Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? Among the many, as there are many stars in the sky, has to be the Princess Grace Foundation. But of course.
Celebrating the 2016 Princess Grace Awards was the Princess Grace Foundation-USA, with presenting sponsor Christian Dior Couture at Cipriani’s, 25 Broadway, New York, N.Y. Gracing the red carpet were Serene Highnesses Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco. The gala, hosted by Naomi Campbell, recognized Queen Latifah with the Prince Rainier III Award, and Leslie Odom Jr. and Camille A. Brown with Princess Grace Statue Awards.
Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr in the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, “Hamilton,” credits his beginnings to the scholarship he received from the Princess Grace Foundation while still in school. Accepting his award, Odom stated, “Receiving the scholarship allowed me to stay in college and begin my career as an actor. It is so meaningful to return here 20 years later, and receive the 2016 Princess Grace Statue.” Accompanying Odom was his fiancée, the lovely actress Nicolette Robinson, who stars in “The Affair.”
“We love attending these events together,” said Odom, “It’s like getting dressed up for date night, and for a really good cause.”
Among those gracing the red carpet were designer Tommy and Dee Hilfiger; gala co-chairs, Lisa Plepler and Katia and Sidney Toledano (Christian Dior Couture president and CEO); and Princess Grace Statue Award winners Gillian Murphy (2009) and Ethan Stiefel, (1999), who were also presenters.
New York City Ballet dancers Tiler Peck, 2004 Princess Grace Award Winner, and Robert Fairchild, performed a delightful dance routine for the audience of actors, dancers, performers, philanthropist and those who love the organization that supports the arts and bears the princess’ name.
Cipriani’s was enchantingly decorated by Dior, who gave attention to every little detail, from floral arrangements to table settings in a way that only Dior can, accented by amber lighting that made everyone feel royal.
The Princess Grace Awards carry on the legacy of Princess Grace Kelly and her desire to sustain artistic excellence by identifying and assisting emerging talent. We all know the story of a hometown girl from Philadelphia who left a Hollywood acting career to pursue a real-life fairytale and become Princess of Monaco. This year, 21 emerging artists in theater, dance and film had their own dream come true as they graced the stage as Princess Grace Award recipients.
Another dream come true is the United Service Organization, more familiarly known as the USO, which is celebrating 75 years of supporting our troops at home and overseas, military families and families of the fallen. Committed and caring, the USO has stayed true to its mission: to strengthen “America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, country and home, throughout their service to the nation.”
Seventy-five years ago America’s military was growing at a rapid pace in response to the threat of WWII. While preparing the nation for war, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt also wanted a means by which to keep the troops connected to home. Sparked was the idea to gather together six separate service organizations that included the YMCA, the YWCA, National Catholic Community Service, the National Jewish Welfare Board, the Traveler’s Aid Association and the Salvation Army to provide on-leave recreation for members of the armed forces. And so the USO was born Feb. 4, 1941. Traveling to the battlefront were entertainers such as Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Duncan and many others to bring a moment of entertainment and relief to the battle weary soldiers.
Today, the USO, a nonprofit organization, has nearly 30,000 volunteers who continue to provide support and services to service members and their families, from the time they join, through deployment, until the time they return home. There are more than 180 USO locations both stateside and worldwide that include centers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In commemoration, the USO celebrated its 75th anniversary at the Intrepid at the Sea, Air & Space Museum, located at Pier 86, where a screening of the soon to be aired PBS documentary, “USO—For The Troops,” was shown. The documentary highlights the history and cultural resonance of an American military institution and features interviews with celebrity USO participants such as Ann-Margret and Connie Stevens to American leaders such as Colin Powell and George W. Bush. It also highlights how the USO supported Black members of the military who weren’t allowed at the whites-only establishments.
The independent documentary film chronicling the USO was directed by seven-time Emmy Award winner Peter Schnall, also in attendance. To get the real feel of the war and the impact the USO has on keeping up morale and lifting the spirits of the military men, and women, a delegation of USO performers that included Schnall and Miss America, Betty Cantrell, traveled into the war zone of Bagdad for a firsthand experience.
Schnall recalled, “We traveled the circumference of the globe, seven countries in eight days. It was similar to the thousands of tours the USO performers do. You travel, perform, sleep whenever you can. There’s no time to reflect on what you’re experiencing. I have such respect and understanding of what it takes to be in these places. The young men and women you hang with have their lives on the line.”
The film captures the service of both the armed forces and the USO in action. With the help of its sponsors, Johnson & Johnson, the documentary provides a lesson for children, a reminder for adults and a memory for all, for years to come.
Boarding the plank of the Intrepid were athletes, entertainers, military service members, veterans and USO supporters. Attendees included New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings, who has been involved with the USO for three years. He said, “Though we are put on a pedestal, they are the real heroes; Joint Chief of the Army General George Casey, USO CEO JD Crouch, Michael Sneed, Johnson & Johnson Worldwide vice president.”
According to Crouch, “The 75th anniversary is a real big deal. Strengthening the bond between our troops and civilians is essential to building mutual respect and reconnecting Americans to the military.”
Also on hand was tap dancing legend Arthur Duncan, who actually performed on the bill with Bob Hope during many of the USO tours during the Cold War and Viet Nam War. Now in his 80s, and having flown in from Pasadena, Calif., for the event, Duncan stated, “It was the best thing I could have done to help my country.” The documentary will air on PBS, Monday, Nov. 7. Check your local listings for the time.
Remembering our troops and our country, no matter who you support, is important. So get out and vote Nov. 8. In casting your ballot, vote for the person who will continue to keep America safe, create jobs with Made in America stamped indelibly on the label, rid our country of the heroin that flows like water through our communities, will uphold the virtues of united we stand, divided we fall. God bless America.
Until next week…kisses.