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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones