Gena Lee Nolin, the statuesque star of Baywatch
Sheena–Queen of the Jungle
, couldn't maintain her famous
composure any longer. About mid-way through the 17th Annual
Genesis Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the actress
announced that she had broken down backstage and cried.
Her emotional reaction had nothing to do with co-hosting the
event, the first time Nolin had ever emceed a major awards
ceremony. No, her reaction had more to do with the subject
matter at hand: the animals and the many people who had devoted
their lives to saving and protecting them.
During the three-hour ceremony on March 15 in Beverly Hills,
23 Genesis Awards were bestowed to producers, scriptwriters,
journalists, a musician, a cartoonist, even the creative team
from an ad agency—a collection of media members "whose artistry
and journalistic integrity," in the words of The HSUS Hollywood
Office, "have increased public awareness of animal issues."
Representatives from dozens of animal organizations watched
as some of Hollywood's most compassionate stars handed out the
awards. As actor James Cromwell noted at the end of the
evening, right before handing out the final Genesis Award to
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron for outstanding feature
film, "Because of you, the planet is becoming a better place to
Given the tone and content of the evening, who
wouldn't get emotional?
Certainly, there were plenty of moments during The 17th
Annual Genesis Awards, the first one under the banner of The
Humane Society of the United States, to raise goose bumps. Like
when guest of honor Sangduen "Lek" Chailert, founder of the
Elephant Nature Park in Thailand where 30 formerly abused work
elephants have discovered an unexpected haven, walked on stage
to a rousing standing ovation. Jennifer Hile, producer and
writer for Vanishing Giants, the Genesis Award-winning
documentary about Thailand's long-suffering work elephants,
summarized her experience in the country and with Lek this way:
"Knowledge can bring compassion can bring change."
Equally stirring was the introduction of guest Dr. Peter
Sharpe, a wildlife biologist for The Institute of Wildlife
Studies, who has made it his mission to save the bald eagle on
Santa Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California. A
video presentation showed Sharpe dangling precariously from a
tether tied to a hovering helicopter, just so he could rescue
bald eagle eggs, which must be incubated artificially because
they have become dangerously fragile, likely due to DDT
The truth is, virtually every award passed out during the
ceremony packed an emotional wallop. Some awards carried a
hopeful message; others demonstrated how much further the
animal-protection movement must go to accomplish its goals.
On the hopeful end of the spectrum was scriptwriter and
supervising producer Michael Green, whose WB show,
Everwood, won the Genesis Award for outstanding family
series. On accepting his award, Green acknowledged that the
winning episode, about a father and son who bond while trying
to save a wayward deer, exuded a "primacy of kindness, a
reverence for all life." He credited that humane attitude to
executive producers Greg Berlanti and Mickey Liddell.
Likewise, the investigators who star in Animal Planet's
Animal Cops, which earned a Genesis Award for
outstanding reality programming, acknowledged that their show
has made a difference for dogs and cats in the Detroit area,
where the program is filmed. Michigan Humane Society
investigators Deborah MacDonald and Shawn Hairston said Detroit
residents have become "more aware" of animal cruelty since the
program began and have become aware that there are consequences
to such actions; this new awareness has made their jobs easier,
they admit, although they're not exactly ready to retire their
As Hairston said from the stage when accepting the award:
"We are warriors in this war against animal cruelty."
And that was the other underlining theme of The Genesis
Awards: Don't get too satisfied. There is still more to do.
Such was the attitude of writer Michael Satchell, whose article
in U.S. News & World Report on the woeful conditions
of roadside zoos won him a Genesis Award. He spoke of his role
as a journalist to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the
comfortable," a role that clearly remains vital to him.
Journalists were not the only ones saying that the work is
far from over. The artists, whether in person or vicariously,
were also shouting out warnings—sometimes literally. John
Feldmann, lead singer for the punk band Goldfinger, performed a
raucous solo acoustic version of his hit, "Free Me," a
passionate and forceful plea against the intensive confinement
of animals. Sample lyric: "I just want enough space/to turn
around/and face the truth/so free me."
Musician Chynna Phillips-Baldwin also made a statement
through art. It just happened to be someone else's art. She
wore a Danny Seo-designed rhinestone necklace with the letters
"FF" dangling from it. When presenting a Genesis Award to K-CAL
9 News, a Los Angeles station, Phillips-Baldwin said, "I'm sure
you've noticed that a lot of people are wearing these 'FF'
Pause for effect.
"The letters stand for 'fur free'," she added, alluding to
the fashion industry that still tries to sell clothing made
from, or trimmed with, animal pelts.
By the time the final award had been presented, The 17th
Annual Genesis Awards had provided more emotional ups and downs
than a Steven Spielberg movie. A contingent of beautiful
celebrities had crossed the stage to present awards—among them
were co-host Eric Roberts, William Baldwin, Linda Blair, Matt
Gallant, Bill Maher, Michelle Phillips, Casper Van Dien, Steve
Valentine, Karle Warren, Victor Webster, Amy Smart, Melissa
Rivers, Shannon Elizabeth, Doris Roberts, Wendie Malick,
Charlotte Ross, Michael Feinstein, Tippi Hedren, Catherine
Oxenberg, Aisha Tyler, Kaley Cuoco and Amy Davidson—but at the
same time, they often talked about difficult problems, with
solutions still many years away.
In other words, it was a typical Genesis Awards ceremony: It
combined glamour and grit, beauty and cruelty, even doses of
humor like when Kermit the Frog swapped barbs with Melissa
Rivers (sample joke: "I'm naked," Kermit told Rivers backstage,
"and you're close.") The awards also likely had a profound
impact on those who attended. It certainly touched Gretchen
Wyler, the founder of the Genesis Awards and the Vice President
of The HSUS Hollywood Office. She deemed the event the "best
HSUS members and readers can determine for themselves.
Animal Planet, the official broadcaster of The Genesis Awards,
will air a one-hour edited version of the event at 10 p.m. and
1 a.m. EST on May 1 and a two-hour edited version at 3 p.m. EST
on May 4. (West Coast times are 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on May 1 and
noon on May 4.) The corporate underwriter for the event was
Veterinary Pet Insurance.