Editor’s warning: This post is a very long one, but it’s worth the read. So, settle back to find out why the 2017 Celebrating Women Luncheon was one of the most memorable get togethers of the year.
It depended on your age when it came to Jamie Lee Curtis. Those with decades on their meters remembered her as the darling daughter of Hollywood’s golden age couple of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. Then there was the generation that immediately thought of her being terrorized in “Halloween” and “Terror Train.” Others recalled her as the “bod” in “Trading Places” and “Perfect.” And, yes, there’s a current generation who have read her 14 books to their children.
The question at the Baylor Health Care System Foundation‘s Celebrating Women Luncheon was, “Who really is Jamie Lee Curtis?” That’s because Jamie (“Just call me Jamie, not Jamie Lee”) was going to be the featured speaker at the Hilton Anatole on Thursday, October 26.
Before heading down to the VIP meet-and-greet in the Anatole’s Wedgwood Room that Thursday morning, Jamie showed the first signs of how the day would go. She told an event staffer that she was wearing no makeup and had done her own hair. But if they wanted someone to do her makeup, it was up to them. No need; Jamie was just fine in her own skin. Earlier someone had asked if she wanted to review the questions that would be posed to her in the chat with Baylor Health Care System Foundation President Robin Robinson. Nope. She would just take them as they came.
Before she entered the room, the crowd including Kristen Hinton, Norm Bagwell, Barbara Stuart, Carol Seay, Jimmie Westcott, Lisa Cooley, Tanya Foster, Aileen Pratt, Kate Swail, Pam Perella, Leslie Diers, Debbie Robinson, Polly Tadlock, Fredye Factor, Sarah Losinger, Debbie Oates, Christie Carter, Julie Ford, Rich Enthoven, Trisha Wilson, Tiffany Divis, Jennie and Stuart Reeves, Caren Kline and Dallas Morning Newsies Deborah Fleck, Selwyn Crawford and Mike Wilson was happily chatting and drinking coffee. Only a handful of people were getting in line for the grip-and-grin. That would quickly change.
Like a quarterback preparing for the big game, Jamie checked out the setup and approached the event photographer and suggested a place where she would stand with guests. As another photographer took a photo from the side, Jamie called the second photographer over and gave instructions to shoot directly in front of her. It wasn’t an order. She was advising the team on a game plan that would seamlessly score success.
Even the guests became part of the team effort. Jamie would talk with each one and make sure that all were picture-perfect. When Gretchen Minyard arrived for her photo, Jamie adjusted the flower on Gretchen’s jacket. One young woman quickly put the finishing touches on her own makeup as she went through the line. She was thrilled for the photo opp. From the big smile in being photographed with Jamie, no one could tell that she had just had her first round of chemo the day before. Linda Custard, who had successfully gone through a year of treatments, had a special glow about her as she and Jamie embraced.
After having her photo taken with Lindalyn Adams, Jamie called time-out and went to the side of the staging area to talk with Lindalyn, who had initiated Celebrating Women 18 years ago.
Now, the guests were starting to take notice and lined up for their picture with Jamie. A handful of guests stood back, saying they weren’t all that interested in a photo with Jamie. That would change. Soon enough the line was winding past the stanchions, and in the line now were those who’d said earlier they weren’t all that interested in a photo with Jamie.
Observers started taking note of how in each shot, Jamie would hit her mark with her legs crossed at the ankle, confidently hold her head high, smile with lips together and have an expression on her face as if she was truly proud to be in the picture. Her arms would adjust a bit with each photo, but they never struck the “sorority girl” pose.
When the final photo was taken, one of the photographers approached her and thanked her for her earlier direction, adding that each photo had turned out great. Jamie smiled with a twinkle in her eye and said, “I knew where the lights were.”
