There were no glittering lights, no red carpet, but plenty of celebrities ( Jamie Farr, John Schneider, Loretta Switt, Marcia Wallace, Stephnie Powell, Jackie Joseph, Sharmagyne Leland St John, Hank Garret, Bill Smithrovich and others) as they gathered on Sunday, March 15th, 2009, at he Fine Arts Theater. The host was Saving Our Own, an event scheduled to spread the word about the deplorable situation at the Motion Picture Television Fund Long Term Care Unit.
Once called the most caring place on earth, the home has turned into a hellish cycle of waiting and watching.
For most people January 14, 2009 was a bright California day, but for the workers and residents of the Motion Picture and Television Fund Long Term Care and Acute Hospital, the clouds were stormy and dark. The 40 member plus board including such notables as Dr. Tillman, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg, Michael Douglas, and Edith Wasserman (widow of the late Lew Wasserman for whom the facility is named) had decided in secrecy that it would close the hospital leaving the 138 residents there without a home and without a future.
Among the famous residents of the home recently were Larry Fine (Three Stooges) and Dick Wilson (Don’t Squeeze the Charmin,) but many others were famous in their own right at below the line workers (producers, make up artists, gaffers, electricians, ;line producers, location scouts, public relations and all the other jobs that are necessary to the film industry.)
The nursing home, one of the best in the country, had been developed in 1944 by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, and Charlie Chaplin with the sole purpose of taking care of the elderly of our industry and their relatives. For years, it has run successfully and now provided refuge for those in need. Many people, as the family of Genevieve Sternlight, reported being on the waiting list for years, selling their homes and all they had to give the home on the condition that they would be taken care of for the rest of their lives. Now, they find that this will not be the case.
In fact, if the board of directors has their say, these people will be re-housed within 60 days. Teams of social workers working for the directors and the home have reported swooped down on the residents encouraging them to move but very few homes meet the standards set by the Motion Picture Hospital and many of these residents, as 104 year old, Nell Swit (mother of Loretta) having been there for years, have established friends and a way of life.
Some of the residents have already died – the news of the move having distressed them so and others say they would rather die than leave the home.
Rumor had it that the home lost money in the Bernard Maloff scheme but the writer was told that was not the case. However, the board, headed by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, stated that the financial conditions are such that the long term care is no longer feasible and yet when money was offered from various established actors and industry professionals, it was turned down with the words that “no money in the world can save the home.” So what is the real reason the home is being shut down and why are they not honoring their contract with our elderly residents to keep them safe for the rest of their lives?
During the course of the evening, which was not a fundraiser but an event to raise awareness, we were shown a short film about the long term hospital but also a brilliant independent film by Michael Schroeder.
Staring Christophere Plummer (Flash Madden), Michael Angarano (Cameron Kincaid), M. Emmet Walks (Mickey Hopkins), Robert Wagner (Taylor Moss), Tracey Walter (Mr. Klein), Mitch Pileggi (Floyd) and Joshua Boyd (Murphy White), the film The Man in the Chair tells the story of a young rebellious high school film maker, Cameron Kincaid, who upon accidentally meeting an elderly film electrician Flash Madden, asks for his help in completing his student film.
At first Flash is resistant and then sees it as a chance to employ some of his friend from the Motion Picture home who have not worked in years but who very much miss the excitement of film. One in particular, Mickey Hopkins, an elderly writer living in a run down nursing home because his union did not cover his care at the Motion Picture home, states that “We never lose our talent, only the ability to open it.”
Between Flash, Mickey and Cameron, it’s decided that the short will be about the abuse of nursing home residents – using Mickey’s own home as an example.
Cameron’s film ends up being the least expensive but the best produced of all the student films – despite the fact that he does not win the award.
A truly moving film, it is rated PG-13 because of the profanity but the only real profanity I saw was in how our elderly are treated. Music for the film was by Laura Karpman, production design by Carol Strober and other producers were Randy Turrow and Sarah Schroeder. Director of photography was Dana Gonzales and it was edited by Terry Cafaro. The film is released by Outsider Pictures and Elbow Grease Pictures.
The evening was organized by Richard Stellar, Daniel Quinn (both with parents at the home), Nancy Beiderman, and the theatre was partially donated by Michael S Hall. Rod Dryer did the graphics for the ad event.
What goes on next and how are we to care not only for our current residents but our future elderly – of which you, reader, will one day be. Michael Douglas, in the after Oscar party, states that “It will be resolved in a way that will make everyone happy.” That can only be to keep the home open until the last resident dies and establish a new place for the elderly to be housed (not wherehoused.) People are not disposable and we, as industry professionals, have to stand up and show that we care.
For more information go to savingthelivesofourown.org and Themaninthechair-themovie.com