The annual open-air affair high in the Brentwood hills celebrated two barrier-breaking women.
Rebecca Gayheart’s been playing hostess to the Chrysalis Butterfly Ball, an event she helped conceive, for more than a minute. “Eighteen now, right? A long time,” she chuckled to The Hollywood Reporter “It’s like we raised an adult.”
But year after year, Gayheart — along with Butterfly Ball co-chair Universal Pictures chair Donna Langley and more devoted champions of the cause — has shown up to help host 700 guests at the annual fete held at Hayward Kaiser and Susan Hayward’s hilltop Mandeville Canyon estate. The event raises awareness and, more important, funds — this year, $1.5 million — for Chrysalis, which helps provide the tools and training to help homeless and poverty-stricken individuals back into the workforce.
“It just continues to inspire me, give me perspective and a ton of gratitude,” said Gayheart. “The clients at Chrysalis, I think they're a perfect example of anything is possible. Change can really happen if you put the hard work in, and you have support. So I'm a big believer in reaching out for help and support from your community.”
And as usual the Hollywood community turned out to lend that support — not only Gayheart’s inner circle, but friends and admirers of the evening’s honorees, iconic songwriter/music producer/performer Linda Perry and film and television producer Suzanne Todd, whose works include the Bad Moms, Alice in Wonderland and Austin Powers franchises. Both women received the organization’s Spirit of Chrysalis Award.
Perry told THR that much of her current creative zenith has been fueled by entering into a “yes” mode, which in turn has a plethora of positive effects. “I'm not stopping and asking questions — I'm just kind of doing right now,” she said. “In the past two years I've been excelling and just really into ‘How can I be of service? Yes, I'll do it.’ And interesting enough, all those yeses just kept turning into helping more and more people. And what a wonderful gift a yes is for the right environment, in the right situation and the right organization such as Chrysalis. I said, ‘Yes.’ I figured, ‘Well, I must have something that they need, how can I be of service for them?’"
“We need to be extremely aware that people are people,” Perry continued. “They are human beings that unfortunately landed in some kind of unfortunate situation, and it does not make them a bad person, it does't make them mentally ill, it doesn't make them emotionally unstable. It makes them a human in a bad situation, and we need to stop walking over these people and looking the other way. We need to help. So I'm more about educating the people in this room than someone asking me, ‘What would you tell a homeless person?’ They don't need the education. We need the education.”
“The best thing I've learned from her is to speak the truth,” said Perry’s protege, 14-year-old singer Willa Amai. “I don't think she's ever changed herself or who she is to fit someone else standards. She's always been exactly who she is and known that that's enough. And that's made me not only a better musician, but I'm a better person.”
“We both really care about the whole homeless issue and I just love that we're honoring Linda for all of her work,” added Perry’s longtime collaborator Natasha Bedingfield. “I totally get that she's one of the kindest people in the world. Whenever she says this is what we should talk about, I'm like, ‘Yes, let's do it!’” Bedingfield would later take the stage for a performance that culminated in a rousing rendition of Perry’s signature hit with her early '90s breakthrough band 4 Non Blondes, “What’s Going On?”
Onstage, actress/producer Sara Gilbert, also paid tribute to her wife Perry’s generosity of spirit. “My wife’s guilt over having money when others didn’t meant that she looked for ways to help them…and as she’s made more money her over-generosity hasn’t changed,” said Gilbert.
Todd was also celebrating her birthday during the evening. “It was completely accidental, but actually it was probably easier to get some of my friends — like lovely Sara Rue and Jennifer Morrison — because it was my birthday, because we might have been together anyway,” she said to THR, laughing.
Birthday or not, Todd was committed to “any opportunity that I have to support Chrysalis or to show up and help shine the light on Chrysalis, for people who become aware of the organization, especially people here in Los Angeles, to see what a real difference Chrysalis is able to make, a sustainable difference, a real change in people's lives,” she said.
“We all remember being in school or the first time you had a teacher, someone who really believed in you, who said, ‘You can do this,’ and, I'm here for you,’ and you felt like someone had your back, and that's what it feels like at Chrysalis, I think, for these clients,” said Todd. “They come in the door, and a lot of them haven't felt that way in a long time, or possibly felt that way ever, and they sit down with someone who's going to work with them, and for the first time in their lives they feel like someone is with you, someone is supporting you. And as any of us know, sometimes that makes all the difference. It's like Dorothy from Oz: nothing changed except your mind-set about it. It's really powerful.”
“Even if I didn't know Suzanne as a friend, I would admire her,” said Morrison. “She's been doing this long before people were supporting women in the position that she's in, so she was really pioneering a path for the women who came after her, and she just does it with so much grace and so much ease.”
“Suzanne is one of the kindest, most inclusive girls’ girls,” agreed Rue. “Even when I met Suzanne over a decade ago, she was doing this with me, invited me to all these things that I felt intimidated to go to and if she believes that you're a good person or fun or thinks that you're smart or whatever it is that she sees, she supports and lifts you up, which is why he's being honored here by Chrysalis tonight…. You look at her résumé and it's like, ‘Wow!’ But you have a conversation with her and she's just a smart, cool woman that is very easy to look up to and want to be your friend.”
“A lot of times you don't know who the producer is on a movie you like, haven't met them and they don't come around that often,” said Adam Devine, who appears in Todd’s upcoming production Magic Camp and presented Todd with her award. “Sometimes that works for them, but Suzanne is like there every day, really pitching in has a great mind for story. And on top of just being an awesome movie producer, she's a pretty incredible woman and doesn't have a bad thing to say about other people, which I find refreshing.”
During the evening an industry-heavy crowd including Activision Blizzard Studios president Stacey Shur, WME’s Richard Weitz, CAA’s Josh Lieberman, Zoey Deutch, Maria Menounos, Soliel Moon Frye, Claire Forlani and Dougray Scott, Jason Lewis, Jordana Brewster and Vanna White dined under the stars and took in an opening performance by Ziggy Marley.
The guests also cheered wildly for additional honorees Suzette and Antonio Donaldson, the spirited, good-humored husband-and-wife clients of Chrysalis who told their transformative story of breaking a long collective cycle of addiction, living on the streets and incarceration to ultimately thrive in their careers with the help of the organization.
Actress Lindsay Price’s husband, celebrity chef Curtis Stone, has frequently welcomed Chrysalis clients into positions within his restaurants, and she’s seen firsthand the results. “It's incredible, the idea of getting a second chance, and the grace that comes with that is multiplied by an infinite amount,” she told THR. “The guys that we have had through The Chrysalis Program and the restaurants are still with us. And they are, hands down, the most loyal friends, the hardest workers, the most motivated. It's an energetic lesson for the rest of life, to be honest: that as long as you have a willingness to start over, the chances are there for you. And we've made good friends and our lives were transformed because of it.”
This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.