Keegan-Michael Key, Jay Ellis Tell ALS, Assisted Living Stories at "Reel Stories, Real Lives"

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Keegan-Michael Key and wife Elisa Pugliese

Mary Steenburgen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Glen Powell were among the actors who read tales of industry veterans at the annual Motion Picture & Television Fund event.

The Motion Picture & Television Fund "Reel Stories, Real Lives" program is known for featuring stories of entertainment veterans who have been helped by the organization. But this year's event opened with a moment of silence. The Thursday night ceremony began with a pause for the victims and first responders of the Thousand Oaks mass shooting, which occurred one night previously,

The moment set a mindful tone for the night's proceedings, hosted by Keegan-Michael Key at the Directors Guild of America theater. During his time onstage, Aaron Taylor-Johnson said the story he’d be reading was "a very emotional one but very uplifting in the sense of what the MPTF has to offer as a community of support and love and humanity.” Taylor-Johnson recounted Fund recipient Sivorn Price’s hardships as a mother raising a child with special needs. The MPTF helped her make her home safer for her child and navigate her child’s extreme medical needs.

Insecure co-star Jay Ellis, who also attended the event, said that when the MPTF reached out to him to participate, he immediately said yes. “Anytime we get the opportunity to give back to people who have given to our community — whether it’s as artists, writers, actors — [we should] support them in any way,” he said.

Ellis told the story of Mello Alexandria, who grew up in Louisiana but made his way to California when he was 18. After a boxing career with a shady manager who took all his money, Alexandria persevered and became George Foreman’s sparring partner and part of Mike Tyson’s coaching team. Through Tyson, he met agents and helped train actors for boxing in film and television. When his Hollywood career ended in 2012, he needed help, and one of his friends called the MPTF. The Fund helped make his home safe and, a few years later, found him an assisted living facility. MPTF still provides social workers that check in monthly with Alexandria. 

Mary Steenburgen read the story of Frances Uptadel and Norma Perron, who developed an unexpected friendship. Uptadel is 94 years old and was a film editor who raised three sons on her own. When she got a flyer about MPTF’s Daily Call Sheet, she signed up and was matched with Perron, who spent 20 years as a film technician, inspecting films at Technicolor and MGM. Norma, 79 years old, signed up to volunteer for Daily Call Sheet, and Uptadel was her first call; that call lasted an hour. Nine months later, the women talk twice a week.

In the final story of the evening, Glen Powell spoke of Jon Huntley, a man who dreamed of making movies but whose dream was diverted when he met Rebecca Parr and the two married and had two daughters. Then, in 2012, Huntley was diagnosed with ALS. Unable to find a nursing home that would take ALS patients, Parr found out about MPTF through her job at Dreamworks. The MPTF determined that Huntley was eligible for long-term care at the Wasserman campus. It was a life-altering decision for the Huntley family: though ALS ravaged Huntley’s motor skills and speech, his eyes still worked, and the director of MPTF22, the resident TV channel on campus, helped him find his creative voice again. Utilizing Eyegaze technology, Huntley can “speak” through a computer and make content. Huntley made a short film and also celebrated his 50th birthday with his family and friends at the Wasserman Center. When Powell stepped off the stage to hug Huntley and his wife, there was a standing ovation and many tears.

Before the event, Powell revealed to THR that he was involved with MPTF after attending many Night Before parties. He said, "The stereotype of Hollywood is that when you’re down, they push you down, and I think there’s an awesome belief in this organization that when you’re down, people push you up — that’s what the MPTF is really about.”

Key returned to the stage to close the program and, his voice full of emotion, reminded guests, “We struggle to make something great because we want to leave our mark, and every day, MPTF is leaving a mark on people’s lives. It’s lifting people up and it’s making a difference. Please remember, this is your community. This is your charity, and we all play a part.”