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He's on a Double Mission in Fight Against Ageism

The industry: Ted Post hopes his company will revive the classics while giving a career boost to Hollywood veterans.

August 15, 1996|CLAUDIA PUIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Though Ted Post worked with Clint Eastwood on two hit movies and directed some of the biggest stars of the '60s and '70s on more than 1,000 episodes of TV series such as "Peyton Place," "Gunsmoke" and "Rawhide," the most pivotal event in his life was a chance meeting around 1980 with Claude Pepper, the Florida congressman who battled tirelessly on behalf of the elderly.

"I was overwhelmed and very nervous talking to him," Post said. "He was so forward-thinking. We talked for about 20 minutes and hammered out some of the feelings I had about his work, then left on a handshake. He was terrific, relatable, accessible. He said, 'When you come back, do give me a ring and we'll have lunch.' "

The lunch--like so many in Hollywood--never materialized, but Post is attempting to do one better, by carrying Pepper's anti-ageism banner into the entertainment arena.

Post has formed Pro Bono Productions to showcase the talent and expertise of older union and guild members in Hollywood, and he has enlisted the support of some of Hollywood's biggest names to serve as advisory board members. Among the 12 heavy-hitters endorsing Pro Bono Productions--which would operate as a nonprofit corporation--are Gregory Peck, Jack Lemmon, Clint Eastwood, Norman Lear, Angela Lansbury, Karl Malden, writer Norman Corwin and director John Frankenheimer.

"Our industry is suffering from a nationwide Peter Pan complex," Post said. "There are many who have been in the business for quite a long time who are feeling the pinch because of age. Because of the nature of this horrible disease that was created by this youth cult, they are literally burying the people who brought so much experience to the field."

Post laments that this feverish attention to youth has intensified over recent years.

"Today we're living in an era where it's a sin to be old," said Post, who directed the Eastwood hits "Magnum Force" and "Hang 'em High," among other films. "It wasn't true years ago. They were looking for people with experience to guide them. But, these days, you're discarded like Kleenex. It's a very serious problem."

He hopes to enlist experienced Writers Guild members to adapt classic stories and material in the public domain, then produce the works for public television and the video market, and provide them free to colleges, high schools, elementary schools, community centers and prisons. Those who work on the productions will be paid union scale wages.

The project, Post said, would be open to "all those who are considered not young enough to partake and participate in today's marketplace."

And what is considered old in Hollywood these days?

"Anyone over 40," he said.

Post, 78, is trying to drum up support for his project and financial backing from various foundations and corporations. He has also taught a master class in directing at UCLA Film School since 1980.

"The bottom line, the unhidden purpose [of Pro Bono Productions] is to create and develop remunerative senior employment projects for professionals in our artistic industry," Post wrote in a letter earlier this year to solicit board members.

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And even though those who have agreed to serve on his board are all well over 40 with thriving careers, they are sensitive to the problems of aging in Hollywood.

"There are a lot of guys that are along in age that are working; luckily I'm one of them," said the 66-year-old Frankenheimer ("The Manchurian Candidate," "Birdman of Alcatraz" and the upcoming "Island of Dr. Moreau," starring Marlon Brando). "But this town is a brutal place and anybody who's been around it knows that. . . . If Pro Bono Productions can get off the ground, it gives a lot of very talented men and women a chance to do what they've been doing all their lives, and it's beneficial for the audience as well."

"I applaud what Ted is trying to make happen," said Albert D. Jerome, KCET-TV president and chief executive officer. "The level of experience in Ted's concept of Pro Bono Productions is attractive to us and we're very supportive of the idea. With the wealth of talent that would be available to him, we, as Los Angeles' public television station, would certainly want him to come to us with any projects he puts together. If we thought they made sense, we could probably fund them. And he can certainly use our facilities."

Post's goal is twofold: to provide meaningful work for veteran Hollywood professionals as well as greater exposure for the classic works of Shakespeare, Sophocles, Moliere, Anton Chekhov, George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, among others. Having started his career as a stage director in the late 1940s, Post is particularly interested in exposing schoolchildren to classic productions.

"We're starting with the classics because they're public domain," Post said. "When the Writers Guild members adapt these particular plays, they'll streamline them, give them a modern feel, dress them in a way in which people can identify with them quickly."

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