I was going to toss the envelope I received on Jan. 15. Even with the official logo of the Motion Picture Home shining from the envelope, I was half expecting a brochure on the Importance of Getting Your Flu Shot or a reminder that Movie Night was Thursday. The last thing I expected was a manifesto that attempted to end motion picture and television industry long-term care via a thinly veiled smokescreen of lies, false promises, and intimidation — signed by a soon-to-be-ousted miscreant with a medical degree.
Jeffrey Katzenberg would later characterize this letter as part of a communications mistake. “We give ourselves a failing grade. This has not been communicated well.”
There are those who believe that this letter was a death sentence, or that it was a knife, twisting in the back of an elderly spouse who received it on behalf of their infirmed and incapacitated loved one. The letter, sponsored and supported by MPTF clergy, management and those who were to care for our elderly was "Propofil on paper," administered by those we trusted blindly and implicitly with our loved ones' care. Unlike the milky substance that was to end the life of a popular entertainer, this was far more insidious.
This poison took many months to fully manifest, and those months presented symptoms of despair, fright and paranoia — all targeted at those who could least survive it.
To some, the letter was a wake-up call. Those who we blindly followed had been plotting privately for years, out of earshot of the families and those in the industry who would be most affected. We would never make that mistake again. In the last two years we've come to terms with our idol worship and have recognized that these stars, movers and shakers, and movie moguls are human like us — and in some cases, subhuman.
Days after receiving The Letter, the MPTF held a town-hallish meeting that went terribly wrong for them. Heading a number of meetings was Dr. David Tillman, the signatory to the letter. In the meeting I attended, Tillman let it be known that no amount of money would save the LTC. He was adamant, and when actor David Carradine strode up the aisle and took the microphone from Tillman, you could see in Tillman's lizard-like eyes that he knew what was coming. He cowered as Carradine blasted forth with an invective-laced diatribe that created a platform for the protests that were to come.
God bless David Carradine. I wish he would have lived to see this day, two years later. David's bile bore fruit. His tirade of "we're not gonna take it" was a clarion call to me, and many others. We took his lead, and protest we did.
We organized, we joined forces. We shined a light on the issues facing the closure over facebook, on the Internet, and in traditional media. We retained a high profile, extremely powerful lawfirm in Girardi + Keese. In a conversation with a senior Motion Picture Home staff member, I thought I had made an impact and compelling argument for this individual to tend to his flock and not his handlers. He complained to me personally that his resolve was dependent on "who signed his check."
I knew then that who we were dealing with were not care-givers, they instead were care-takers who would clock their compassion in and out every day, their renumeration a pat on the head or invitation to a motion picture gala along with their paycheck. They surrounded themselves in excuses while mocking the growing movement whose only aim was to save the long-term care facility.
Through threats of lay-offs, rumors and gossip — the real caregivers who lovingly fed and bathed my mother, and my friends mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives — rose above it all and "weathered the storm." These are the true heroes who being caught between a rock and a hard place — made sure that it was about the residents.
It wasn't long before receiving The Letter that TheWrap blew aside the curtains of their financial smokescreen. Interviewing Katzenberg and Michael Douglas, Wrap journalist Andrew Gumble was to hear Douglas mutter to Katzenberg, "What the hell have you gotten me into?"
The MPTF countered our accusations with more intimidation of the residents. A fake LAPD squad car was placed in full view of residents in the parking lot, and then hastily removed when we called them on it. Security measures meant more for a Solzhenitsyn gulag novel were employed at the facility with an iron hand. Hired-gun social workers had to be admonished not to approach the elderly and would often confuse the already befuddled and apprehensive residents, urging them in syrupy and saccharine voices to "get ready to move" and "have you found a new facility yet."
Some residents awoke during the night, crying out — their security and peace of mind ripped from them. One called her daughter, in a panic that her daughter had failed to pay her rent, and now she owed $10 million — the figure that the MPTF originally said was its annual shortfall. Another elderly gentleman, who was suffering from cancer, died shortly after an altercation with a social services clone — not from cancer but from a heart attack. This was a fairly robust man with a familiar name.
And then there was one old woman, whose daughter told me that she wanted to return back to the Motion Picture Home after her transfer. The next day the daughter told me she refused to take food. Two weeks later she was dead.
Now according to the MPTF, nobody has to move. Why was that message not delivered at the outset?
We were to learn a very dark term: "Transfer trauma."
Cut to over a year later when Bob Beitcher took the helm. His response was "we f—ed up." Hardly a comforting summation for those whose lives had been turned upside down. However base his remarks were, it perfectly summed up the paradigm that the disgraced Tillman and his henchman Seth Ellis tried to foist not only on the MPTF board, but on the entire industry. As Beitcher works now to resuscitate the future of Long Term Care as he claims he will do, we'll be watching.
So much more has happened. We have forged many relationships with working class actors, tradesmen, and Teamsters as we stand united in refusing to let the future of motion picture healthcare be raped by a handful of millionaires and moguls.
Two years later the LTC is still functioning. The working class actors that I mentioned have done the heavy lifting, filling the auspicious void that A-listers have created. Funny thing is, at this point … I say f— 'em.
We hung onto the promise of George Clooney stepping in to save the day. That didn't happen. We're used to broken promises, but that was a painful slap in the face to the families that were bolstered by his empty promises as published in TheWrap:
“I have every interest in making sure we don’t forget whose shoulders we stand on,” he said. “If it means hosting a fundraiser, I’ll do that.“
It is noted that Clooney's global reach is working to save millions of souls in other parts of the world. We all applaud these efforts, and pray that his mission in Darfur brings hope and peace to that part of the world. But, what of his words regarding the issues with our own elderly? In our own world, the tragedies that we have seen over the last two years is a genocide that to this day leaves some residents marked. Their bellies may not be distended, but their mental health could very well be. The MPTF has robbed these elders of their security like a pedophile robs a child of innocence.
What did happen in the last two years is the magic that movies are made of. The classic David and Goliath story — in this case, the stone hurling forth from the slings of the elderly, landing a tad bit below the MPTF's midsection, causing them to crumple and cave. We will continue to fight to keep the doors open, and hopefully soon to admit more into this wonderful example of long term care hosted by an industry that shows more care than those who control it deserve.
Please join us at www.savingthelivesofourown.org or on Facebook — Saving the Lives of Our Own group.