By Sabrina Rojas Weiss
NEW YORK — Your typical posh charity benefit in Manhattan usually includes a celebrity or two, maybe a performance by an artist who was popular in the '90s and a room full of insanely rich (and generous!) people. And while all of the above were at the Museum of Modern Art last night, the benefit for "Law & Order: SVU" star Mariska Hargitay's Joyful Heart organization had a whole lot more: Alec Baldwin and Brian Williams ribbing each other onstage, the Manhattan District Attorney's office rubbing shoulders with the likes of Maria Bello, Wynonna Judd, Chris Meloni and Isaac Mizrahi, a live auction in which people bid the equivalent of my salary for two years for to have Bobby Flay cook for them in the Hamptons, high heels that probably belonged out in the museum's sculpture garden ...
After several real-life victims of child abuse, rape and domestic violence wrote to her about how they related to the stories on "SVU," Hargitay founded Joyful Heart to help them heal and to make them feel OK to come forward and talk about their experiences. The event included a presentation honoring "SVU" executive producer Dr. Neal Baer and words from victims involved in the organization, but after dinner the real action began: the live auction.
Jaw-dropping amounts of money were pledged to packages like an internship with Charlotte Ronson and a super-first-class trip to Sydney with travel advice from Hugh Jackman (who tried to play auctioneer himself for a minute). But then the celebrities in the crowd decided to up the ante. One package on the block was recording session by Mark Ronson, but at the last minute, Courtney Love threw in half a dozen records owned by Kurt Cobain. And then she made MY evening by getting on the stage because she thought the Christie's auctioneer was under-representing her gift. She rambled on about how she and her late husband used to sing Dolly Parton songs at home, how his Gang of Four records were part of Frances Bean's hope chest, and how much he loved legendary blues artist Lead Belly. And when the bids weren't high enough, Samantha Ronson (who DJ'ed the cocktail hour earlier in the evening), got up next to C.Love to egg people on. It was great fun to see Courtney turn up the crazy on purpose for a good cause.
The Counting Crows brought a decidedly mellower mood to the night while coffee and dessert were served, but the event closed out with a real punk bang. Patti Smith took the stage, accompanied by guitarist Lenny K. In tails, a black waistcoat and white T-shirt, she stood out from the high-society crowd. But she one-upped them all, joking about why she didn't bid on the private dinner by Mario Batali (who was, incidentally, recording her every word on his iPhone). "He cooks for me for free!" But she too, was humbled by the real reason for the night, tweaking lyrics to mention rape kits and practically kneeling before Hargitay during "Because the Night."
"Because the night belongs to love," Hargitay echoed after the last song, tears in her eyes. "There's nothing else to say!"