As the doors opened to the Chantilly Ballroom, the 1,300 guests like Tom Thumb President Dennis Bassler with Tom Thumb First Lady Connie Yates, Sara Martineau, Vicki Chapman, Joan Eleazer with daughter Layne Pitzer, Debbie Raynor, Nancy Dedman, Jill Smith, Gene Jones, Anita Arnold, Al Hill Jr., Linda Perryman Evans, Jan Langbein, Leslie Gosnell and sisters Nancy Marcus and Nelda Cain were taking their places. Before things got underway, Abigail Powell and Julie Powell stood behind Jamie, who had taken her place at the table next to Honorary Co-Chair Leonard Riggs. The Powells had their cellphones ready to snap a photo with her. When Jamie realized the situation, she stood up and took hold of the phone for a selfie with the girls.
Soon, the program was underway with London Hibbs entering the center aisle singing “Heroes” and joined by dancers en route to the stage.
They were followed by Event Chair Tucker Enthoven, who welcomed the guests and told how the monies raised at the luncheon stayed in North Texas. To emphasize the point, she told of 43-year-old attorney/wife/mother Carolyn Brown, who just the year before had been diagnosed with stage III tripe-negative breast cancer.
Following a video about Carolyn’s journey, an army of 20 men and women lined up along the back of the stage. Through the group entered Carolyn, who explained that these people had been the ones who had taken her through nine months of surgeries, chemo and radiation, resulting in her being cancer-free.
Following lunch, Tucker returned to the podium with her Underwriting Chair Ola Fojtasek, who acknowledged Lindalyn, the Baylor Health Care System Foundation staff, the committee, presenting sponsor Tom Thumb and the mega donors. Ola then got the activity meter raised, explaining that at each table there was one program that was marked for the holder to receive an $80 gift certificate for Kendra Scott.
Tucker thanked Honorary Co-Chairs Peggy and Leonard Riggs, announced a matching challenge of $25,000 and introduced Baylor Scott And White Health CEO Jim Hinton. Jim told how his life had been influenced by the women in his life, including his daughter, 12-year-old Nora Hinton, who the morning after the recent presidential election announced that she could still be the first female president. He emphasized the importance of the Celebrating Women Luncheon by announcing that, over the past 18 years, it had raised more than $30M, and more than 100,000 women had been screened last year at the Darlene Cass Imaging Center.
Following Jim, Baylor Health Care System Foundation President Robin Robinson introduced Jamie for a chat on stage. It would be a chat to be remembered.
Before getting started, though, Jamie addressed one part of the audience. “I was raised well. Not really, but I was raised semi-well. I actually made them move the chair so my back wasn’t to you. But I apologize that my back is to you, and I will try to pin it like a Rain Bird.”
Who is her hero? Robin asked. “I am almost 60, and I have spent a lot of time in ballrooms sitting around tables of 10 with well-heeled, well-dressed people like yourselves advocating for causes in ways to come together to raise money for important causes,” Jamie replied. “And I have seen myriad ways that these are done. I have never in my life seen a more moving example of what this is, the reason we are here, than that team of people coming up on the stage. I’ve done a lot of these and I think that’s why that challenge grant … and I hope we make it … I’d like to see a show of hands of 25 people in this room who will give a thousand dollars with me.* I want it right now. 25 people to give $25,000. [Hands went up throughout the room.] I want to know that $50,000 extra was raised in one minute for the work of those people who stood here for her and work for people you will never know. There is no more important thing for us to do today than to support them. I’m just privileged to be here.”
Did you have a cancer scare? Robin then asked Jamie. “I did, and in coming here I recalled it,” she answered. “My memory of it was the wait in that room for the diagnosis. Either an all-clear, which was my case, or the diagnosis of breast cancer and then the eventual treatment plan and care team stepping in. And what I remember about it, and the reason why I try to stay active, is that moment of feeling alone, even though my sweet husband Christopher [Guest] was sitting with me. It is a profound moment of truth. I was prepared for it. And as I got the ‘All clear’ from it, I was grateful to my doctor who found it. It was not noticed on the mammogram. It was not noticed radiologically. It was done from palpitation, by actually laying on his hands. I’m incredibly luck, but I’ll never forget that moment.”
