"Here's to all of us. We're pretty nice people," said actress Mae Clarke, who'd bicycled over for a lunch with Edie Wasserman and "the boys."
No one could deny that Clarke was certainly nice--her grapefruit-in-the-face from Jimmy Cagney in "Public Enemy" might stick in the minds of film buffs--but this was one swell luncheon companion.
Wine was served and the chat over the chicken salad could have been the talk at any studio commissary. So-and-so was doing such-and-such a picture; so-and-so "never made a good movie"; or remember what happened when "I made that film?" Only this was the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital--and here in Woodland Hills is where some of the magic of happy endings still works.
Stars, yes, there are stars. But it's grips and stunt people and costumers and studio cops--and the wives and husbands of these industry types--who make up the population of about 300. These are the folks who made the movies--and thus, helped create America's image of itself.
"Ah, five years, and I say the same thing . . . I died and went to heaven," sighed silent-screen sweetheart Viola Dana, looking every bit a casting director's idea of an angel. The delight of overhearing her and Clarke gossip, to feel like an insider, makes years of childhood matinees suddenly seem like yesterday. These are stars--actresses who made "movies," not "films," women whose pictures are an important part of this, the most American of art forms.
Dana and Clarke were remembering the day a while back when a couple of visitors strolled around the well-kept grounds looking for Mary Astor. "The Maltese Falcon" star now stays much to herself.
And it was only later that Clarke figured out that the visiting woman was none other than "Garbo herself."
A sigh. Yes, there are stars. And then there are stars.
There is an "intolerable wait" to get into the cottages, the lodge and the long-term hospital. As many names crowd the waiting list as mark the outside of the cottages.
That's why Edie Wasserman and "my boys"--the well-known industry figures who make up the board--are pushing the $50-million capital fund drive. Among the board members are Jack Dales, the longtime executive secretary of the Screen Actors Guild; Robert Blumofe, former head of production for United Artists and an independent producer, and Walter Seltzer, a veteran industry publicist and, for 25 years, an independent producer.
Since the campaign was announced in early 1985, more than $18 million has been raised for the $25-million first phase of the $50-million goal. "We are committed to break ground this summer--hot or cold," said Seltzer, co-chair of the fund-raising drive.
The residential cottages, the lodge (the apartment facility), the long-term care unit and the acute hospital can currently house 305 people. Proposed additions would double that number, adding 81 long-term hospital rooms to the current 173, adding at least 40 residential cottages to the current 54, and adding more than 100 new beds to the 61 currently in the Lodge.
The Country House and Hospital, though, reaches beyond those who live on its 42-acre campus. At any time, there are about 2,200 people being helped--as outpatients, as participants in the drug- and alcohol-abuse programs, as recipients of financial assistance, or, for those with Alzheimer's disease, as residents of a special unit, with its lovely, gated garden and specially designed path.
Signing the Pledge
Operating money for the home and hospital comes from funds given by those able to pay, from Medicare and other insurance payments, and from a percentage pledge made by most members of the 60 or so unions and guilds involved in the movie industry. More than 30,000 people have signed the pledge--usually at 1%--and it brings in a little more than $2 million a year.
But money only comes in when an industry person gets a paycheck. And, with fewer and fewer people on studio payrolls, the amount of money coming in has leveled off, while inflation and costs have not, Seltzer pointed out. The operating budget for 1986 is more than $22 million.
Mundane concerns weigh heavily despite the "specialness" of the Country House and its residents.
Edie Wasserman, the wife of MCA head Lew Wasserman and a practiced hand at charities and fund raising, said that a first visit to the home some seven years ago left her "fascinated with it. Lew said, 'If you like it so much, why not go on the board?' So I did.
"The people were warm and friendly with each other and with other people who came in," she said. "They seemed to have such a rapport. It didn't seem like a hospital--no odor, no feeling of sickness."
No other industry, Wasserman points out, "takes care of its own." For those who have "earned their living in the industry," help is available--if they can pay or if they can't. Whether they rode through the studio gates, or guarded them, or polished them, they made the movies.
Rules Are Broken