Michael Childers lost 85 friends to the AIDS epidemic in New York City and Los Angeles in the 1990s. It was so depressing that he could hardly think about it, but he knew he had to do something, so he helped co-produce and create an event for Project Angel Food, which deliver meals to more than 1,000 HIV patients every day, as well as cancer patients and shut-ins.”
“To be able to create a couple new events for them which made lots of money for their organization was wonderful,” Childers says. “One event alone netted five hundred thousand dollars. Once you get the taste of being able to offer a service to others, it makes your life worth living.”
Childers didn’t stop with a few events and his reputation spread as he met more and more people within the charity field. He did events for PAWS, and in Santa Fe, New Mexico, he created concerts for local AIDS organization. Those early events were the impetus for what he is now doing in Palm Springs.
The well-known photographer moved to Palm Springs in 1999 and immediately got involved in the community. He first worked with the Palm Springs Art Museum (née Palm Springs Desert Museum), then the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the number two film fest in North America.
The main event Childers in known for, however, is “One Night Only,” a Broadway review where he brings in more than two dozen performers from New York for the show. It annually brings in a couple hundred thousand dollars for Jewish Family Service of the Desert. “This is the most fun show I have ever done,” Childers says.
The next “One Night Only” show will be held at the McCallam Theatre on April 20, 2016. His theme this year is the "Sondheim in Love," the romantic songs of Stephen Sondheim directed by Lucie Arnaz. The cast includes Lucie Arnaz, Brent Barrett, Lou Christie, Tony DeSare, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, Gary Shaw, Kirsten Holly Smith, Rufus Wainwright and Mary Wilson. It will be directed by Arnaz.The evening will benefit Jewish Family Services
Childers is also one of the most renowned celebrity and fine arts photographers in America. His career came about after his father, a colonel in the Marine Corps, brought him a camera from Japan.
“I loved taking picture for our high school paper and yearbook,” Childers recalls. “After high school, I went to UCLA, where I started taking photographs of young up-and-coming actors and musicians. One thing led to another, and a lot of these musicians became famous and suddenly I was starting to get book jackets and album cover assignments. That was around 1965, and things snowballed from there.”
Being in the right place at the right time, in the midst of an era where arts and entertainment were a major force in what was going on in America, helped Childers establish a career that has taken him to many places to meet people in all segments of celebrity life.
“There was a singer and poet back then who sold millions by the name of Rod McKuen. He helped me start my career. Then I did a few book covers for Ray Bradbury, the science fiction writer. One thing led to another and suddenly everything started going for me.
“I shot Cher, Dolly Parton, Cat Stevens, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Tom Jones, Ann-Margret, Loretta Lynn -- all the legends I got to work with were amazing. One of my favorites was Dusty Springfield.”
Some of Childers fondest memories were working on movies. “That was like a dream for a kid from the south, to go to Hollywood and on the set of musicals like “Grease” and “Saturday Night Live,” he reveals. “My favorite movie was ‘Pennies From Heaven,’ it was so wonderful working on the movies. You learn so much about how these movies are so complex and how they are put together. I remember Steve Martin rehearsing for six weeks with the choreographer, until his feet were bleeding. It all look so easy to the audience.”
Music was also one of his favorite platforms to work in. “I loved working with rock and music people when they were new, they were young and not spoiled. One of my first jobs, I was hired by a management company in England go on the road with James Brown, and his opening act was Tina Turner. They were both consummate artists and thrilling to work with.”
People who want to get involved in charity work should volunteer, volunteer, volunteer, Childers suggests. “You should find something you are interested in and get involved there,” he continues. “When I first moved to Palm Springs I didn’t know anyone here, but when I volunteered I met a lot of great people. That’s how it starts and then it snowballs. Everybody has something to give.”
Although Childers has been involved in charity work in many places, he says Palm Springs is “One of the most giving communities I’ve ever lived in. It’s amazing the amount of philanthropy here … there are at least five events a week for charities here."
“If I can help out people and organizations, that is great, but most of all it has enriched my life and made it wonderful and exciting.”