August 17, 2010
Living in limbo
The closure of Motion Picture Home makes the future uncertain for residents
(Page 4 - Previous Page)
Indeed, some have wondered whether Hollywood’s leaders have become so inflated by their own largess they’ve lost touch with the needs of ordinary people.
“Everything in our industry has become a business,” Gerry Sanoff, an executive at Sony, agreed. “I really believe that when it’s convenient to have a sense of morality, you have it, but when it’s no longer financially feasible to have morality, you can justify changing.” Sanoff’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease when she was in her 60s and has been living at the Motion Picture Home in the memory care unit, called Harry’s Haven, named for Kirk Douglas’ father, Harry Demsky.
There is frustration among the families that no leading Hollywood figure has effectively championed their cause.
“I’ve probably heard in the last two years at least 20 times, ‘If Lew Wasserman were alive, this would never happen!’ ” Sanoff said.
Melody Sherwood, whose 94-year-old mother, Katherine Meyer, has lived in the home since 2004, remembers an era in Hollywood history when industry leaders were fiercely committed to improving the status quo. One such figure was Sherwood’s boss, the legendary Wasserman, a galvanizing force in Hollywood for important causes. There are mythic stories about Wasserman’s leadership and how he demanded of his colleagues to give; if money was needed, he’d pick up the phone and get it.
Sherwood, who spent 30 of her 39 years at Universal Studios as Wasserman’s executive assistant, said, “Lew was immensely successful, but he never forgot what it was like to struggle.
“I don’t think there is that kind of figure in Hollywood today who commands the respect and who has the wide-reaching influence that Lew Wasserman had,” she added.
In Search of a Positive Outcome
For now, no clear resolution is in sight. “As uncomfortable as that may be for both sides,” Beitcher explained, “we’re not prepared to evict them, and they don’t seem to be prepared to move. We’ve reached a bit of a stalemate.”
If anything could seal this story with a happy ending, it’s a proposal to start fresh. For the past year, Oscar-nominated actress Diane Ladd and her husband, Robert Hunter, a former CEO and president of PepsiCo Food Systems, have been in private talks with the the fund’s top leaders — including Katzenberg, foundation CEO Ken Scherer and Beitcher — about a proposal for a new, independent long-term care facility to be built adjacent to the Wasserman Campus.
But that proposal comes with a hefty $150 million price tag and could take years to realize.
Hoping to convince Katzenberg to support the project, Hunter made an honest appeal: “My biggest point to him was, ‘My God, you’re an icon in this industry, you’re the guy that makes things happen, the fundraiser since Lew [Wasserman] is no longer carrying the torch, and what you’re going to be remembered for, 10 years from now, is that you’re the guy who closed the Motion Picture Home,’ ” Hunter said.
For now, the fund is entertaining that proposal, among others, but with varying degrees of skepticism and caution.
James G. O’Callahan, an attorney at Girardi & Keese, the firm handling the residents’ charges against the MPTF, said he is amenable to the idea of resolving the situation Hunter’s way.
“If the people that I represent were going to get the care that they had been promised, and it was done in a setting that was acceptable to them and their families, I’d be 100 percent behind it; I’d do anything that I could to help make that happen,” O’Callahan said.
“But it’s got to be a situation that is acceptable to the residents and their families. Short of that, those people are entitled to stay right where they are and continue to get the care they were promised.”