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Gift endows film award at Ohio University

By Jennifer Bowie

Emmy Award-winning director and producer Betty Thomas recently committed $100,000 to endow the Betty Thomas Film Award in the College of Fine Arts. She earned her bachelor's degree in fine arts from Ohio University in 1969.

Charles Fox, Betty Thomas and Raymond Tymas-JonesThomas began to fund the Film Award with annual gifts in 1996. Funds from the permanent endowment will provide ongoing support for female students in the School of Film by helping to underwrite the costs associated with the making of thesis films.

Ohio University graduate student Eunice Charlton is currently completing her thesis film project with the help of $5,000 from the Betty Thomas Film Award. "I don't know how I would have completed my film without this money," said Charlton, who is returning to Mexico this week to shoot her film. The project centers on the life of an 11-year-old girl in Progresso, Mexico, who plays the accordion on the streets to make money for her family.

During her Jan. 10 to 12 visit for an intensive two-and-a-half-day workshop with Ohio University film students, Thomas said she enjoyed spending time with the students and she'd like to come back. "It's a great thing to do if you feel you have something to offer."

Charlton served as Thomas's personal assistant during the visit and hopes the two can maintain a professional relationship in the future. "I hope that the award will help students make better films and allow them a little less stress," Charlton said. "It gives them the space to be more creative and to feel like someone supports them and believes in them."

Although she was an art major at Ohio University, Thomas said she auditioned for the play "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" because "you know, it was the '60s, and it was a kooky thing to do." That kooky thing, and the relationship she formed with Professor of Theater Bob Winters, changed her life. After graduation, Thomas -- who still planned to be a painter -- took a job with Second City TV in Chicago and never looked back. "That formed a huge base for the rest of my life," she said of her experience with "Forum" and her relationship with Professor Winters.

Betty Thomas in a film workshopThat experience gave her the background necessary for her run as cop Lucy Bates on "Hill Street Blues" (NBC, 1981-87), for which she won an Emmy. She spent hours on the set observing the directors and became enamored of the profession. Steven Bochco, executive producer of "Hill Street," hired her to direct episodic television. She finally chose directing as her calling and later won her second Emmy for Best Director for episodes of the HBO series "Dream On."

Thomas made her feature directorial debut in 1992. Three years later with a mere $12 million budget, she turned "The Brady Bunch Movie" into something both satiric and celebratory. Thomas found she had helmed one of the highest grossing films (in excess of $60 million) directed by a woman, putting her in the same category with Penny Marshall and Penelope Spheeris. Her production company, Tall Trees, has produced films such as "Charlie's Angels" and "I Spy."

Thomas's gift is part of Ohio University's Bicentennial Campaign -- which has raised more than $155 million toward its goal of raising $200 million in time for the University's bicentennial in 2004. The Campaign will provide money for scholarships, endowed professorships, technological enhancements, innovative programs, and selected capital improvements.

Jennifer Bowie is director of communications for development.

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