Nearly seven decades ago, a handful of film stars more concerned with their colleagues’ well-being than with their own careers, envisioned a place where those who make movies--be they mechanics or matinee idols--could live their final years in a spirit of comfortable camaraderie.
From that long-ago gathering came the Motion Picture Relief Fund and its credo “We Take Care of Our Own.”
As of today, what has grown to be the sprawling Motion Picture Country House and Hospital will be taking even better care of its own.
A $25-million hospital and health center is being dedicated at the scenic 41-acre Woodland Hills facility where one-time stars mingle with scenarists, and comics with craftsmen.
‘It’s Like a Resort’
The dedication would have gladdened the hearts of Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and D.W. Griffith, the first celebrities to envision the now-legendary retirement home where anyone with 20 years of work in the film industry can spend his or her final years in comfort, regardless of his or her individual financial situation.
“It’s not a home, it’s like a resort,” said Fayard Nicholas, once half of the Nicholas Brothers terpsichorean team that tap dance enthusiasts will remember for their flying feet and spectacular splits.
Nicholas, now 74, has lived there with his wife for five years “after getting tired of being burglarized” in their West Hollywood apartment. Because of the fund, he was able to get corrective surgery for a hip condition that once had him saying, “I can dance better than I can walk.”
Mae Clarke, the still-feisty and fiercely independent star of the 1930s who will forever be the gun moll smashed in the face with a grapefruit by James Cagney in the 1931 classic, “The Public Enemy,” is another resident, as is Hal Elias, a former producer and governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Pharmacy, Surgical Suite
But in the main, those that may someday benefit from the new 80-bed, three-story hospital addition that will serve the critically ill and the convalescing are the electricians, grips, sound technicians, film editors and scores of other behind-the-scenes unknowns who made Hollywood what it was and is.
The new facility will include a pharmacy, surgical suite, dental offices, outpatient medical center, radiology department and physical, occupational and recreational therapy units.
The opening of the hospital building is the beginning of a plan that will extend burgeoning health facilities and eventually double hospital capacity. The eventual cost will total $50 million, of which $35 million already has been raised.
Much of money came from those within the industry, from studio heads and studios themselves and from businessmen who became more interested in reaching for their checkbook after hearing personal appeals for help from some of Hollywood’s biggest names.
No Phones in the Rooms
The capital fund drive was coordinated by producers Robert Blumofe and Walter Seltzer and presided over by Edie Wasserman, wife of MCA Chief Executive Lew Wasserman.
She has spent 10 years as the unofficial “Mother Superior” of the Woodland Hills campus on Calabasas Road and Mulholland Drive, just south of the Ventura Freeway, and it was a personal experience that first brought her there.
“My mother was 95, and we were thinking about admitting her,” she said the other day. “But the visiting hours were inconvenient and there were no phones in the rooms and it just wouldn’t have worked. So we kept her home, but I remember thinking ‘there’s some things there that need fixing.’ So I decided to fix them.”
Besides the hospital and health center, the Motion Picture and Television Fund, which has been at its present location since 1941, now operates a retirement village, an outpatient medical center in Hollywood and a state-of-the-art Alzheimer’s care center.
Substance abuse programs have been established while the fund provides more than 20,000 visits each year to those film veterans who are in need of financial or psychological support beyond the constant care given the residents of the home itself.
There is a dining room where one oldster complained bitterly that he “was sick of steak.” There is a theater donated by Louis B. Mayer and a lodge with 42 rooms given by Samuel Goldwyn’s widow, Frances. And, of course, there are the 58 cottages where most residents live.
“Of all the charities I’ve ever done, this is the best,” Wasserman said.
“If I won $10 million in the lottery,” Nicholas said, “I’d give $8 million to the fund, keep $2 million and keep living right here.”
COUNTY HOME AND HOSPITAL Project: Three-story, 88,000 sq. ft. skilled nursing facility.
Owner: Motion Picture and Television Fund Hospital.
Architects: Bobrow/Thomas and Associates, Los Angeles.
Contractor: Stolte Inc., Los Angeles.
Structural: Taylor & Gaines, Pasadena.
Mechanical/Electrical: Hayaka Associates, Los Angeles
Civil: Rogoway/Borkovetz Associates, Los Angeles.
Interior Design: Charles Kratka Associates, Los Angeles.
Landscape Architect: Emmet L. Wemple & Associates, Los Angeles.