Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills to close?

It’s unbelievable news…as many of you know, I first got involved in the Jeanette MacDonaldNelson Eddy story via Jeanette’s older sister Blossom Rock. She was living in retirement at the Motion Picture Home after suffering a stroke. I also met and spoke with dozens of folks that had worked with or new Jeanette and Nelson.

It wasn’t a perfect place and I could tell some horror stories about some things I saw there. In fact, Jane Withers once asked me whether I would be willing to testify about some abuses/neglect that I saw going on in the late 1970s, early 80s.  That never came about…however, I learned later that things had turned around for the better. And it seemed that way to me with the few visits I’ve made there in the years since Blossom Rock passed on.

Hollywood hates dealing with the past. It’s the one thing you can say amid the uproar over the news that the venerable Motion Picture & Television Fund is closing down a vital long-term care unit and acute care hospital by year’s end. The hysteria has gotten a little out of hand, since many people are under the mistaken assumption that the residential retirement community–popularly known as the Motion Picture Home, whose residents have included producer Stanley Kramer, western actor Joel McCrea and “Star Trek’s” DeForest Kelley–is closing as well. It’s not. But hundreds of people who’ve needed essential care are going to be affected, along with 200 or so workers who will lose their jobs.

The problem, as I’ve learned, is that the Motion Picture Fund now has a yearly shortfall of $20 million, roughly half of that coming from the hospital and long-term care unit. With the hospital deficit widening each year, the fund’s leadership decided to shed itself of its biggest money-loser in the hopes of saving the overall fund, which spends roughly $120 million a year on various healthcare services.

That brings us to that queasy little issue of Hollywood priorities. It would take raising additional millions of dollars to keep the long-term care unit and hospital going. But where could that money come from? Hhmm, let’s look around the landscape a little. In today’s Hollywood, we have hundreds upon hundreds of millionaires who take the money and run, rarely devoting themselves in any meaningful way to giving back to the business that made them such a huge success. We have six major movie studios who all tell me every year how profitable they are and who happily spend millions of dollars every year buying “for your consideration” ads, throwing parties and premieres, all in search of the prestige of winning an Oscar. We also have untold affluent actors, filmmakers and studio executives who cough up plenty of dough for political candidates and environmental causes but rarely make sure that they’ve first done something for charities closer to home like the Motion Picture Fund.

There are plenty of exceptions, starting with Jeffrey Katzenberg, who’s chairman of the MPTF Foundation Board and has been a tireless fundraiser for the Fund. But too often Hollywood has rarely shown any passion for anything involving its past, be it preserving old movies, creating a first-class museum or caring for its elders. But don’t listen to me: Here’s an excerpt from a letter to me from Jill Schary Robinson, whose Hollywood bloodlines run deep. Her father was the fabled writer-producer Dore Schary, who ran MGM in the 1950s. Her son is Jeremy Zimmer, a partner at the United Talent Agency. Her concern about the home’s future is firsthand–her husband has been at the home’s long-term care unit since last March. He won’t be there much longer, unless Hollywood changes its priorities. Here’s what she has to say:

“[If it wasn’t for the home] my husband would have been dead by now. The Motion Picture Home isn’t about glamour, unless you call medical excellence glamour. Without question, it is the example of medical ingenuity and sensitivity for elderly people. Young volunteers from all over Los Angeles come here learning how to be comfortable with elderly people. The Home defines dignity and teaches how the spirit of these last years can even thrive.

“To close the Motion Picture Home is to turn our backs on our own futures. We will be that old. We will have infirmities. We will need care. But we’ll want superb caregivers who know we’re still there inside– who have the skills and gifts to be there for us, even when our families have given up. There are serious alternatives to closing the Motion Picture Home which need to be explored and I am willing to spearhead a grass-roots effort in the Hollywood and Entertainment community to sustain this unique model for quality health care for an expanding aging population. I will devote my full time to working on this. Will you join me?”