Farm animal gala raises more than $1 million for Prop. 2
Celebrities posing for photographers, a Bel-Air mansion, an elegant dinner outside under twinkling lights, the iconic Carole King singing and playing the piano. Was it a fundraiser? Yes, of course. But the issue wasn't a presidential campaign, Darfur or the environment. The cause: factory farm animals.
The Humane Society's Wayne Pacelle estimated that more than $1 million was raised Sunday night from 450 guests. The funds help pay for advertising and other expenses incurred in the campaign to help pass Proposition 2, the California state ballot measure that would outlaw confining crates and cages used in the factory farming of hens, veal calves and pregnant pigs. According to the campaign --sponsored by the Humane Society of the U.S., Farm Sanctuary and other animal welfare groups -- the cages are so tiny that hens cannot spread their wings, and the crates are so small that calves and sows cannot turn around.
Ellen DeGeneres and her new spouse, actress Portia de Rossi -- posing at right with Pacelle, the head of the Humane Society -- hosted the event on the grounds of the estate of businessman John Winfield.
Animal welfare causes have been championed by an array of deep-pocketed business people and philanthropists for years. But if you thought farm animals were a stretch to evoke passion and philanthropy, the supporters Sunday night said just the opposite.
"I think no one goes out of their way to hurt an animal," said DeGeneres, sitting with De Rossi for a brief chat in a living room -- there appeared to be several in this house -- before walking outside to schmooze with guests. But on the issue of conditions for farm animals, "unfortunately there's not a lot of awareness," she said.
"They're sentient beings, and they feel pain and fear," De Rossi said. "It's up to us, the more intelligent species, to take care of them."
"This isn't even taking care of them," DeGeneres added. "It's just making things a little better for them."
"It's such a modest proposal," De Rossi said.
DeGeneres said she wanted to use her celebrity to support the issue. "I love animals," she said.
Who can forget DeGeneres sobbing on her talk show last year, begging that the dog she gave up to her make-up artist's family be returned to them by a private rescue duo who took the dog back. "That's long over," said DeGeneres ruefully about the battle. "I had to give that up. It was a bad time."
Actress Kelly Lynch, left, arrived in a satiny short black dress that she proudly said she got at Target. "I'm an anti-consumerist," she said. (She did not put the adornment and maintenance of her and her husband's midcentury home designed by famed architect John Lautner into the category of consumerism. "That's restoring and preserving architecture," she said.) Lynch's parents had a farm in addition to their Minneapolis city home when she was growing up. "We raised farm animals as pets," she said.
She came last night at the invitation of Kathy Freston, the self-help author and wife of Hollywood executive Tom Freston. Kathy Freston donated about $5,000 to finance a TV ad spot for Prop 2 -- one of numerous TV spot buys being auctioned off at the gala. "A lot of my book is about being a conscious eater," she said of "Quantum Wellness," adding that the "filthy conditions" of farm animals was something she believes most people will want to rectify.
That sentiment was echoed throughout the night. "We are not a barbaric people," said Pauley Perrette, the actress who plays the Goth forensic specialist on the TV show "NCIS."
"To me, it's a no-brainer," said actor Tobey Maguire of "Spider-Man" fame, pictured at right. "I'm a near-vegan. I eat like a vegan." Maguire showed up in a rumpled, untucked shirt and gym shoes (at least it's vegan).
The measure, of course, assumes people are still eating animals. It deals only with their treatment in factory farming situations. (There was no meat last night -- as is the custom at most animal welfare events. The vegan dinner was catered by Madeleine Bistro. And it was good -- really.)
The Humane Society, the main muscle behind the ballot measure, unveiled four potential ads and showed off a humorous animated video set to the music of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition."
"You think this crowd can rock?" shouted Carole King. By the time she got to her classic "You've Got a Friend" guests were singing along in the warm night air and hoisting aloft votive candles from the tables rock-concert style.
"Ain't it good to know that you've got a friend; we're gonna pass Prop 2," she crooned, sliding in some new lyrics for the occasion.
Singer Moby, also an animal welfare supporter, took the stage next.
The opponents have a campaign as well -- each side is spending millions of dollars -- but this night belonged to the Prop 2 folks.
"I have rescue hens. They're kind of menopausal," said Kathy Riordan, an L.A. Animal Services Commissioner and animal advocate who was at the event. She's also the daughter of Richard Riordan, L.A.'s former mayor and the owner of the venerable Pantry restaurant downtown. "My father endorses this, and he has four meat-eating restaurants. I think there is a growing trend for a humane treatment of what we eat."
-- Carla Hall
Photos: Startraks Photo