"Basically, what it is, really, is a bunch of your friends who are gonna roast the hell out of you," Clooney told AP Television before the Friday night event. "But when it's done, you're raising money to help American Cinematheque, which actually does some great things."
The American Cinematheque runs a number of film-fan and filmmaker-development programs, many held at Hollywood's historic Egyptian Theatre. The $500-plus-per-plate Clooney dinner-event at the Beverly Hilton was sold out. Among the attendees: Director Oliver Stone, entertainer Lindsay Lohan, actor-producer Salma Hayek, and actors Julia Roberts, Geoffrey Rush and Christian Slater.
"There's no man probably more worthy (of) getting some awards," noted Slater, soon to be seen in the docudrama "Bobby." "He's a great artist, great director, and a phenomenal humanitarian. I think he serves as a great example to other actors, myself included. He's a guy — somebody to follow."
Clooney's filmography includes appearances in a blast of hits, including "Ocean's Eleven," "The Perfect Storm" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" He marked his feature-directing debut with the acclaimed "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" and earned an Oscar nomination this year for directing "Good Night, and Good Luck." His production credits include the Oscar-nominated "Far From Heaven," as well as the political drama "Syriana," for which Clooney won the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.
The son of a TV newscaster and the nephew of stage, screen and recording legend Rosemary Clooney, one of George's early roles was on the TV series "The Facts of Life" in its 1986-87 season. The family friendly show was no critical darling, and it was well on the road to cancellation when Clooney and writer Paul Haggis were there.
"I hoped it had disappeared and gone off my resume," admitted Haggis, the Oscar-nominated director of "Crash." "But every time I see Clooney, he reminds me of it, and busts me before I can bust him. So, now I've got to bring it up."
Such ribbing is a Clooney term of endearment, as is the practical joke. Clooney is known as a world-class prankster.
"I actually never had a prank pulled on me, specifically, by George," said Noah Wyle, who worked with Clooney on TV's "ER" from 1994 through to Clooney's departure from the series in 2000 "But I think it's always because I made sure not to be the first to leave the table, ever. I always hung by his side 'til the evening was done. No, that's Pandora's box. I wouldn't want to play one on him, because retribution is swift and it's fierce."
During the awards ceremony, video greetings from some of Clooney's best, but physically absent, friends showed on the screen. One clip featured actor Matt Damon arguing and appeasing angry patrons outside a cinema, and doling out wads of cash. The film that was inspiring the rapid refunds: Clooney's critically maligned "Batman & Robin."
Clooney's latest film, the black-and-white World War II drama "The Good German," begins a limited-release run Dec. 8, and opens nationwide Christmas Day. "George Clooney: An American Cinematheque Tribute" is set to air Dec. 13 on the American Movie Classics cable channel.