By Olivia Tracey
"This is the first time I’ve ever gone to Mass and parked valet," announced "The West Wing’s" co-executive producer, Kevin Falls, much to the audience’s amusement. The occasion was the 8th Annual Catholics in Media Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where a select host of renowned showbiz professionals were honored recently for their positive and spiritually uplifting work in film and TV. Frankly, this was more than an occasion. It was an experience.
No fewer than 15 concelebrants joined together to "perform" the Mass, with, not surprisingly, many an Irish priest among them, from Revs. Patrick Connolly and James Kavanagh to gregarious Chaplain Ken Deasy and the Archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Michael Mahony. A phenomenal full-scale orchestra provided the music as the ballroom full of guests joined in the singing from their respective tables. I was especially blessed to be seated at the front in the always delightful company of restaurateur Jimmy Murphy and his eldest son, Sean, along with Michael and Gretchen Wayne, all of whom are on CIMA’s honorary committee.
Doing a brilliant job as master of ceremonies was distinguished actor Pat Harrington, especially renowned for his role on the CBS series "One Day at a Time." Humorous one-liners rolled off his tongue as glibly as Fred Astaire with a tap dance. Speaking of his Irish roots, he mentioned his Corkonian paternal ancestors, "dirt poor farmers who came to the U.S. during the potato famine," while his mother’s side, who were of wealthy Kerry stock, "came over during the quiche famine." It was 11 a.m. on a rainy Sunday morning and this man was on.
Also in fine form was charming Italian-American actor Bob Loggia, along with his gorgeous Irish wife, Audrey O’Brien. They both waxed lyrical about their numerous trips to Ireland, especially the swanky annual Derby at the Curragh. A familiar face on a string of fine films, from "Jagged Edge" to "Big," Loggia can currently be seen as the upbeat Italian cook at an Irish-Italian restaurant in the hit movie "Return to Me," now on video, and starring Minnie Driver and David Duchovny.
The same movie garnered a much-deserved double scoop in the CIMA Motion Picture Award category for producer Jenny Lew Tugend and director and co-writer Bonnie Hunt. Of course, I was beside myself when I caught sight of the wonderful Ms. Hunt at the distinguished gathering as I have been a huge fan of her acting talent ever since I saw her opposite Marisa Tomei in "Only You." I hung on her every word as she spoke from the stage, and delighted in the fact that she too has an Irish connection. She referred to her Irish dad who drank to forget, while her Polish mother forgot to drink. As one of seven children, she recalled her father joking about how they used the rhythm method, which is why they’re all great dancers.
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On a more somber note, she spoke emotionally about her father’s sudden death while she was a young student in nursing school. It was that time in her life that inspired the writing of "Return To Me," a touching romantic comedy revolving around heart-transplant success, true love and divine intervention. As well as directing and co-writing the film with Don Lake, Hunt also acted in it along with Joely Richardson, Carroll O’Connor and Jim Belushi, who presented the CIMA Award that Sunday morning.
Actor Mike Farrell ("Providence" and "Mash") was under intense emotional pressure as he delivered his acceptance speech for the Board of Directors’ Award, while his wife and co-honoree, actress Shelley Fabares, was undergoing a liver transplant operation. Shelly, of course, is a widely known actress and is especially renowned for the hugely successful "Donna Reed Show" and "Daniel Boone." The couple are being honored for their outstanding contribution to both the entertainment industry and the community.
Finally, the Television Series award went to "The West Wing," the hit NBC and Warner Brothers’ Television series starring Martin Sheen, Robe Lowe and Irish American Janet Mahoney.
Also doing the rounds were CIMA presidential couple Jack and Pat Shea, Francesca Hilton, daughter of Zza Zza Gabor and Conrad Hilton, and Peter Casey, creator and executive producer of "Frasier," "Wings," and "Cheers," who was there with his wife, Rosemary Cronin-Casey. No need to ask where their ancestors hailed from. Also among the Mass participants was handsome Irish-American soap star Daniel McVicar, who looks the closest that I’ve ever seen to a young Gregory Peck.
Speaking of whom, the ever-endearing Gregory was unfortunately not present at this year’s event, but is, not surprisingly, a past Lifetime Achievement Award recipient (1995). Other honorees in this category include Carroll O’Connor (1996), Rosemary Clooney (1998) and Martin Sheen (1999), while former Motion Picture and Television honors have gone to "Saving Private Ryan," "Schindler’s List," "The Practice," "Frasier," and "Touched by an Angel."
Needless to say, Catholics in Media Associates attracts the best of Hollywood, both in terms of good people and quality production. Thanks to its dedicated committee and sponsors (MGM-UA, Mole Richardson Co., Frank Tobin P.R., and Warner Brothers,) we can look forward to yet another great gathering at next year’s awards on Nov. 4, 2001. It’s already firmly engraved on my calendar.