In receiving the tough news from your doctor, Robin asked next, do you want her to ask how your life is going, or do you want straight talk? “Me? I’m coming up, if I’m lucky enough, on February 3rd of next year, I’ll be coming up on 19 years sober from drugs and alcohol,” Jamie answered. “In my opinion [addiction] is hereditary—my dad, my mom, my brother. And [for me] it was an opiate addiction. It was a small plastic surgery moment that led to an opiate addiction. It is no accident today that we have an epidemic in this country. I’m in recovery, and I want it as straight as you can give it to me. I’m as straight a person as it is. I want no subterfuge. I want it unvarnished. I want you to tell me the truth. I try to live an incredibly truthful life.”
How do you select the causes that you support? Robin asked. “I think like all the rest of us, I get touched by something,” Jamie replied. “As it is with breast cancer, it is a concentric circle in our lives. There is no place that I would go in the world and not come in contact immediately with someone either recovering from breast cancer, undergoing treatment or they have a sister or mother with breast cancer. I was in Los Angeles at a surprise wedding. I was seated at a long table, as we all were.
“I was chatting with three people across the table, and the woman seated directly across from me was from Italy. Lovely. I found her charming. And then another woman introduced herself and said that she and her husband were from Dallas. I said, ‘Oh, I’m going to Dallas in four days.’ She asked why and I said, ‘I’m going to speak at the breast cancer luncheon connected to Baylor.’ And she said, ‘Oh, those are my people! You’ll meet my oncologist.” She’s a 15-year survivor. And then the woman directly across from me, the one from Italy, said to the woman, ‘I just had a double mastectomy.’ Here we were a triangle. Three women connecting about breast cancer at a surprise wedding. To me the reason we’re here is to connect. We are not here to do anything but connect.”
Then Robin asked, “What got you into acting?” “It was an accident,” Jamie said. “There is a book that I love, ‘Special Topics in Calamity Physics,’ by Marisha Pessl. In it there is this great quote. She says you know, most people think life is all about like where you go to school, what degree you get, what college you get into, who you marry, what your first job is, what your starting salary is, blah, blah. She said, and I roughly quote, ‘It’s not. Life hinges on a couple of seconds you never see coming, and what you decide in those seconds determines everything from then on. And you’re not going to know what to do until you’re there.’ That’s my life.
“I was a D+ student, who got into the only college where my mother was the most famous alumnus. I majored in track. I was a non-student. I could barely spell ‘student.’ I came home for Christmas and ran into a guy who was a tennis teacher at my friend’s court and he said, ‘Hey, Jamie, I’m now managing actors, and they’re looking for someone to play Nancy Drew. Why don’t you go up for it?’ I was like ‘Okay.’ I didn’t get it, but then I ended up literally signing a seven-year contract with Universal Pictures (because they used to have contracts then). My point is that I went over to my friend’s house and a tennis teacher said, ‘Hey they’re looking for actors,’ and the next I knew I quit school and I connected in the exact same way the rest of my life.
“I never thought I would write a book in my life. As I mentioned, my SAT scores—I proudly say this for all you underachievers out there, you could be up here with your—excuse my French, your shitty SAT scores! My four-year-old daughter walked into my room one day and said, ‘When I was little, I used a diaper. But now I use the potty.’ And she walked out of the room. I just thought that was hilarious. I wrote down on a piece of paper, ‘When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old’s Memoir of Her Youth.’ I wrote the list of things that she couldn’t do and could do and at the end I wrote three things,
- When I was little, I didn’t know what family was.
- When I was little, I didn’t know what dreams were.
- When I was little, I didn’t know who I was, but now I do.
“When I was finished writing that, I was sobbing and I realized I could write a book. Though I never dreamed I’d write a book, I sold it that day to a publisher in New York, and it was the first of 14 books I’ve written for children. I say it because the last thing in the world I thought I would do is write a book, and yet a book popped out.
“I’m going to tell you one more thing about life hinging on seconds you never see coming. It was 1984. I was single, sitting my apartment with my friend Debra Hill, who is no longer here, and I was getting ready to do the movie ‘Perfect.’ I opened Rolling Stone magazine. There was a picture of three guys with their arms around each other like guys do with shirt sleeves. There was a guy on the right who had a face like this [she made a funny face]. And I said to Debra, ‘I’m going to marry that guy.’ She said he was Chris Guest. I called his agent the next day, who told me he knew I was calling about Chris Guest. Debra had already called. He never called me.”
