After 15 years as a newspaper and magazine reporter, I went into college and university public relations. My last PR gig was my alma mater, Mesa.
Once I learned that Bening was raised in San Diego and studied drama at Mesa College, I pursued her, via phone and online, to be the keynote speaker at a future Mesa commencement.
And did I blow it? After an exhausting day of working with press and weeks of pre-commencement publicity.
After graduation ceremonies, the college’s president, vice president, and yours truly escorted her out the backstage exit, as a courtesy to the famous movie star. Outside, a Mesa College police officer awaited to drive her around front to meet her parents, I kindly rejected the offer.
Annette turned to me and asked, “You’re coming with me?”
I respectfully declined, despite the anxious look on her face. (yes, even big-time stars are human). My pathetic excuse that I did not share with her. I was exhausted. Pretty lame, right?
Took me two years to land her. Definitely worth the effort. Not only was she a major success as Mesa College’s 2002 commencement guest speaker, but she has remained in contact with the the college, occasionally contributing financial gifts to its drama department. Also, she helped raise at least $200,000 for the San Diego Community College District. (Mesa is its largest college.)
On the night before Annette’s latest film was recently nationwide release, Life Itself, the movie star was in San Diego busy raising money for the local community college district. She told San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Diane Bell, “When I went to Mesa College, it was basically free. That is no longer the case. There are a lot of of people who want to go to college who can’t afford it.”
Bening serves as co-chair with Mayor Kevin Falconer to provide annual scholarships to those aspiring, needy students.
Since that time, the actress has become quite the philanthropist, giving to several other causes.
Bening spent her childhood in Topeka, Kansas before moving to San Diego, where she acted on stage at Patrick Henry High School. She began her career on stage with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival company in 1980, and played Lady Macbeth in 1984 at the American Conservatory Theatre .
Later, spent performed on San Francisco and New York stages before working in film. She received raves for her role as a con artist in The Grifters and went on to co-star in husband Warren Beatty’s Bugsy. The two wed in 1992.
Bening has earned four Oscar nominations: The Grifters, Being Julia, American Beauty, The Kids Are All Right. And was awarded Golden Globes for Being Julia and The Kids Are All Right.