Mariska Hargitay and Hugh O’Brian Show How To Use Celebrity Ethically

O'Brien and Hargitay---Good guys on the screen, but more importantly, off it.

O”Brian and Hargitay
Heroes on the screen, but more importantly, off it.

I have left the impression in more than one post that performers and celebrities too often use their fame and finances to garner wide dissemination for opinions that they are unqualified by experience, intellect, maturity and education to have taken more seriously than the rants of a typical 7th grade blogger. That is an accurate observation. Unfortunately, such public figures are taken seriously, so we must listen to Sean Penn sing hosannas to a South American dictator, see Kanye West pronounce a President guilty of wanting see blacks drown in New Orleans, and watch Ann Hathaway protest the existence of rich people with Occupy Wall Street (while collecting her million dollar fees.) Not all celebrities waste their influence and our time on dubious pursuits, however. There are others, and since they are interested in substantive issues and more concerned with accomplishing something than getting publicity, we often don’t know about their work.

George Clooney and Matt Damon are in this group, as is classic TV Western star Hugh O’Brian, better known as “Wyatt Earp.” Since 1958, O’Brian has been funding and building the Hugh O’Brian Youth Foundation, which was founded to “inspire and develop our global community of youth and volunteers to a life dedicated to leadership, service and innovation”  after a meeting between O’Brian and famous humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer. This large and thriving non-profit commonly goes by the name of “HOBY”; one has to search the fine print to find any mention of its once famous founder, now in his eighties.

And then there is Mariska Hargitay.

Hargitay is an unusual Hollywood story. The daughter of a screen legend (her mother was famous sex symbol Jayne Mansfield, and Mariska, then a toddler, was in the car  Mansfield was driving when she died in a horrific accident), Hargitay achieved stardom the old-fashioned way, by working  through the ranks. Fifteen years ago she landed the female lead in what is now the last surviving of NBC’s “Law and Order” franchise, as a detective, the product of rape, who investigates sex crimes. While researching her role, she learned how often sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse were inadequately investigated and prosecuted. One discovery especially shocked and angered her:  hundreds of thousands of rape kits remained unprocessed in cities across the country.

As her stardom, celebrity and bank account grew, Hargitay saw the opportunity to take affirmative action to help the estimated thousands of victims whose rapists were free and likely to rape again. Like O’Brian, she created a non-profit organization, the Joyful Heart Foundation, which dedicates itself to “heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues. advocates for justice and the sort of prosecutorial zeal one wishes weren’t only on TV.” Hargitay sought substantive results, not headlines, and has achieved them impressively.

Columnist Kathleen Parker, who heard the actress speak about her foundation at the National Press Club in D.C., writes:

“In Detroit, where 11,000 rape kits have been collecting dust for as long as 20 years, 23 serial rapists have been identified from the recent processing of just 400 kits. Three resulted in convictions, according to Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy. New York — which has a DNA databank that, thanks to Hargitay’s lobbying efforts, includes samples from anyone convicted of a crime — has cleared its backlog of 17,000 kits. The result: an arrest rate that leaped from 40 percent to 70 percent, according to Hargitay. Similarly, Los Angeles has cleared its 12,669 kits.”

There’s no photo of Mariska on the Foundation website homepage, because it is clear that she didn’t start Joyful Heart for publicity or to make people watch her TV show. She did it because she knows that as a wealthy Hollywood actress that people will listen to, she has the resources and influence to do something important in an area where she is qualified to provide inspiration and leadership.

That’s the right way to use celebrity.

I’m sure “Wyatt Earp” approves.


Spark and Facts: Washington Post (Kathleen Parker)

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

20 thoughts on “Mariska Hargitay and Hugh O’Brian Show How To Use Celebrity Ethically

        • Yes, extremely so. And both have to be among the top 2% of Hollywood brainpan-wise. I only neglected to give more details about their work because it is relatively well-publicized compared to Hargitay and O’Brien.

          • People have a difference of opinion on fracking and its effects on the environment. Both sides have misrepresented the pros and cons. Although from what I can see the pros are much stronger then the cons, that being that the cons can be eliminated if it is done properly

            • Although from what I can see the pros are much stronger then the cons, that being that the cons can be eliminated if it is done properly

              The bold is the issue. As is common in capitalism, the incentives aren’t there for everyone to do it properly. We would need severe regulation… which is opposed by those that are pro-fracking.

                • You obviously do not know what youre talking about. There have been incidents . to ignore them is idiotic. To claim they havent happened is delusional.

                    • Nobody claimed that because there are incidents, fracking shouldn’t be done. You’re the one who randomly claimed that there aren’t incidents.

                      There’s also a huge difference between fracking incidents and death by hotdog. Fracking affects the surrounding environment. Hotdog death is localized to the individuals’ EATING THE HOTDOGS. Regulation isn’t needed when the only one harmed would be oneself.

                    • As an aside, we actually do (stupidly) ban things similar in danger to hotdogs. Hotdogs have escaped because their real ‘Merican food, not some weird foreign thing (like lychee jellies).

                  • Therefore, we shouldn’t have police departments at all. What, you want to have police departments? I’m thrilled that you trust the government you can’t sue instead of the thief/rapist you can to act in a way to keep damage to a minimum.


                    Also, irony alert. For someone who doesn’t trust the government, you seem to put considerable faith in the fairness of the government. Did I miss the constitutional amendment privatizing the judiciary?

    • Informative and interesting post, Jack. It would be wonderful if celebrities like these two got half the attention that the headline grabbers do.

      Off Topic, but I wonder: Have you ever covered the topic of local newscasters “reporting” on the activities of the Lindsay Lohans and Justin Beibers of the world? My (admittedly, unproven) theory is that these celebrities must be somehow connected in a business sense to the parent companies of these news stations, or they wouldn’t give them the time of day. Maybe utter cynicism on my part, but is just so disgusting to witness how they gloss over the details of really important issues, and then give full coverage, including film, to the obnoxious antics of these imbeciles.

      I once phoned a local station to complain because the anchor man had reported that Prince Charles and Princess Diana were sharing the same bedroom on the yacht of a friend. They were MARRIED at the time! Of course, the report was accompanied by sophomoric snickering between the alledged “newsman” and all the other nitwits on his news “team.” The answer I received from the station manager was that “people” wanted to hear stories like that. What am I, an Ostrich?

      Personally, I believe that if these news anchors had any sense of ethics, they would refuse to read such stories as part of a serious news report.

  1. About Mariska Hargitay I say she is the only woman in the world that I envy. I only wish I had your courage, your ability to face obstacles, their willingness to help staunch the next. Ah! and she’s beautiful. No wonder she was born with that perfect smile. It serves to break down many barriers. To achieve her goals. Nature is wise.

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