Poet and Motion Picture Home Activist Sharmagne Remembers Her Husband, Richard Sylbert

“It all goes so quickly, do you realize there are streams we’ve never investigated, rivers we’ve never rippled and salmon we’ve never thought of catching?”

“He died in my arms,” Native American poet and my Facebook friend Sharmagne just told me, recalling husband Richard Sylbert's passing on March 23, 2002.

Dick Sylbert was the Oscar-winning production designer and art director who won for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf “and “Dick Tracy” and had garnered five nominations. Sharmagne, author of “La Kalima,” produced a star-studded tribute for the late designer.

"Bob Evans was in the middle of a press screening for his latest film, "The Kid Stays in the Picture" and took a break to speak. Ed Begley Jr. turned down work to be the MC," Sharmagne said.

Apparently Jack Nicholson, who starred in "Reds and Chinatown" for which Sylbert did production design said he would speak and eulogize Richard at the memorial if the Lakers weren't playing.

Sylbert spent his last months at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills. 

“Richard had spent 73 days at home during his last year in and out of hospitals and we didn’t feel he was getting the care he needed and deserved at Cedars Sinai so we moved him to the MPCH,” Sharmagne said.

When this home was almost closed by the Board of Directors due to an alleged lack of funding, always-the-activist and warrior Sharmagne Leland St. John Sylbert joined the picket line to keep it open. “They reopened the home to accommodate Nancy Reagan, but they were evicting others,” Sharmagne said.

Additionally, in an act that could allege intentional infliction of emotional distress, the Motion Picture Home placed a fake studio prop cop car that was painted to resemble an Los Angeles Police Dept. cruiser in the parking lot, creating an intimidating effect on the elderly residents who knew they were facing 'eviction' from the property.

Ken Scherer, the director of the MPCH, was quoted as saying the idea of the prop police car was "wrong" — which surprised families. In 2009 TheWrap got behind the plight of the Long Term Care Unit and fought the administration and board of directors. The license was renewed because the home still had residents who refused to leave. The Long Term Care unit remains open at this time.

Dick Sylbert was born in Brooklyn. He attended Temple's Tyler School of Art and then realized that there was a future in production design. Dick went on to be the art director and production designer for: “The Graduate," “Rosemary's Baby,” “Carlito's Way,” “Manchurian Candidate,” “Baby Doll,” “Splendor in the Grass,” “The Pawnbroker,” “Reds,” “Shampoo,” “Catch 22."

In 1975, Bob Evans named Dick Sylbert Chief of Production of Paramount Studios where he green-lighted “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” in which I played Marvella. 

I almost fainted during the filming of the orgy with Tuesday Weld and Diane Keaton. We had to hold positions too long. On a break Brooks offered to massage my naked body — face down. He had been considering me for Weld's part, but had wanted to see my test for “The Fan Club” in which there was nudity. Purportedly it had been lost at Beacons though Raquel Welch saw it at a party at Peter Guber’s and exclaimed, “amazing what an actress won’t do to become a sex symbol."

Sylbert left Paramount and returned to his first love, production design, for the “Cotton Club,” “Frances,” “Tequilas Sunrise,” “Red Corner.” The studio wanted films like “Bad News Bears” while Sylbert had purchased the film rights to more artistic and thought-provoking movies such as Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire” and “A River Runs Through It,” but the studio rejected his ideas, which were 30 years ahead of their time.

Today Sharmagne, who created and is the editor-in-chief of the poetry magazine Quill and Parchment, spends her time between her home in the Hollywood Hills and the Brown Hackle Lodge, her seven-and-a-half acre fly-fishing retreat in Arlington, Washington.

On his death bed Dick Sylbert reminisced about this secret pleasure he and Sharmagne shared, “It all goes so quickly. Do you realize there are streams we’ve never investigated, rivers we’ve never rippled and salmon we’ve never thought of catching.”

During the last half hour of his life, Sharmagne cradled him in her arms and whispered the name of every river and lake they had ever fished. He went by the river.