‘We take care of our own’
Whether director, actor, grip, or gaffer, members of the motion picture and television industry rely on the Motion Picture & Television Fund (MPTF) for an array of care and services. A community health and human services organization, MPTF provides long-term care, primary care, and charitable social services to industry members throughout Greater Los Angeles.
Located in Woodland Hills, California, the organization's Wasserman Campus features independent and assisted living, and a hospital. These services are just a few of those offered to industry members; others include five health centers, a child care center, and community programs. “‘We take care of our own’ is our tagline and something that we live to do and have always been committed,” says Seth Ellis, chief operating officer of MPTF. “We're an organization that sees need and tries to respond to it in the best possible way.”
Philanthropy accounts for approximately 30% of MPTF's funding. The organization's buildings throughout the Los Angeles area bear witness to this goodwill with names that memorialize Hollywood legends, including the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation Children's Center, the Bob Hope Health Center, and the Louis B. Mayer Theater. Along with facility services, MPTF also offers community outreach such as Elder Connection, a program that provides services and recommends vendors to seniors living in the community. “Elders feel comforted that we have done some of the groundwork and can make a recommendation to them in confidence,” Ellis explains. Services extended or referred include Meals on Wheels, housekeeping, and phone calls to check up on seniors and ensure they are taking their medications. “We also have a program called Building Together,” adds Joyce Chavez, administrator/director for residential at MPTF. “Volunteers from the industry—including actress Jodie Foster and rapper Xzibit—help seniors who are in homes that need to be remodeled so that they can safely live in them.”
Industry members' philanthropy is what led to the creation of the Motion Picture & Television Fund. In 1921, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., founded what was then known as the Motion Picture Relief Fund. Ellis says that industry workers who had recently arrived from New York approached the quartet seeking help since work was inconsistent and pay was low. “Those founding fathers and mother saw and knew that their success was built on the hard work of others,” he notes. “There are many more people who make a movie behind the camera than in front of it.” For the first 20 years, the Motion Picture Relief Fund was solely a financial-relief organization.
In the late 1930s, director, producer, and actor Jean Hersholt, who was involved with the organization, saw that his peers needed a place to retire. Hersholt bought 48 acres in the west San Fernando Valley and began building what is today the Wasserman Campus. “Our growth and our venture into new services have always been born out of the needs of our members in the motion picture and television industry,” Ellis says.
The Wasserman Campus is now the site of a 256-bed acute care and skilled nursing hospital and three senior housing residences: the Country House (independent living), the Frances Goldwyn Lodge (assisted living), and the newest building, the Fran and Ray Stark Villa (independent and assisted living), which opened in 2001. “We want this campus to be a place for elders to live their best lives; not a place that looks at sickness, but looks at the key ingredients of successful aging,” Ellis states.
On July 18, MPTF expanded on this philosophy with the official opening of the Saban Center for Health and Wellness on the Wasserman Campus. The $20 million, 35,000-sq.-ft. facility is a product of the generosity of Haim Saban, who created and produced the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers franchise. A warm-water therapy pool—funded by a donation from Jodie Foster—for rehabilitation, fitness, and strengthening is the centerpiece of the building. The Saban Center also has a geriatric assessment unit in which seniors and their families can receive care planning so that they can age successfully in their homes.
When industry members arrive on the Wasserman campus, they aren't among strangers. “Since everybody here has worked in the industry, as they move into our facilities they find what we like to call ‘old friends, new neighbors,’” Chavez says. “Many of the people worked for or with each other.” She adds that these associations make for a fun atmosphere on the campus and help to reduce the stress of relocating. Activities and programs also add to the unique environment. Naturally, MPTF has its own on-campus television station, Channel 22; producer, director, and screenwriter Mel Shavelson provided the studio's original equipment. Programming, conceptualized and produced by residents and volunteers, is broadcast campus-wide. One popular program features interviews with residents discussing their work on a film, followed by a screening of that film. Channel 22 also serves as an intergenerational tool. “The idea is to get people with industry experience to share with up-and-comers,” Chavez explains. “We have many students who come to the campus and make films.”
MPTF caters to its residents with the state-of-the-art, 250-seat Louis B. Mayer Theater, which shows first-run films twice a week. “The residents vote on what movies they want to see, and the studios are kind enough to send over the reels without charge,” Chavez says. Industry members are invited to the theater to talk about their films with residents, which includes a question-and-answer session. This is especially prevalent before the Academy Awards, when films that have been nominated are screened; residents include voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who select award winners. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who played Howard Hughes in the biopic The Aviator, participated in one of these sessions after screening the film, which was nominated for 11 Academy Awards in 2005 (it won 5). After DiCaprio described researching Hughes's life, some residents who actually knew Hughes told the actor that some elements of the film were right on, while others weren't quite accurate. “It was an interesting discussion to see his life through the theater versus his life for real,” Chavez notes. “But mostly residents were supportive of the movie.”
Along with watching films, residents can continue to pursue their vocations through a number of activities. A writer's club of screenwriters meets to write and critique each other's work, and an actor's studio allows residents to put on plays. Comedian and poetry fan Shelley Berman leads a poetry class, as well. Through an online learning relationship with California State University, Dominguez Hills, residents can complete coursework—some of it relative to the industry, some of it general interest.
“Jean Hersholt said, ‘There's so much to do that we've yet to know about,’” Ellis notes. MPTF continues to seek methods to improve care, including an initiative that has reduced the number of falls in its facilities by 12% in the past three years. The organization is also looking at ways to engage in technology so that it can provide more manageable services. “Our focus will continue to be on this campus, but it will also have to be in the community because that's where seniors want to stay,” he adds. It is only fitting that in 1956, the year Hersholt died, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences established the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. The Oscar statuette is given to an “individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.”
A collaboration of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging and Nursing Homes/Long Term Care ManagementNot-for-Profit Report, appearing in every issue of Nursing Homes magazine, addresses issues of particular interest to long-term care's not-for-profi t sector. It provides nonprofit aging service providers with an additional information resource. Topics have been identifi ed in collaboration with the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. Nursing Homes welcomes comments and suggestions for future coverage.