Friday, February 23, 2024

Stars Turn Out for Project ALS 25th: Ben Stiller & Christine Taylor Do Stiller & Meara, Rob Morrow Goes All Sinatra


Who knew Rob Morrow could sing Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind”? And very well?

We found last night when Rob — star of “Northern Exposure,” the cunning judge who helps Paul Giamatti on “Billions” — crooned the late Jennifer Estess‘s favorite song to a room full of heavy hitting donors and celebrity friends at Project ALS‘s 25th anniversary.

The party at Jazz at Lincoln Center was in memory of Jennifer, founder of Naked Angels Theater group, and in tribute to living HerALS survivors who came on stage and performed a skit that was kind of amazing — even though they were in wheelchairs or using computers to speak.

Jennifer — a dynamo, if you knew her — was diagnosed with ALS in 1998. She was 35. Her doctors told her to “max out her credit cards and eat junk food.” (This is similar to what the great Nancy Davis’s doctors told her when she was diagnosed with MS. So she also started another huge charity for that, Race to Erase MS.)

Jennifer’s amazing sisters, Valerie and Meredith, have run Project ALS since she died, and in the process sound like trained medical professionals the way they have studied this horrible disease. Under them, Project ALS has raised $125 million for research and has funded therapies and medications where none existed before. The whole thing is extraordinary.

Erin Fleming, Research Consultant to Project ALS, with Meredith and Valerie Estess

Ben Stiller — who knew Jennifer, as I did, back in the day — proved to be a charming emcee for the night with Christine Taylor. Funny and gracious, they reminded me of Ben’s parents, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. Julianna Margulies spoke from the heart, and the audience included Katie Couric, writer-actor Geoffrey Nauffts, Nancy and Andrew Jarecki, Michael Berman — who with John Kennedy Jr. helped Jennifer launch Naked Angels– and his famous decorator wife Victoria Hagan, plus Broadway stars Andy Karl and his wife Orfeh. I also ran into Jonathan Burkhart, another old Jennifer friend, producer of the event, and co-founder and president of the Nantucket Film Festival

You’d have thunk that Project ALS was just a vanity deal when it started. But you didn’t know Jennifer or her sisters. They’ve turned this foundation into one of the most important sources of funding for this deadly condition, and helped families cope with impossible situations. The stories we heard last night were about survival and hope. One family contributed $100,000 from the stage despite experiencing their own loss. Others testified to surviving and maintaining thanks to doctors and programs they’ve met through Project ALS.

Put this group on your end of year donations.

PS Why Rob Morrow singing “Summer Wind”? It was Jennifer’s favorite song, of course. She had great taste! (Also, Rob was there with Naked Angels 25 years ago, along with Marisa Tomei, Fisher Stevens, and so many more!)

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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