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“Reese Witherspoon, I say the name and I feel it burning in my loins!” That was the laughter inducing opening of Robert Downey, jr’s video introduction of Academy Award winner and Gene Siskel Renaissance Award recipient Reese Witherspoon.   The Ritz Carlton Chicago was the scene of a very ah-mazing night.  Beginning with a cocktail reception, guests milled about and mingled as the Siskel Film Center staff and volunteers went around selling raffle tickets for the nights raffle drawing. The benefit was chaired by Marc Klutznick and Anita Liskey with committee members Michelle Cucchiaro, Melissa Sage Fadim, Ellen Sandor, Roopa Weber, Bill Marcus Marlene Iglitzen and Eda Davidman.

As I walked into the press area, I spotted Bill Zwecker of Chicago Sun-Times, Dean Richards of WGN, Janet Davies of ABC-7, Susanna Negovan of  Chicago Sun-times Splash Candace Jordan on Watch312 duty and several other press people. That very moment, I was so grateful to have been  included amongst and covering this amazing fundraising event.
Moments before Ms. Witherspoon arrived to speak with the media and take pictures was the quiet before the storm. As she stepped out, camera flashes bounced every corner of the room. She graciously went down the press line answering questions and posed with Siskel Film center benefit committee members as well as the family of the late Gene Siskel(Will, Kate, Callie and Marlene Iglitzen). Conversation host and 2 time Academy Award winning director Alexander Payne also spoke to the media.  One of the  surprising highlights of the night was when Gisela Orozco of Hoy Chicago began to interview him and he answered her questions in Spanish, fluently.
The sold out benefit included guests such as: Dusty Stemer, Dr. John and Lynn McMahan, Mike and Kristina McGrath, Dr. Steven Stryker and Andrea Schwartz, Dr. Richard Lee esteemed cardiac surgeon at Northwestern Memorial hospital and his wife Dr. Michelle Lee, Rich Varnes and Cynthia King  Elliott and Roseanne Levin(Susan Downey’s parents), tireless supporters of the arts in Chicago Ellen and Richard Sandor and many other notable philanthropists, corporate and civic leaders were in attendance as well.

Before the conversation began, Barbara Scharress- Dir. Of Programming at Siskel Film center, announced winners of the raffle with the IronMan package won by Zoe Romanis.

Looking petite in a blue dress and open toe heels, Ms. Witherspoon sat across from Mr. Payne in the grand ballroom of the Ritz Carlton and answered questions candidly. Witherspoon noted she rarely  did such interviews as she did not like to talk much about herself but was happy to have Alexander Payne as her intelocutor. Veteran actor Sam Waterson advised her parents when she first started in the industry to keep her in school and made sure she finished high school which she did and studied a year at Stanford.  Questions ranged from her favorite movie-Splendor in the Grass,  how she chooses her movie roles? what it was like working with Meryl Streep? how has motherhood affected her creative choices? The cutest question of the night came from 11 year old Grace Ellen Coffey who asked if she liked Reese’s pieces-she does but is partial to Reese’s peanut butter cup.

Ms. Witherspoon had lunch at RL Restaurant(Forbes’ top 10 power lunch spot) earlier that day.

See Also

Elliott and Roseann Levin

A HUGE thanks to all involved in planning and executing  this event, especially to the Ritz staff  for making it  a memorable night.

*full gallery to come

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