Jamie went on to tell how she continued with her life, and was even dating a fellow. After taking him to the airport one day, she drove to West Hollywood for dinner with Melanie Griffin and her husband Steven Bauer. A couple of tables away, Christopher was sitting there. Recalled Jamie: “He looked at me and went like this” [she shrugged her shoulders and made a face]. She responded in a similar fashion. As he got up to leave, he repeated the expression, to which she once again responded in the same way. The next day he called her, and they were married four months later.
Did you have mentors who helped you focus on what is important? Robin asked. “No. I’m not going to lie to you,” Jamie replied. “My mother was a surviving woman. She had a rough life. But she was a very grounded human being, and I credit her with a lot of the way I walk through the world. To be perfectly honest, mostly men hired me. It was because the business that I was in was predominantly male. Over the years I’ve partnered with women. My editor is a woman.”
Then came the moment that would become “the talk” for days to come.
Robin asked how she used her platform to address the issue of people using power over others. Looking at the floor clock, which showed that the time for their conversation was running out, Jamie said, “And that’s the real time we have left?”
Replied Robin: “I’ll tell you when we’re finished.”
Jamie said nothing. To the delight of the 1,000+ women in the room, she just held her index finger up and looked out at the audience as if to say, “Did he really just say that?”
And she let that expression and silence sit there for what probably seemed like an eternity for Robin. The oxygen in the room had been replaced with laughter.
With perfect timing, she said, “We need to talk. You’ll tell me when I’m done? I was merely trying to play by the time rule. I saw that the clock was running out. I was just asking … you’re blushing.”
The laughter only grew, and it was suspected that Robin was wishing that he could have taken back his “hinge” moment.
But like a great conductor, Jamie brought the room back to the serious subject that Robin had introduced. “What is happening today has been happening since the beginning of time,” she said. “And it always takes show business to be a catalyst for change. In recovery, I always knew that someone super-famous was going to have to die from an opiate overdose, before we changed the way we thought about opiates. Prince, a brilliant artist, was a fentanyl addict and he died from that. And now we change the rules. Now the president is convening a whole epidemic group to combat this.
“Sexual harassment and abuse have been in play since men in power have been in place. Through every generation, every business, every field, every color—there is no boundary. It’s just the nature of the beast, and it is a beast. And we are taking a look at it through the lens … pardon the pun … of Hollywood. And it is going to create transformative change. It is going to take a little time. It is going to be a very challenging time for all us to look deep in ourselves and really figure out how we feel about it.”
She predicted that, as a result, more women would be put in positions of leadership.
Robin then said, “With your permission, I have one more.” Laughter.
Jamie answered, “That was flirting.” More laughter. “Yes, dear.”
His final question was, “What was the best moment of your life?”
She replied that it was being an adoptive mother of two children, Annie and Thomas. The moment was when, at 12:58 in the morning, Annie’s birth mother had called to say that she had given birth. Said Jamie: That was the “most transformative moment in my life. It began what has continued to be the greatest thing I will ever do in my life besides being sober. It is to share a life. It is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It has made me look in the mirror more often about myself. It has brought us a lot of grief in our family, and a lot of healing. A child wants connection. They don’t want stuff. They want people to lean in and look at them and hear them and cherish them. The modern world makes that very difficult. We all have to work very hard to counteract that. ”
Thanks to Jamie, 1,300 people experienced hinge moments allowing them to connect with a very special cause and person.
So, who was Jamie Lee Curtis? On Thursday, October 26, she was the BFF for more than 1,300 people—and she’s welcome back anytime she wants.
Check MySweetCharity Photo Gallery for more pictures from the luncheon.
* Follow up on the match challenge: Jamie’s invitation for people to join her in meeting the match not only met the goal, it surpassed it resulting in $60,000 from the challenge. And, no, the Celebrating Women organizers had no idea she was going to ask people to join her in donating $1,000.