Film and TV Vets Meet and Marry at Industry Retirement Community

Kennedy Fontenot
Tony Lawrence and Madi Smith

After losing his writing partner and wife to Alzheimer's, former writer-producer Tony Lawrence met retired production coordinator Madi Smith; together they found a new beginning in their "third act."

Madi Smith didn't intend to meet anyone special when she moved to the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s Country House two years ago — other than Dexter, the three-legged Yorkie who joined her there a few months later. But her perspective changed the moment she met Tony Lawrence, whom she married on the MPTF's Woodland Hills campus Nov. 6.

“I never thought I would get married again," she told The Hollywood Reporter a few days after tying the knot. "I was happy in my life with my dog, minding my own business and then [Tony] walked into my life and he stole my heart away."

Lawrence, a retired television and film writer-producer known for his work on Bonanza and Elvis Presley movies, initially moved to the campus in 2005 with his writing partner and wife, Nancy. After losing her to Alzheimer’s disease, he decided to try online dating at the suggestion of some friends; that experience inspired his 2014 short film Dreamcatchers, which he made with MPTF's in-house television station, Channel 22. Yet nobody seriously caught his eye until Smith.

Lawrence first noticed the retired production coordinator, who worked with Norman Lear and the Smothers Brothers, as she was pushing Dexter through the MPTF campus in February of this year. Eventually someone told him to introduce himself because he might find her interesting.

“One day at mealtime, I took my coffee over and I said, ‘Amelia said I should get to know you, and here I am.’ That was my opening line, and it seemed to work,” he said. “I gathered up my courage and somehow, it was something about her face. Something about her expression, I just somehow knew that this person was somebody I could relate to.”

Lawrence, 87, and Smith, 72, quickly bonded over their shared love of travel and film. They made their courtship and engagement short. Both being in the “third act” of their lives, Lawrence said, “Tick-tock…we can’t let any time go to waste.”

Lawrence's and Smith’s relationship did not go unnoticed by the staff. Bob Beitcher, CEO of the MPTF, could see them getting closer through the home's weekly writers' club, called the Grey Quill Society. “All of us in the club noticed the two of them were just members of the club for a while, and slowly their seating started getting closer together, and then they were sitting next to each other and holding hands,” he said. As the first of MPTF’s residents to meet and then get hitched while living on campus, their marriage is a “black swan event,” Beitcher told THR.

The simple wedding ceremony, coordinated with the help of Lawrence's longtime friend and MPTF's director of media production Jennifer Clymer, was held in the Roddy McDowall Rose Garden, with a reception afterward in a large open patio area next to the garden. Lawrence’s daughter Jordana stood as a witness, his granddaughter Alexa as the flower girl and Smith’s dog Dexter as the ring bearer. The Channel 22 crew recorded it all for future airing.

“They wanted their friends and family to be gathered around them and they wanted to exchange some simple vows," said Clymer. “There’s a gentleman in our hospitality department who works, as a hobby, as a DJ. So he volunteered to bring his own equipment and he played the wedding march for them and their first song. It was lovely.” The couple’s first dance as husband and wife was to Ella Fitzgerald’s recording of “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

The Roddy McDowall Rose Garden also holds a special significance for the couple, according to Clymer. “Tony’s latest short film, which Madi co-starred in with him, is called Three-Legged Stool, and they shot it in the Rose Garden," she said. "So they thought it was a really beautiful place to have their commitment to exchange their vows." The film, Cymer added, is about "love at first sight with a woman who has a three-legged dog."

Asked when he knew he was in love, Lawrence, who will soon move into a shared unit with Smith, offers a definition of enduring allure. “I know when I can’t stand to be out of range of that person," he said. "When I have to be with that person all the time. When I know that I’m thinking about them all the time. To me, somehow, that’s some love.”