Photo by Stephen Thorburn
As it does every year, The Annual Canon Customer Appreciation Reception held at the Bellagio on Friday, January 6th, brought together celebrities, VIPs, and the Las Vegas community to raise awareness and funds for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). And while the evening, which boasted a silent and live auction, a dinner, and live entertainment presented by singer Michael Cavanaugh, was thoroughly fun and enjoyable, it’s underlying reason for being was anything but child’s play.
Besides bringing into focus a major issue affecting our youth, it was also a special evening in terms of the fact that it was the 20th anniversary of Canon U.S.A’s partnership with the NCMEC. Since 1997, Canon U.S.A. and NCMEC have collaborated to help find and educate the public about missing children. Two celebrities present for the event were Bryan Cranston and John Walsh, both of whom expressed a common goal in supporting this organization – keeping children safe and finding those who have found themselves in harm’s way.
Cranston, an Oscar nominee, four-time Emmy Award-winner, a Golden Globe winner and a Tony winner best known for his TV roles in “Breaking Bad” and “Malcolm in the Middle,” told me that his personal reasons for he and his wife getting involved with the NCMEC was simply that they were the parents.
“We first got involved when our daughter was five; she’s now almost 24,” he said. “I talked to John Walsh, whom I met while on the set of ‘Malcolm in the Middle,’ and he helped me and guided me to the NCMEC website. It helped us to enable our daughter to trust and use her own instincts and encouraged her to tell us when she didn’t feel safe. The idea is that instead of having kids crippled by fear, to have them develop a frame of mind whereby they can engage in life but be able to have a dialogue with their parents. The idea is also to have parents everywhere be able to trust their children.
“We didn’t want to raise a fearful child,” he continued. “We wanted her to know that it’s okay to talk to strangers but that it’s not okay for an adult to ask a child for directions or for help or to give a child compliments except for saying something like, ‘That’s really neat hair.’ If a child is lost, she or he should look for a mommy with children to ask for help.”
As for how being a part of the NCMEC has impacted him, Cranston noted that it has helped to make him a better human being and it has also played a role in his acting since part of an actor’s toolbox is personal experience. Talking a little about his acting career, Cranston said that his newest movie, “Why Him?,” was a departure for him.
“I hadn’t been offered comedy roles for a while because I have done so many dramas,” he smiled. “But this was more fun than anything I had previously done. It was great going to work every day and making people laugh.”
As for his award-winning role in “Breaking Bad,” Cranston explained that the best thing about the series was the storytelling aspect of it.
“That’s the most important thing for me,” he expressed.
Cranston has a new series on Amazon that he co-created, produces, and appears in called “Sneaky Pete.”
John Walsh, whom I have interviewed several times at this event over the years, and his wife Reve are intimately tied to the NCMEC and, in fact, were the forces behind its creation as well as behind laws that have been passed by Congress regarding the issue of missing and exploited children. For those who may not remember, their sic-year-old son, Adam, was abducted from a Sears department store at the Hollywood Mall in Hollywood, Florida, on July 27, 1981. His severed head was found two weeks later in a drainage canal alongside Florida's Turnpike in rural St. Lucie County, Florida. His death earned national publicity and his story was made into the 1983 television film “Adam,” seen by 38 million people in its original airing. Walsh became an advocate for victims of violent crimes and was the host of the television program “America's Most Wanted.”
What’s interesting is that when I spoke to Walsh last year, he told me that the Internet was the biggest culprit and a major problem in the disappearance of these children. However, this year, his response to that was different.
“It’s a strange conundrum,” he admitted. “Facebook does Amber alerts and the alerts are also on smartphones. And everyone has a cellphone today. Social media is helping to find kids faster. The first four hours when a child goes missing are crucial. On the other hand, there are websites like Backpage.com where pimps bring underage girls to Las Vegas for sex. The pimps advertise on the site and have made $100 million. The owner of the site was just arrested but he is claiming First Amendment rights as his defense.
“I just did Operation Cross Country with the FBI and we recovered 80 underage girls and arrested 200 pimps,” he added. “Sites like Backpage make it easier for pedophiles to grab kids. Our mission is to educate kids all over the country. There needs to be more parental involvement. Parents need to talk to their kids. There are huge problems with there being no father in the family. There is a whole new generation of single parents. And there is a huge foster care problem, too.”
Walsh said that one out of five children get solicited into sex trafficking and re-emphasized that parents need to talk to their children and let them know that they are loved. He acknowledged that kids are susceptible to things on the Internet, where they spend a huge amount of time, and that parents are oblivious to what’s going on out there.
Overall, the solution to the problem is not is child’s play but rather the role that parents play.