This is an ever-evolving story of a girl writer and her two greatest loves, the movies and travel. As she hikes the trenches of Hollywood, you're brought along for the ride.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Aging Out In Hollywood

Entertainment has traditionally been able to weather the storm. During economic downturns, people still sought escapism. Even in the midst of the Great Depression, people who could barely afford a loaf of bread would save up a nickel for a movie. It meant that much to them.

These days, while people still seek escapism (witness the phenomenon of Paul Blart Mall Cop), it doesn't seem to matter so much anymore. Amid ticket sales and recent innovations like 3-D, there is evidence that this time, it's different. This time, the motion picture industry is increasingly turning inward. With strikes of the past and threats of strikes in the future (SAG has yet to reach an agreement,) the industry has become like a rattlesnake out to eat its own tail-- unless the economy gets to it first.

In January, Warner Bros. announced that it was cutting 800 jobs---450 of which would be jobs lost in their Burbank, CA facilities alone. Many other entertainment giants are seeking cutbacks as well, citing the changing entertainment landscape, consumer preferences, and escalating costs.

Even more surprisingly (for me), the Motion Picture & Television Fund announced that it would be closing down its on-campus hospital and nursing home, based in Woodland Hills, CA. due to "...sobering economic realities...," according to David Tillman, fund chief executive (as reported by The Los Angeles Times.)

This is a major blow to entertainment professionals and their families. Upwards of 100 long-term care patients at the facility will be relocated to various nursing homes-- not to mention the impact and added stress to their families, loved ones, and the nursing staff who will lose their jobs.

I was well aware of the fund's Woodland Hills long-term facility and I always felt that if time and circumstances arose that required long-term care, that would be the preferable place to be. I always loved its uniqueness-- each person living there has some connection to the entertainment industry. Perhaps that person was an actress or a cinematographer, a script supervisor or a stuntman... (Marilyn Monroe may have been a star, but let's not forget that her mother, Gladys, was a negative cutter at RKO.) Many people at the MPTF facility are just that: below-the-line professionals whose livelihoods were just as important as any other contributors to the arts.

Think of the unspoken bonds they share with each other. The stories they can tell. Perhaps, they lunched together at the MGM commisery one day without even knowing it. Maybe they remember the antics of such-and-such a director and can still laugh or smile about it, even today.

These wonderful people contributed to some of our favorite classic movies and are now faced with the harsh reality of establishing a new home amid advanced age and health difficulties. Many may not survive the transition and that's what I find saddest of all. Current patients will have to make the adjustment when they are at their most vulnerable stage of life.

Even my grandmother, who recently has had some health setbacks was vehemently opposed to moving from assisted living to another facility. "I am not moving. I am going HOME." Those were her words: HOME. A number of years ago, we took great lengths to find a facility that would suit her (and my late grandfather's needs and wishes.) We visited a number of facilities always getting my grandparents' feedback. We were guiding them, but THEY were chosing their home. Although, she does not reside in any MPTF facilities, her concerns are similar to those facing displacement.

To these patients and to the those affected MPTF employees, this facility was (and still is) their home, the place they chose to spend the 'final reel' of their artistic lives. You can't look at numbers on a keyboard and state that only "so many..." patients will be affected. Nursing home patients are the ones most directly affected. However, those currently in MPTF independent and assisted living, who always had the security of knowing that first-rate nursing home care through MPTF would be available and accessible to them, will be equally uprooted (when and if) the time comes for nursing care.

People are fragile beings, especially late in life: A cold can become pneumonia, a fall can cause a hip fracture, and the added stress and anxiety of moving, as well as being separated from your fellow patients and the caregivers you know and trust can be truly devastating.

It's unfortunate that any care facility has to make cutbacks. The Motion Picture Television Fund may be trying to cut the costs, but by doing so, they are betraying their pledge to "Take care of our own..." These people deserve more than an onscreen credit in a forgotten project.
They are not forgotten. Their contributions to the industry will stand the test of time. At the very least, the industry should be there for them in the time they have left.

*MPTF's says they are not closing down all facilities, only long-term care facilities in favor of more community-based care. Assisted living facilities are not expected to be shuddered.

For both sides of the issue, please see:
Saving The Lives Of Our Own
Motion Picture Television Fund Website

Special thanks to those who've contacted me as a result of this post!

Copyright 2009 KLiedle
Photo credit: Shanty Cheryl/flickr: Hollywood on Fire
Pancakes Barbara/flickr: Marlene Dietrich and Rita Hayworth at the Hollywood Canteen
(circa 1942)

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