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.

Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Field of broken dreams: Andy Bell visits Passchendaele
news5 News's Andy Bell visited the killing fields of the Great War, and his ancestor - known only from his compelling war diary - came to life
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's First World War footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during the war. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end