Those who made a difference, effected social change, saved lives, and shared a cigar with me along the way
As I was sitting in the darkened studio at KTLA News the other day, while Anne-Marie Johnson and Scott Bakula waxed eloquently with Sam Rubin on the latest development at the Motion Picture Home, my ears piqued when I heard Anne-Marie praise Sam for his efforts on behalf of Saving the Lives of Our Own, and recognized him for "saving lives."
Recognition is all too often an afterthought, especially in this industry. Names are left on the cutting-room floor of one's memory, having lost their chance in the limelight forever once you step down from the podium.
It's the Monday morning quarterbacking where hindsight is a lonely feeling.
Bloggers however forget nothing, and usually effuse in a diarrheic diatribe where too much is often said. Quantity often trumps quality, and if this blogger is guilty of anything, it would be that his stream-of-conscious sometimes laid waste to those who were more friend than foe.
So for this reason, I'd like this blog to be about those who made a difference, effected social change, saved lives and shared a cigar with me along the way. In the putrid clouds of embargo'd smoke, many friendships were forged, and partnerships struck — all for the MPTF residents and the future of long-term care.
Actor and SAG uber-member Bill Smitrovich has become one of my closest friends. As an ally, you could have no better man. Smitty was at one of our first rallys. After the Facebook group was formed, I started a pattern of celebrity stalking that guilted many well known people into joining our ranks. With Smitty, it was easy — he simply said "I'll see ya there."
At the rally, I told a friend to look for a guy that appeared to be a four-star general in civilian clothes. He found him, and over a couple of Romeo and Julietas, Smitty sussed the situation immediately and knew what had to be done. He invited fellow rabble rouser Daniel Quinn and I to make a presentation to the SAG Senior Performers Committee.
It was his prescience that opened the SAG doors to us. Two days later we were sitting at a conference table that had at its head Ken Howard. The earth began to move.
SAG started to get it in gear, and at the forefront was then SAG National Vice President Anne Marie Johnson — one of the most intelligent, and creatively cunning women I know. That's her yin. Her yang is so full of compassion that there is little room for other salient and human qualities. She is what she is, and we could have not had a more dynamic voice.
The windows rattled in the Century Plaza Hotel one night as her voice boomed down on the MPTF with a fire and brimstone speech that curdled the truffle froth on the oysters being served to the likes of Jeff Katzenberg and his A-list ilk. Like Smitty and so many others, Anne-Marie bridged the line of contention that was SAG politics and kept her eye on the goal. Daniel Quinn brought Anne-Marie and then SAG president Alan Rosenberg into play early on. Anne-Marie's brilliance went supernova, and we are still blinking from the glare of its humanity.
Peter Samuelson is an unsung hero of our movement. Years ago I had worked with Peter at the Starlight Foundation, a charity that grants wishes to critically and terminally ill children. I called Peter to ask his advice during the nascent stages of our movement. I was counting on Peter's years of being an advocate for those without a voice. He gave children hope and the homeless homes.
He then gave us a gift that was in fact a turning point to our mission of returning long-term care. It was as if God had put me in Peter's office. We were given a movie that Peter produced –"The Man in the Chair" — for our use. We screened it, and the industry "got it."
We were off to the races.
My musical demi-gods of my youth, Keith Emerson from Emerson, Lake & Palmer came forward with music and a narrative of his own challenges caring for his elderly mother that people still speak of today. Patrick Moraz, of Yes and the Moody Blues opened up his entire catalog of compositions to me, one of which called "Flags" became the soundtrack for a video that Daniel and I created of the residents.
"Whatever you need, Richard" that was the mantra of these wonderful artists and others who stood toe to toe with the residents and their protectors.
Daniel Quinn, who had the most to lose from this battle, put everything on the table — his career, his relationships, his life — in order to do what was right for his mother Rosemary, and the industry. Daniel brought in the Teamsters, Daniel was ringing the bell at SAG days after the letters of eviction were distributed.
Daniel and I fought and argued in the beginning, yet when my mother lay dying in a hospital room after being taken from the Motion Picture Home, I found Daniel to be there waiting for me. At my mother's funeral, Daniel delivered a eulogy that showed the passion of not only his resolve for the elderly but as a representative of the many SAG people in the audience, his strength was palpable. He referred to me on that day as his brother, and I am. I love him.
