Tom Cruise: 1998 John Huston Award Honoree

by Allison Seale

AMIDST A CROWD OF SOME 700 CHEERING FRIENDS, colleagues and supporters, actor Tom Cruise accepted the fifth John Huston Award for Artists Rights at the Foundation’s annual tribute dinner April 17.

Each year, ARF recognizes an individual who has exhibited outstanding service on behalf of artists rights. The honoree is selected by the Foundation’s board of directors comprised of noted directors, actors, writers, cinematographers, editors, composers and lyricists.

In receiving the award," Cruise said, "it seems to me it involves more than accepting an honor. It’s a responsibility to protect our movies from unwanted and unwarranted change."

Cruise pledged to do everything he can to preserve our film heritage for future generations. Movies both document and create our history," he said. "To change them is to change history, alter memory and tear at the fabric of our shared experiences. To change them is to injure the ability of one generation to understand and appreciate another. ... I assure you that I will do everything that I can to preserve our work."

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg, the Huston Award honoree in 1995, presented the award to Cruise and praised the actor’s work to protect the truth he’s created in his own films, as well as the films of others. "No one should have the right to tarnish that truth by altering, colorizing, editing, reformatting or bastardizing it in any way without your consent and approval. This is something you know in your heart and have stood up for a long period of time. And by standing up, you have made us taller, and prouder, and more willing to stand up with you and speak out for what is right."

Actors Dustin Hoffman and Jodie Foster co-hosted the evening’s program which received national coverage on 56 network news programs, international coverage on CNN and a special two-part segment on "Entertainment Tonight." Print articles also appeared in Daily Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, the Los Angeles Times, U.S.A. Today, US Magazine and in publications across the country via the Associated Press newswire.

The show, which was directed by Gary Smith, included speeches from several outstanding filmmakers with whom Cruise has made some of his most notable films: Sydney Pollack ("The Firm"), Barry Levinson ("Rain Man"), and Rob Reiner ("A Few Good Men"). Each not only praised Cruise as an actor and filmmaker, but also as a strong advocate for artists rights. Others who participated in the evening’s honors were Anjelica Huston, Danny Huston, Senator Barbara Boxer, ARF Chairman and DGA President Jack Shea, and ARF President Elliot Silverstein. The Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra, directed by famed composer John Williams, and performer Melissa Etheridge provided musical entertainment. Several songs written by Williams for "Far and Away" were performed by the young artists in the orchestra, while Etheridge played two acoustic songs. Her first, "Precious Pain," was off her first album, a favorite of Cruise’s. The second song she sang, claiming her rights as an artist, was "Brown Eyed Girl," a Van Morrison song.

Two video presentations, produced by Phil Savenick, were also premiered during the dinner. The first was a new video, created with some of the Foundation’s archival interviews and segments from "What’s Wrong With This Picture," narrated by Jack Lemmon, that will be used to educate the public about ARF’s issues and concerns. The second film was a tribute to Tom Cruise and featured videotaped comments from various writers and directors who have worked with Cruise, among them: Martin Scorsese ("The Color of Money"), Cameron Crowe ("Jerry Maguire"), Oliver Stone ("Born on the Fourth of July"), Robert Towne ("Days of Thunder," "The Firm," and "Mission: Impossible") and Ron Howard ("Far and Away").

"The idea that one’s work, which kind of represents one’s soul, one’s spirit," Ron Howard said in the tribute, "particularly if you’re that committed — if you’re as committed as Tom Cruise is — well, that’s not something that should then be altered, violated or compromised. For Tom, it’s such a simple concept, and it should be for the rest of the world."

Tom Cruise was among the first major film artists to lend his name in support of ARF when the Foundation was established. "He has been with us from the beginning, when people did not know who we were or fully understand the urgency of our issues," said Kathy Garmezy, ARF Executive Director.

Cruise has made consistent appearances for the organization at its advocacy events and symposia, lent his name, donated his resources to the Foundation’s efforts to fund educational and public awareness programs, and has been consistently open about his passion for filmmaking and his abiding interest in film art.

"Tom Cruise has always been there whenever we needed him," Elliot Silverstein, president of the Artists Rights Foundation, said. "When someone of Tom’s stature speaks out, not only to advocate for the rights of his own work but to advocate for the rights of our entire artistic community, that voice is heard in this industry and demonstrates the courage and conviction that we are here to honor."

Dinner co-chairs for the evening included James L. Brooks, Cameron Crowe, Bob Daly, Jonathan Dolgen, Miloš Forman, David Geffen, Ron Howard, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Sherry Lansing, Barry Levinson, Richard Lovett, Ron Meyer, Rick Nicita, Sydney Pollack, Rob Reiner, Martin Scorsese, Trry Semel, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Robert Towne and Paula Wagner.

Among the many guests were the heads of many of the industry’s major guilds and elected officials who support the Foundation’s efforts. Some of these included: Jack Shea and Jay Roth, Directors Guild of America; Dan Petrie, Jr. and Brian Walton, Writers Guild of America, west; George Spiro Dibie, International Photographers Guild; Woody Omens, American Society of Cinematographers; Richard Masur, Screen Actors Guild; Charles Bernstein, Society of Composers & Lyricists; Scott Roth, Society of Motion Picture & Television Art Directors; Jack Tucker, American Cinema Editors. Also present were Congressman Xavier Becerra and Congressman James Rogan.

The John Huston Award for Artists Rights was established by ARF in 1993. Past recipients have included Fred Zinnemann (1994), Steven Spielberg (1995), Martin Scorsese (1996) and Miloš Forman (1997). The annual benefit dinner, at which the award is presented, helps fund programs and activities that help spread the Foundation’s message and educate the public about creative authorship and the moral rights issue.