CLEARWATER — John Travolta was complimenting Saturday's audience at the Capitol Theatre for supporting the arts with their attendance, when the announcement came that $38,000 was raised for the Marcia P. Hoffman School for the Arts.
Recognizing a cue as actors do, the two-time Academy Award nominee sweetened the pot.
"Because of your generosity," Travolta said, "I would like to add another 12 (thousand) to make it $50,000."
A crowd of nearly 700 fans, just settled in from one standing ovation, gave Travolta another, at a fundraising screening of his latest movie, The Forger.
Most seats for Saturday's event were general admission, costing $35. A limited number of VIP passes went for $175, allowing a meet-and-greet photo opportunity with Travolta.
"Thank you for being here, for supporting the arts," Travolta told the audience. "I had the privilege of growing up in a family that supported the arts … but not every family has that advantage. Tonight, you are helping … other young people to become artists of their dreams, who didn't have the advantage I had as a child."
Travolta arrived on the red carpet at 6:50 p.m. and began greeting an estimated crowd of nearly 500 admirers, many of whom had purchased tickets to the movie screening. Travolta spent the next 25 minutes greeting as many fans as he could reach, many holding out items for autographs, for which he gladly obliged. "Jackpot!" said one fan with a freshly signed "Vincent Vega" figurine, Travolta's character from Pulp Fiction.
The star didn't make any statements outside the Capitol, heading inside the theater after completing the fan gantlet, with thumbs raised and kisses blown.
Travolta didn't take questions from the press. His reluctance to address the media wasn't surprising, after his statements recently to the Tampa Bay Times, praising the Church of Scientology he joined nearly 40 years ago. The actor, who along with Tom Cruise give Scientology its celebrity cache, also spoke out against the HBO documentary Going Clear, which accuses the church of abusive and intrusive tactics. Travolta's comments made headlines nationally, drawing more attention to the documentary, now one of HBO's highest rated ever.
Aside from a few Scientologists strolling nearby in uniforms, there was no visible evidence outside the Capitol of the church or its detractors. A pair of sidewalk evangelists chiding people in line about the world ending were the only theological intrusions.
A crowd began forming outside the Capitol around 5 p.m., including Jason and Danielle Frewer of Spring Hill.
"We figured it sounds interesting, we'll give it a try," Jason Frewer said. "We're on a roll today. Already we met the guy from The Sopranos today (Steve Schirripa) at Mazzaro's (in St. Petersburg)."
Arriving later but equally starstruck was Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, who called the event "another gem in the city's crown." Cretekos was particularly pleased that Travolta's Scientology connection didn't attract any protesters.
"People realize this is a fundraiser to help youth excel in the arts," he said. "That trumps everything."
The Forger stars Travolta as an art thief who forges Claude Monet's Woman With a Parasol in order to steal the original. The movie, co-starring Oscar winner Christopher Plummer and rising star Tye Sheridan (Mud, Joe), is now available on demand to Direct TV subscribers, reaching a limited number of theaters and wider VOD release on Friday.
Travolta regularly schedules fundraising events like Saturday's, often in Ocala, where he and his wife, Kelly Preston, have a primary residence. Both are frequent visitors to Clearwater, for Scientology training at the church's headquarters.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.