Academy Awards Acceptance Speeches | Margaret Herrick Library | Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences

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Year: 2012 (85th) Academy Awards

Category: Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award

Winner: Jeffrey Katzenberg

Presenter: Will Smith, Ruthie Tompson, Tom Hanks

Date & Venue: December 1, 2012; The Governors Awards (Ray Dolby Ballroom, Hollywood & Highland Center)

Thank you. Thank you first to the Academy and the Board. This is a truly great honor. And I have to thank both Tom and Will. To receive this award from two of our greatest talents and two people I am lucky to be able to call my friends is a distinct honor of its own, as it is to be here among movie legends Mr. Pennebaker, George Stevens and Hal Needham.

My story is of mentors. People who give of their time and their talents, of their words and their wisdom. People who encourage all of us to reach for more and in doing so inspire us. Inspire us to strive for exellence not only in ourselves but in each other. My first mentors, my parents, they gave me life and they gave me a deep appreciation for what it is to give to others. There are days between my second and third breakfasts when I think how lucky I was to have been mentored at such an early age. My mom, she passed away a little over a month ago, and I really regret that I never told her this enough. But my father is here tonight and, Dad, I want to say now just how much you mean to me and how much I love and appreciate you for all you have given to me.

Mentors. John Lindsay, the late, great mayor of New York, taught me the power of believing. Believing in an ideal. For when he looked out across a sea of problems and people in need, most of whom asked for nothing, said he wanted to try and make their world just a little bit better. And he did. This was an early lesson and a simple truth that each of us can and should make a difference.

Kirk Douglas. I met Kirk, as most of the world did, larger than life on a giant silver screen. Spartacus, a true hero. Then I had the honor of meeting him in real life and he was an even larger hero in person. It's Kirk who taught me you haven't learned to live until you've learned to give. It's a statement that echoes loudly and it is in many ways the mantra of Hollywood. Think of George Clooney and the Sudan. Think of Steven Spielberg and Shoah. Think of Angelina Jolie and the United Nations. Think of David Geffen, well, everything. The list is long and I am honored to be among the many.

In fact, standing here alone doesn't feel quite right to me. It projects a bit of a false image. Because mostly all I did was pick up the phone and ask you. It's you who did it. You who give of your time, your talent, your money, your hearts. Because that's what you do, that is what Hollywood does. And I know what it is to be asked. I was asked by Lew and Edie Wasserman, mentors. They asked me to take a moment to consider the Motion Picture Television Fund, and the ask was all that it took. A place to care for many of our nation's great artists and storytellers, a place for mentors to be safe and to be appreciated. You saw their faces, heard their voices in that video, and there is so much more. I stand here tonight on their behalf with particular pride because this award bears the name of Jean Hersholt. It was he nearly seventy-five years ago who was among the founders of the Motion Picture Relief Fund. I'm tempted to say it's the circle of life, but a circle implies something complete and we at the Fund have a greater horizon.

I will end with my thanks to the person who is every single day my greatest mentor. We met back in the John Lindsay days and we are here today as partners in giving and partners in living. The mother of my amazing children, she is my wife, and she is my life. Marilyn. And to all of you, I want to thank you again for giving so generously of your time, of your talent and of your hearts. You might say that all of us who work in the film industry, we actually live in two worlds. There's the imaginary world we project on the screen and then there's the real world that we live in every day. All of the other Oscars, they pay tribute to the talent that goes into the creation of those imaginary worlds. I believe this particular Hersholt Award is a recognition of the extraordinary generosity of our industry towards improving the real world that we all share. And it is with that in mind and, I think, really on your behalf that I humbly and proudly accept this amazing recognition. Thank you so very much.

© Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
[Note: All winners are present except where noted; NOT all winners may have spoken.]