Hollywood pulls the plug on hospital for retired stars

Charity's 60-year-old nursing home faces closure over $10m losses per year

Back in the days when film studios were run like family businesses and Hollywood was just another small town, the movie industry's founding fathers created an organisation to look after employees who'd fallen on hard times.

The Motion Picture Relief Fund, launched by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and other luminaries, began in 1921 with a coin box where backlot workers would deposit spare change. It grew into one of America's most star-studded charities, with a $120m turnover, and a quaintly reassuring motto: "We take care of our own."

Lately, however, the organisation – now the Motion Picture & Television Fund (MPTF) – has been dragged into a fierce controversy, in which famous board members, including Steven Spielberg, Warren Beatty, Michael Douglas and Kevin Spacey, are charged with a lamentable failure to take care of their own.

The dispute revolves around a decision to close down the MPTF's historic "country home", a hospital and nursing facility on Mulholland Drive in Woodland Hills. For 60 years, ageing actors, entertainers and film industry workers have come to this once-leafy part of the San Fernando Valley to live out their final years.

Citing a $10m (£7.2m) annual operating loss, and saying that the facility was threatening the entire charity's solvency, the MPTF recently decided close down the home, putting 290 employees out of work, and leaving its 100 long-term residents facing an uncertain future.

"We studied the problem for three years," Ken Scherer, the organisation's president, told reporters.

"We found that we had an operating deficit of $10m a year [and decided that] the best thing to do was to take some of those dollars and invest them in programmes that would reach more people."

The move caused outrage among friends and family of residents and prompted fierce criticism of the fund's starry board members. And, just like every good American controversy, it now looks almost certain to end up in court

More than 200 protesters, including John Schneider of Dukes of Hazzard fame, picketed the MPTF's nearby headquarters shortly after the closure was announced in January.

A further protest was held outside the organisation's "night before" party on the eve of last month's Oscars, where a crowd blew raspberries at guests such as Tom Cruise, Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Reese Witherspoon. Their ire was stoked by revelations about the financial management of the charity.

Dr David Tillman, the MPTF's chief executive, was recently shown to earn a $600,000 salary. He received a 20 per cent pay increase months before announcing the decision to boot out its elderly residents. The chief financial officer, Frank Guarrera, earns more than $400,000.

Fiercest criticism, however, has been reserved for Jeffrey Katzenberg, the film mogul in charge of DreamWorks, who serves as the chairman, and therefore figurehead, of the MPTF Foundation.

Katzenberg gave interviews blaming the recent closure on a lack of funds. However, the MPTF's most recent audited accounts (which admittedly cover the years prior to the recent financial crisis) show the organisation operating at a healthy surplus. "What bothers many people in the industry is that there's this group on the board, Katzenberg, Spielberg and their like, who earn hundreds of millions of dollars a year, yet none of them have come to the rescue," says the Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker. "$10m a year is nothing to these people, and it would take nothing to create an endowment to offset the losses. The money would be tax deductible."

Six residents of the country home have died since their effective evictions were announced. Families of other residents have launched a lawsuit through the Los Angeles-based law firm Girardi & Keese seeking an injunction to halt the closure.

Whatever its outcome, they say the facility represents a historic Hollywood institution worth preserving. It was built on 48 acres of citrus farm purchased in 1940 by the actor Jean Hersholt, who was the MPTF's president for 18 years. Guests at its opening ceremony included Mary Pickford, Shirley Temple, and a young Ronald Reagan.

Residents over the years have ranged from the Oscar-winning actress Norma Shearer and renowned producer Stanley Kramer to Star Trek star DeForest Kelley, as well as Dick Wilson, who for 30 years played Mr Whipple, the "face" of Charmin toilet paper.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links