Nora Ephron had a lot of trouble coming up with a story for "Tell Me a Story Too," last night's fund-raiser for the Children's Defense Fund.
Ephron's life has settled down a lot since she left Washington and, as a result, she's fresh out of good stories. She once had a girlfriend who dated a man with three pig stories. "She used to say, 'John has some very interesting stories about pigs,' and he told them at what turned out to be the longest dinner of my life."
Second longest, Nora.
The idea is for celebrities to get up and tell cute stories. This year they were bedtime stories -- in the worst sense of the word. Anyone who hadn't slipped out halfway through the program at the National Building Museum was half asleep by the time the evening finally ended.
In an attempt to repeat last year's success, which featured stories from journalists, the organizers of the event kept the format but changed the cast. This year it was movie stars: Sidney Poitier; Jon Voight; Susan Sarandon and her sweetheart, actor Tim Robbins; and Ari Meyers. Life magazine columnist Roger Rosenblatt, who read a weird story sent in by Woody Allen, and Ephron were the only two writers on the program.
Admittedly, movie stars are always fun to look at. More than 1,000 people, including Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), Eunice Shriver, John Hechinger, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Richard Berendzen, arrived for a peek at their favorite matinee idols.
But could they talk? Storytelling can be tricky. What advice did the celebrities get for the program? No guidelines, said co-chair Nancy Rubin. The stars could wing it.
"I said, 'Funny worked better last year,' " said Rosenblatt. "And autobiographical is usually better."
They took half of his advice. The autobiographical half.
So Sarandon and Robbins told a story about the birth of their son, Jack Henry, who is now a robust 1 1/2-year-old. Lots of labor jokes. "I was cursing like a Lucille Ball-Linda Blair hybrid," Sarandon told the crowd. Guess you had to have been there.
Poitier, looking handsome as ever, told about his first ice cream cone, his first movie, his first love. Sweet. Twenty-year-old Meyers of "Kate and Allie" fame said she was too young to have a story. They should have believed her.
Voight, intense and committed, told a long, moving story about working with homeless kids in California. Unfortunately, half the crowd had slipped out by the time he got to the podium.
"This work is deeply important," he said. "I thank God for all these people are doing."
The bright side of the night, which raised more than $400,000, was the continued work of the CDF, now in its 17th year. Last year was a high point for the organization's efforts on behalf of abused and disadvantaged children. President Marian Wright Edelman recognized Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) for his efforts on behalf of Head Start legislation and child care. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) was cited for his work on children's health issues.
"I think this will be the children's decade," said Edelman. "Because without it, it will not be worth having."