Archive for January, 2009

Charles Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, original founders of the MPRF in Los Angeles

Charles Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, original founders of the MPRF in Los Angeles

NOTE: The Motion Picture Relief Fund and Home was founded in 1921 by Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and other movie luminaries for the purpose of providing long-term assistance and nursing home facilities for elderly veterans of the film industry. Story from the Los Angeles Times, Dec. 15, 2009.



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?”


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Douglas Fairbanks with the Magic Rope in "Thief of Bagdad" (1924)

Douglas Fairbanks with the Magic Rope in "Thief of Bagdad" (1924)


The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences announced on January 15th, 2009 the premiere of its new exhibit dedicated to movie idol Douglas Fairbanks. Fairbanks lived a multitalented, multifaceted life. His career as a silent film star who made the transition successfully to talkies is only one aspect of his life.

His accomplishments including life as a movie star, studio founder, philanthropist, and civic leader are illuminated through film clips, movie posters, props, costumes, original documents, and lovely photographic imagery.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said, “The exhibition spans from his earliest days in silent films through his transition into talkies, delves into his famous marriage to Mary Pickford and spotlights his friendships with such fellow Hollywood legends as Charlie Chaplin.”
Born in Denver, Colorado, Douglas Thomas Elton Ullman took the last name of his mother’s deceased first husband, John Fairbanks, as his stage name. His acting career began on a Denver stage at an early age, doing amateur theatre.

The 1920’s saw Fairbank’s success in many films. Such favorites as “The Mask of Zorro,” “The Thief of Bagdad,” “The Black Pirate,” and “Douglas Fairbanks as The Gaucho,” created an action-hero status that colored his career around the world.

His other accomplishments include; serving as the Academy’s first president, founder of United Artists, and along with his wife Mary Pickford, was the first to be immortalized in the Grauman’s Chinese Theater footprint ceremony. His popularity was enormous and that along with his international success cemented his status as the first “King of Hollywood.”

In celebration of the life and career of one of Hollywood’s earliest movie stars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will premiere its new exhibition, “Douglas Fairbanks: The First King of Hollywood,” on Saturday, January 24, at the Academy’s Fourth Floor Gallery in Beverly Hills. Admission is free.

“Douglas Fairbanks: The First King of Hollywood” has been organized in conjunction with the publication of the Academy’s new book, “Douglas Fairbanks.” Authored by Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta, with Robert Cushman as photographic editor, the book examines Fairbanks’s art and ventures behind his public persona, showcasing more than 200 photographs, some unseen for more than 75 years.
The exhibition is presented in association with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, whose collection includes a number of artifacts that will be on display.

“Douglas Fairbanks: The First King of Hollywood” will be open to the public through Sunday, April 19, in the Academy’s Fourth Floor Gallery, located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and weekends, noon to 6 p.m. Admission is free.

(For more information call (310) 247-3600 or visit http://www.oscars.org)

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