It might have been Victoria and Joel Osteen's heavenly connections that saw the rains stop and the clouds part for Thursday evening's outdoor VIP Houston screening of Ben-Hur. But the higher power that was supposed to lift the hotter than hades temps and wretched humidity was a no show for the River Oaks District bash.
The outdoor sauna was backdrop to the gathering headlined by the Osteens, the film's producers — Roma Downey and Mark Burnett — and the star, dreamy Jack Huston, reprising the title role that Charlton Heston has owned since his Ben-Hur opened in 1959.
Many among the 250 VIPS invited for the festivities and the screening at the iPic Theater mingled in the plaza where servers from Toulouse circulated with chilled wine, palomas, and Perrier. Yet, former Presidential candidate Farouk Shami, Joanne King Herring, and Margaret Alkek Williams were among those choosing to beat the heat by slipping into the air-conditioned French bistro.
John and Becca Cason Thrash, who first met Downey 14 years ago in Marrakesh, persevered in the August inferno along with guests including Kelly Gale Amen, Joanne and Welcome Wilson, State Sen. Rodney Ellis, and city council members Brenda Stardig, Greg Travis, Mike Knox, and Jack Christie.
With KPRC news anchor Dominique Sachse serving as emcee of the outdoor program, Mayor Sylvester Turner offered greetings and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee presented congressional commendations to the three special guests. She made the comment of the night when she observed that Huston "is the heartbeat of this movie and I say the heartthrob of this night." Indeed.
The Osteens with their "close family friendship" with the producers visited the movie set in Rome and were responsible for securing the VIP event for Houston. "Mark and Roma are very accomplished. They could do anything they wanted but they are making films of faith and inspiration," Joel Osteen said. "It's not just great entertainment, there is always a message behind it."
That message Downey told the gathering is "a message of redemption and of hope and at a time in our world when we need this now more than ever."
Huston echoed that sentiment in his lilting British accent, saying, "In today's world, this is a very important movie. I have a couple of kids and I'm happy to be a part of a film that brings a message of hope and love and forgiveness."
Receiving special attention was Gary Petersen, who Burnett thanked from the stage "for stepping up for us so many times — for the Bible series, with Son of God, and now with Ben-Hur." He and Downey presented Petersen, the mayor and the Osteens with a memento of the film — a framed piece of wood from the cross with a chain link from the slave chains in the film.
Applauding the night and probably thanking God for air-conditioning were Elizabeth Petersen, Bob Livermore, Ashley Turner, Laurie and Tracy Krohn, Kelly Krohn, Cindi and Dr. Franklin Rose, Sharon Bush, Rafael Jones, Eric Klafter, Lily Foster, Sue Trammell Whitfield, Laura Spanjian and Susan Christian, and Robin King.