Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

COLUMN ONE : The Best Years of Their Lives : A mad scientist, a vamp and a 3-D pioneer are among the eclectic cast of residents at 'the Lot,' show business' retirement home. They savor the glow of the golden age of Hollywood.

September 04, 1993|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The beauty queen and the mad scientist are cozied up at their regular table in the cafeteria they affectionately call "the commissary."

Her hair worn in a platinum pageboy, Anita Garvin Stanley bats her long lashes--a siren sending out her well-rehearsed call. Whit Bissell's eyes glint back, profoundly blue.

They are actress and actor, eating hamburgers with knives and forks, talking about the Movies, about directors they have known and roles they have played--about that glamorous, cameras-rolling show business world that is now, lamentably and inescapably, at least two generations gone.

Garvin Stanley remembers those crazy Depression-era days playing the long-legged love interest in Laurel and Hardy films. Bissell was a chameleon-like character actor best known as the mad scientist in such 1950s sci-fi thrillers as "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein," "Creature From the Black Lagoon" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

Strangers in their Hollywood heyday, they are now good friends, companions at the Motion Picture and Television Fund's retirement community in Woodland Hills--a tree-shaded tract where movie industry veterans live out their days as a tightly knit family.

It's known as the Lot, a Hollywood movie set of sorts where former gaffers and designers, producers and performers, directors and artists, secretaries, security guards and their spouses all move about, albeit a bit more slowly, with the same sense of purpose that guided their working days.

Facing off in their matching chrome wheelchairs, Garvin Stanley and Bissell embody the feisty spirit of old Hollywood and famous couples such as Burns and Allen or Bogie and Bacall.

Take the way talk turns to the look Garvin Stanley cultivated in many of her 400 film roles--a marathon career that started in the silent days.

Was it more sexy or more glamorous?

"I'd say it was more slinky," Bissell, 83, deadpans.

As if on cue, Garvin Stanley produces an ornate fan from her lap and flaps it coquettishly about her 87-year-old face.

"Oh, Whit," she purrs. "I love it when you talk like that."

*

Pushing their walkers about the manicured grounds, playing bingo, doing group aerobics, reminiscing about projects past--the facility's 280 residents are among Hollywood's first generation, a group that still is consulted for guidance by the industry they helped create.

In a show business world obsessed with youth, the aged hold a revered place. Through its umbrella Motion Picture and Television Fund--founded in 1921 by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. to aid disadvantaged entertainment workers--the industry provides for those no longer able to help themselves.

Built in 1941, the Lot has been home to luminaries ranging from Mary Astor to Burgess Meredith, as well as to actress Theresa Saldana, who recuperated there after she was stabbed by a stalker in West Hollywood in 1982.

Other residents included Mae Clarke, the feisty 1930s star best remembered as the gun moll smashed in the face with a grapefruit by James Cagney in "The Public Enemy." Two movieland Stooges--Joe DeRita and Larry Fine--also lived there.

Bolstered by philanthropy and an industry-wide payroll deduction plan, the Woodland Hills community serves as a national role model for how an industry can take care of its own, Hollywood insiders say. Kirk Douglas and George Burns have each donated at least $1 million to an intensive care unit and an Alzheimer's ward there.

But insiders warn that the industry's newest generation must continue this tradition because the Hollywood they know today was built by these retirees. And these old-timers still play a role in show business. They serve on committees that have examined such issues as sex, violence and the portrayal of the aged in film--providing a strong, sensible voice that harks back to Hollywood's past.

The community looks more like a lavish country club than a home for the aged. Among the well-tended gardens sit a 256-bed hospital, the Country House with 62 cottages for independent living and the Frances Goldwyn Lodge, with 52 apartments for assisted living.

Everywhere, there are flourishes reminding residents of the old Hollywood. The Louis B. Mayer Theater shows first-run films. And the John Ford Chapel, donated by the director, is a replica of the little church he built at his home.

The facility displays priceless movie stills and glass-encased collections--Oscars included--devoted to actors and directors. The original Norman Rockwell painting of Dorothy and her dog, Toto, hangs in the hospital lobby. Around the grounds hang plaques bearing the names of benefactors, reading like famous movie credits.

One plaque outside a cottage bears the names Billie Burke and Frank Morgan--who played the Good Witch and the Wizard in 1939's "The Wizard of Oz."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|