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An Appreciation

Hollywood Was This Priest's Mission

September 23, 2000|DAVID MILCH | David Milch created "NYPD Blue" with Steven Bochco and has received two Emmys and multiple Emmy nominations for his writing on the show. Milch won his first Humanitas Prize in 1983 for "Hill Street Blues," an episode titled "Trial by Fury," his first script

Father Ellwood Kieser, who died last Saturday, was a paradoxical simplicity.

The work he chose placed him square in a world--Hollywood--where, at bottom, the values he professed were patronized and the idea of a life organized by faith was perceived as naive.

Indeed, Fr. Kieser embraced enthusiastically positions which, in context, seemed vulnerable to cynicism or ridicule, as in his tireless efforts on behalf of the Humanitas Awards, which paid cold, hard cash to recognize writing in television and film that exalted values beyond the merely material.

His hospitality to the secular was Fr. Kieser's strategy. Fr. Kieser was a Paulist priest. Saint Paul, an outcast among the Apostles, found his life among the unbelievers, bringing them to the New Covenant. St. Paul said, "If we live, we live in Christ, and if we die, we die in Christ."

Fr. Kieser believed it.

He was unafraid--if it would get their attention--to embody contradictions for those whom fear had brought up short of faith. He wanted to bring them the last part of their journey, to show them God's offered hand, and he knew he had to find them at the point where they had lost their way.

Several months after I'd received the Humanitas Award at a banquet at Universal City--and spent the money buying a racehorse--Fr. Kieser served me lunch in his tiny apartment in Westwood.

On this occasion, the fare had been reduced to bologna cold-cuts and tuna fish mixed with Kraft mayonnaise, and Fr. Kieser asked me to teach without compensation a seminar for aspiring writers.

In the ensuing years, once he'd gotten to know me better, he also asked, in a nice way, for his prize money back.

Last week I sat beside Fr. Kieser as he suffered through his final illness. Barely conscious, he bore his pain like a restless, sweet-spirited child, and in that curious blurring of what is given and what is received, I took his hand and held it.

A memorial service and tribute to Father Ellwood Kieser will be held Oct. 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Writers Guild of America West, 135 S. Doheny, Beverly Hills. The priest, producer and president of the Humanitas Prize organization, died at 71 on Sept. 16 of cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

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