By Vasilis Papoutsis
The 10th anniversary of the Hellenic Charity Ball that took place at the historic St. Francis Hotel on Union Square in San Francisco was a star-studded event that was elegant, entertaining and enormously successful . According to the gala co-chair Joan Metaxas Dauria the event was ”sold out 6 weeks before and raised more than half a million dollars for the Elios Charitable Foundation.”
The biennial gala pays tribute to distinguished arts and entertainment personalities in the Greek American community and past honorees have included Olympia Dukakis, Stratton Leopold, Nick Cassavetes, Constantine Maroulis, Melina Kanakaredes, Nia Vardalos, Maria Menounos and Jim Gianopulos. The black- tie event attracts the West Coast’s most influential industry leaders, among them was Dean Metropoulos, Angelo Tsakopoulos, John Aniston and former SF Mayor Willie Brown.
Metropolitan Gerasimos who attended as well said that ”this is the most significant gathering for the Greek Orthodox leadership and community members. They have the power and will to shape the way we see ourselves as Hellenes in the west coast.”
Although unable to attend, George Stephanopoulos of GMA and Miss America Betty Cantrell sent special video messages to the guests. President Emeritus Fanis Economides who has chaired 7 Charity balls was thrilled, ” we always have great events but this ball is the best one so far.” The gala is the primary fundraising event for the foundation.
Elios Society was founded in 1995 by a company of distinguished Greek Americans and in 1997 the Elios Charitable Foundation was created. The mission of the Elios Charitable Foundation is to preserve and pass the values of our Greek heritage to the next generation. The EFC awards $60,000 to $70,000 in grants every year that influence the lives of Hellenic Americans and Philhellenes in big part because of the success of the Charity Ball.
Elios President John Gumas said that ”The Hellenic Charity Ball has given Elios a fundraising platform, allowing for investment in the celebration and preservation of Hellenic culture.” In moving forward President Gumas told TNH that ”it is a priority for Elios to maintain the high quality of its sponsored programs, affiliate institutions and membership.”
Elios has partnered and sponsored several outstanding organizations and programs such as the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Center for Modern Greek Studies as SF State University, the Nemea Center at UC Berkeley, The Hellenic Journal and Metropolis of SF Folk Dance Programs. The society has 75 members and membership is by invitation only from an existing member.
George Marcus who is one of the founding members attributes the success and growth of the organization to the fact that” Elios actively seeks to engage new people in leadership roles as opposed to other groups who are dominated by few people who recycle positions. We also seek to bring in young people to continue our mission.”
Marilu Henner who was an honoree in 2009 did a superb job as an Emcee of the gala. Best known for her role as Elaine Nardo on Taxi and films such as LA Story, she told THN that ”she was thrilled to be asked to mc the event and very proud to associate herself with a fine organization such as Elios.” Marilu who is also a health and wellness expert said that ”the death of her mother inspired her to be a student of health.”
This year’s honorees were from a wide spectrum of the entertainment industry. Constantine Makris is a three time Emmy Award winner for cinematography for his work on the TV series Law& Order and has he filmed 156 of its episodes. In 2000 he became a television director and has since directed 62 episodes of Law & Order. Recently he directed five episodes of the hit show Orange is the New Black. His first job was as a production assistant and the first advice he got from other crew members was to ”get the job closest to the camera.” When asked how he made the transition to cinematography he told TNH that ”he was privileged to have been mentored by some master cinematographers. Among them was Larry
Pizer and Walter Lassally who was the cinematographer for Zorba the Greek. Lassally won an Academy Award for his work on Zorba and now lives in Chania near the location where the film was made in 1963.”
Makris who discovered his Greek roots in the 1970’s now spends close to a month every summer at the island of Karpathos. Both his parents hail from the village Volada in Karpathos.
Gilles Marini grew up in the South of France to a Greek mother and an Italian father who owned a bakery. He made the transition from modeling to acting and he gained fame in 2008 in the film Sex and the City: The Movie. Following that he was cast in the eight season of Dancing with the Stars where he finished second by less than one percent of the votes.
A fan favorite was invited to the All Star edition of DWTS. The secret to his success? ”I take every job seriously and dedicate myself. When I was asked to come back to DWTS I did not take it for granted, I worked even harder the second time around,” and he continued that ”you are only as good as you prepare to be.”
One of his proudest moments was when he became an American citizen. He just finished filming a full season of the TV series Devious Maids.
Ariana Savalas who received the Spotlight award is a jazz vocalist and songwriter who headlines some of the poshest clubs in America and she was the opening act for jazz great Kenny G. As the youngest daughter of the iconic actor Telly Savalas it was always assumed that she would follow on her father’s footsteps.
Talking to TNH she said that ” I love music and in this case music chose me. I was doing musical theater and performed in a small venue in Hollywood the Gardenia Lounge when I got noticed by Corky Hale, an amazing songwriter who later produced my first show and the rest is history. I am also a far better singer than actress.”
Hard to argue as Ariana is a natural born entertainer with a seductive on stage persona and a naughty sense of humor. While touring regularly she is also in preparation of a new album that is expected to come out in February of 2016 with the group she collaborates the Postmodern Jukebox.
Demetri Martin is a standup comedian. He almost became a lawyer and talking about his career to TNH he said that ”I was in law school but it was not what I really wanted to do. So I dropped out of law school to pursue a career as a comedian. My parents were not happy to say the least.” In a hilarious acceptance speech he entertained us with tales from his childhood growing up as a priest’s son and working in the family diner.
When Elios made an offer to give him the award he said, ”I was reluctant to accept. I did not feel that I had achieved enough.”
Thankfully his wife convinced him to accept. Although not a household name yet, Demetri has carved out a nice career for himself. He has appeared on Late Night with Conan O’ Brien and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and had his own television series called Important Things with Demetri Martin. He is currently editing his first feature film.
The next Charity Ball will be in two years time and promises to be a smashing success as well. For more info about the organization you can visit their web site www.elios.org