There are so many others. Professional caregivers, actors, family members. My new friends Trey King, Michele Santopietro and Fred Zaidman. When the residents needed their strength, they were there. The heavens would open up and pour down rain, yet they would not falter. Michele's beauty all but obscured a hard as nails resolute stance that took no prisoners. She was on it, and God help anyone who was on the wrong side of the argument.
Trey offered a quiet strength, and a firm resolve that was unwavering. And Freddy, he knew the ins and outs of the issue maybe better than anyone. He looked after the welfare of a famous star of the Golden Years. He was her knight, her protector. Good job, Freddy. You are a stand up guy.
Myra and Myla, Cheryl, Bronnie, Karen, Jim and Barbara who would brave the drive from San Diego to be at a one-hour meeting. Nila, whose father's passing brought in a full fledged military color guard to the Motion Picture Home. That was spirit, and I'll never forget the pomp and circumstance that was paid to Nila's dad in the little Henry Ford Chapel. Then there's Joan of Arc, the protector of and advocate for Larry of Birmingham, a shining star in the Motion Picture Home's crown.
I drew strength from Lil whose care for her husband set an example for all of us, and Pat whose years of volunteer work was abruptly terminated, because, as I believe, her allegiance to her husband Hal trumped the directive that sought to remove him and others.
As great as these people are, there were relationships that could become flammable in an instant.
Andy Suser and Nancy Biederman founded our movement. I didn't have a problem with Andy. Like Nancy, he was a force for change, and as an added plus he seemed to "get" me. As an old hippie, I was a fan of Abbie Hoffman, and I took on that role in the group. I cared not who I offended, lambasted, or chastised — as long as they had it coming.
If I was the one lobbing Molotov cocktails through the windows of the Berkeley branch of Bank of America, it was Andy who advised me to first empty them of gasoline. Andy was a big brother, confidant and sage rolled into one. I could have listened more to his advice, but I've always had respect and admiration for him. Andy never wavered from assuring me that there would be a positive outcome, even when things were at their worst.
On the other hand…
Nancy Biederman and I were like chalk and cheese. I always thought that Nancy considered me to be the bad seed. I was out for blood, and Nancy was out for change. As late as a few weeks ago I called her out publicly on some issues. As Nancy is wont to do, she looked at me, shook her head and moved onto the next issue at hand. I was spitting nails in the parking lot of the Motion Picture Home, venting my frustration to Andy.
Nancy "Beitcherman" might have been the savior to the residents but to me she was becoming a huge pain in the ass. Things weren't moving fast enough for me. The residents were languishing in an environment that for all of the MPTF's assurances was going nowhere. I was convinced that this was all a sham, a ploy brought upon us by the MPTF and swallowed hook, line and sinker by Nancy.
With each blog that set a discordant animosity and impatience at the pace of change, Nancy would then have to field a day's worth of phone calls from those complaining about the tone, the rancor, the blogger. I was pissed and wondered just what the hell was going on with this self-righteous beeyatch.
Then, on the night that I received the L.A. Press Club's Award for the blog, I remember standing by the display of memorabilia, wondering if I could fit a Beach Boys-signed 45 into my pocket while no one was watching, when in walked Nancy and Andy. Were they there for me? It certainly wasn't for the dinner or entertainment.
I had forgotten that Nancy didn't deal in personalities, she dealt in priorities. She came up to me and gave me a hug, I felt the cold sharpness of a Motion Picture Fund button on her lapel, where there once was a Saving the Lives of Our Own gold ribbon. I looked at her, and she looked up at me and said "Don't freak out, Richard."
That's when it dawned on me. Nancy was the only one who could bridge the animosity and effect the change. It could not have been done without her leadership, and those that followed her lead. A bitter pill to swallow, but like most medicine, it did a lot to heal. As I've said before, I'd follow Nancy to the gates of hell. Hopefully that won't be necessary. I hope that the MPTF board recognizes that she is the future of the MPTF, and behaves accordingly.
Now hopefully she'll re-friend me on Facebook.