the tent was screened off during the cocktail hour by 8-foot-by-8-foot colorful silk-screened images of Nelson Mandela, Ryan White, Elie Wiesel, Frederick Douglass, Mother Teresa and Mohandas Gandhi.

The centerpieces on the 145 tables were antique six-paned windows covered on the left side and the bottom with white flowers, with a candle "in every window" symbolizing the signal used to indicate that it was safe for slaves on the run to cross the Ohio to freedom.

The table settings: gold-banded bone china set. Floor-length white tablecloths covered embellished with paillettes (spangles) interwoven with crystals. The intended effect is to make the cloths sparkle and flutter above the 4,444 yards of emerald green carpet.

The menu

Appetizers: lobster-crab cakes, grilled shrimp and crostini topped with caprino cheese.

Dinner: seared tenderloin, oak-grilled Atlantic swordfish and lobster ravioli.

Dessert: Outback Steakhouse chocolate tower cake.

Jim Knippenberg

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