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Last Months of Sandy Simon: A Film of Tears, Triumph

July 09, 1985|TIA GINDICK | Times Staff Writer

It was only natural to expect a tear-jerker. Here was Sandy Simon, a dynamic redhead with her four sons, a handsome and wealthy husband, everything in life going for her until, at 47, she was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. The prognosis: three to five years to live.

And now, a film about her last months, her efforts to create a hospice movement in Los Angeles, her family and how they coped with the anxiety and slow torture of losing someone they loved. As movies go, this could have been grim--not to mention a weird invasion of a family's privacy during an incredibly difficult and personal time.

But it is not. Thoughtful and moving, yes, often brutally honest; but not maudlin, not a seven-hanky weeper. Maybe because that wasn't Sandra Simon's style. If anything, the 47-minute film, written and directed by Dan E. Weisburd (whose 1968 documentary "A Way Out of the Wilderness" was nominated for an Academy Award), is a primer--not on how to die, but how to live out the last days of a terminal illness with grace and dignity.

"I wanted to preserve the passion my mother felt for the hospice movement," said Daniel Simon, the film's executive producer. His manner intense, insistent, he looked at the notes he'd made to himself before the interview at his father's home in Beverly Hills.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 10, 1985 Home Edition View Part 5 Page 4 Column 1 View Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
The title of Daniel Arthur Simon's film about his mother Sandra Simon was incorrectly given as "And If I Die . . . " in Tuesday's View section. The correct title is "If I Should Die . . . . "

'To Say It Right'

He'd thought so much about all of this, yet he wanted to say it right so that people would understand what this film was all about and why he'd wanted it made.

"It seemed to me that so much of what she could give . . . her counsel, her wisdom, her teaching . . . would go with her if we didn't have a film. Of course, it's not only an educational tool, but also a beautiful memory that we'll always have."

He paused, glanced at his father, John B. Simon (who's known as Jack), sitting next to him on the flower-print sofa. "If I'd written a book, it would have been easier on the family. It might have been the same if she (his mother) wasn't so attractive to look at, so articulate, so passionate. She wasn't coached or anything, but she did it (speaking to the camera) so well, don't you think?"

A Golden Family

The Simons would have seemed a golden family. Married when Sandra Bernard was 17 and Jack Simon 24, they started with nothing and together built two companies, National Auto Glass and West Coast Glass Distributors. They had four sons--Mark, now 36; Ken, 28; Jon, 27; Daniel, 23--with whom they were always close.

As the companies became more successful, the Simons lived a progressively more comfortable life. They traveled, entertained and 10 years ago moved from the San Fernando Valley to a sprawling, beautifully decorated home in Beverly Hills. But even before that, Sandy Simon, who had initially worked full time as vice president of the firms, was able to pull away and pursue other interests. A voracious reader, she began exploring dream therapy, meditation and parapsychology. She took classes at UCLA and eventually, with the Rev. Clifton King and clinical psychologist Loriene Chase, began conducting what they called New Dimension Seminars.

Dan Simon was 14 when his mother's illness was diagnosed; 21 when she died just a few days after attending his graduation from UC Berkeley in 1983. The film was his idea. He produced, financed (with $50,000 of his own money and $10,000 solicited from friends), appeared in it and now is marketing the film in cassette form for $200.

Proceeds above the initial investment will be divided equally, he has decided, among the Hospice of Los Angeles, the Sandra Simon Leukemia Research Fund and the Sandra Simon Hospice Volunteer Training Program at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Hospice Program.

What audience does he expect for "And If I Die . . . "? "Hospices, hospitals, universities and anyone else who might be interested. It's for people who are involved in care of the terminally ill, and also for those experiencing a terminal illness and their families."

Curious Experience

The making of "And If I Die . . ." had to be a curious experience for everyone involved. Their agreement was immediate, said Jack Simon. "My attitude since my sons were grown has been that I'd support them in anything." Though he had some idea what the presence of a camera in their lives would be like, he added with a wry smile at his son, "I didn't know it would be quite so revealing."

Some of it was familiar stuff: home-movie footage of Sandy Simon in her swimsuit playing Frisbee with her children, Jack Simon playing the trombone at a family party, Sandy with her arms around grandson Jason, now 8, as they looked at scenery during a family trip to Hawaii.

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