It's like an Academy Awards ceremony for liberals outside the Wadsworth Theater, in Brentwood, California, on a sultry night in early May, as celebrity-show television interviewers and perhaps a hundred paparazzi jostle one another and scream out the names of stars to get a smile or a sound bite. The occasion is a benefit for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental-activist organization that has become the hottest cause in Hollywood other than sending George Bush back to Crawford. And here they come, one by one: Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Short, Rob Reiner, Larry David, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., all stopping to talk to the men and women with microphones about the need to protect and defend the planet from corporate polluters and their allies. Slipping through the crowd more quietly are Michelle Pfeiffer, Tobey Maguire, and Ray Romano. Also skipping the "green carpet" and sneaking in late, wearing faded blue jeans and a black Taj Mahal T-shirt, is the playboy-producer-philanthropist Steve Bing, the largest noncorporate giver of the night. Overseeing the event is Larry David's wife, Laurie, a former TV producer and manager turned full-time environmental activist, who has been working for months to make this the biggest NRDC fundraiser ever.
Along with the stars in the 1,400-seat hall are many of the same fundraising giants who have helped establish Hollywood as the first stop for any liberal politician or do-gooder organization. The audience boasts three studio heads, including Alan Horn, of Warner Brothers. In the late 1990s, together with the director Rob Reiner, Horn helped the NRDC get off the ground in Hollywood by spending three full days taking its founder and president, John Adams, to see the heads of all the studios and persuade them to support it. They agreed, eventually, and tonight the NRDC will get $100,000 each from HBO and Village Roadshow Productions, $50,000 from MTV Networks, and $25,000 each from Fox Group and the William Morris Agency. The environmental group has come a long way since 2000, when Cameron Diaz could joke, "When asked if I was into the NRDC, I said, 'I don't know—how does one of their songs go?'" The program is a mixture of high-minded politics and lowbrow comedy, with earnest but entertaining music in between. Afterward Laurie David, dancing on the sidelines in a slinky green Versace dress, throws up her hands as if her team had just scored the winning touchdown. The NRDC will be $3 million richer.