Not ready to retire: MPTF meets its future

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Hal Riddle, a Kentucky boy made good in Hollywood film and TV, moved into the Motion Picture and Television Fund retirement home at age 75.

"I was a youngster then," the ham-boned character actor deadpanned. He turns 87 in December.

"The first day I moved in, I just knew I was home," Riddle added in a voice gone suddenly soft. "Where else can you retire and everybody else is of your ilk?"

Indeed, a stroll around the landscaped grounds of the Wasserman Campus, as the 44-acre MPTF home and hospital is known, makes it plain that this is a place full of industry folk.

Residents regale visitors with career anecdotes, and campus facilities are dotted with plaques acknowledging gifts from famous MPTF benefactors. Film star photos line corridor walls, interspersed in one space with snapshots of a campus acting troupe. A 250-seat cinema, programmed weekly by a residents committee, shows a discernible skew toward serious movie fare, often of the art house variety.

But the 85-year-old Fund finds itself at a significant crossroads, fraught with challenges despite continuing signs of vitality, like the $19 million Saban Center for Health and Wellness set to open in late spring. Part of the challenge is generational.

"Hollywood used to be connected to the Fund, and we are trying to re-create that," said Frank Mancuso, former chairman of MGM and longtime head of Paramount Pictures who was tapped as chairman of the MPTF corporate board about four years ago. "We have to pass this off at some point to a younger group, who hopefully will be as engaged and want to do everything they can do to make this work and continue."

To that end, the MPTF on Nov. 18 will stage its second annual black-tie gala, "A Fine Romance." The Hollywood-meets-Broadway fundraiser is aimed in part at getting showbiz's younger set in touch with the MPTF.

Mancuso threw the first edition of the glitzy, entertainment-laden bash last year in his football field of a Holmby Hills backyard. This year's setting will be Sunset + Gower Studios in Hollywood.

"The entire evening is devoted to celebrating the love affair between Broadway and the movies," said Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chairman Jim Gianopulos, who is chairing "A Fine Romance" this year after co-chairing the first event. "The MPTF mission is taking care of our own, and I think it is particularly important in our industry. Fame, work and popularity can be fleeting, but many people give their talent and their life's work to entertaining others, and it's only fitting that we look after them in a time of need."

The Hollywood Reporter again will serve as a primary sponsor of the event, and Catherine Zeta-Jones again will reprise her role as performing host, joined this year by Harry Connick Jr. Other performers will include Christina Applegate, Shirley MacLaine, Bernadette Peters, Rita Wilson, Andrea McArdle, Kristen Bell and Jennifer Hudson. Dan Jinks ("American Beauty") and Laurence Mark ("Dreamgirls") are producing the event, with John Mauceri of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra again on board as musical director.

Created by Mary Pickford and colleagues in the 1920s, moved into its Woodland Hills headquarters in the '40s and expanded into new service areas in the '90s, the Fund faces an ambitious new mission in the new millennium.

MPTF execs hope to shift its focus to community- and home-based services even as the aging of the baby-boomer generation produces a swell of seniors in need of aging services. Such an adjustment should be cost-effective and popular, they believe, as seniors look to delay entering retirement communities ever longer.

In fact, even though the Fund is identified mostly with its residential retirement community, increasing numbers of clients put off moving onto the campus and instead seek other sorts of assistance, such as retrofitting of their personal residences with rampways, hallway and bathroom grab-bars, and closet adjustments. A trend toward home-based assisted care is expected to grow dramatically, so the MPTF also plans on subsidizing community-based counseling and health-care services for its clients.

Such a shift requires a ramping up of certain MPTF operations, but it also has eased a backlog of applicants for accommodations on the Wasserman campus.

"Five years ago, demand here exceeded capacity," MPTF CEO Dr. David Tillman said, noting a onetime waiting period of five years. "Now, there's a pretty good match."

There are 185 residents of the campus' Country House Cottages, Frances Goldwyn Lodge and Fran & Ray Stark Villa, and another 190 in a related nursing facility, with an average move-in age of 86 and an oldest resident who is 107. Anybody 70 or older with 20 years of employment in film, TV or other entertainment-related fields can apply for eligibility, and even parents of entertainment professionals are eligible for the nursing facility.

Costs, which are subsidized by the Fund, are billed to residents on a graduated scale tied to ability to pay.

Since the '90s, the MPTF also operates five health centers located throughout the Los Angeles area, supported by the health funds of several Hollywood guilds and unions. Other offerings include financial assistance for needy industry vets, counseling and other social and charitable services, and the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation child-care center in West Los Angeles.

With an annual budget of more than $100 million, the MPTF couldn't function without the regular flow of philanthropy.

"There is no other industry in the world that has accomplished what the movie and TV industry has accomplished, which is creating a health and social enterprise that is there for those who need it," said Jeffrey Katzenberg, who heads the MPTF Foundation board and chairs its Oscar-eve fundraiser, the Night Before. "I find our industry to be incredibly philanthropic and generous, lending their time and creativity and opening their pocketbooks so generously and so frequently. And for all those things that we do, I don't think anything is more important than first and foremost taking care of your own."

The DreamWorks Animation chief is working to raise the balance of funding for the new 30,000-square-foot Saban Center. The facility's mission is threefold: to add various health and wellness amenities, including a large pool and exercise room; to create a geriatric health evaluation and outreach headquarters offering counseling and other services; and to launch an aging-research unit and related experimental programs.

TV titan Haim Saban and his wife, Dr. Cheryl Saban, donated $10 million for construction of the center; Jodie Foster earmarked a $1 million gift for its aquatic facility; and $2 million in federal funds is tagged for various aging programs.

But Katzenberg said more involvement from younger Hollywood -- following the historic example of such tireless benefactors as Pickford, Lew and Edie Wasserman, Roddy McDowell and many others -- is necessary to the MPTF at an optimum operating level.

"The MPTF has had eight decades of this industry supporting it, which probably represents about four or five generations," he said. "So one of the challenges that we uniquely have is making sure, with each new generation that comes along, that we make it relevant for them."

The Fund's Next Generation Council -- chaired by Robert Osher, chief operating officer of Columbia Pictures Motion Picture Group -- regularly reaches out to Hollywood's younger set.

And staging A Fine Romance "opens us up to people we normally don't see," said Ken Scherer, CEO of the MPTF Foundation. Even event producers Jinks and Mark were relatively unfamiliar with the MPTF before their coming aboard, Scherer noted.

Of course, there's no shortage of celebs making the occasional stop to visit and entertain residents, a kindness that's always appreciated and which somehow seems to increase in frequency during Oscar season.

"This is a voting population, you know!" Mancuso noted with no little amusement.

Meanwhile, officials boasting of state-of-the-art senior care get no argument from Bill Martinez, former TV stage manager and five-year campus resident with his wife, Peggy.

"It's great, it's wonderful," the octogenarian observed with a small catch of emotion. " I worked 40 years in the business, and this was here waiting for us."
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