Remembering Daniel Quinn, Actor and Reluctant Hero of the Motion Picture Home (Guest Blog)

Actor fought for motion picture industry elderly long-term care

I looked down at the person who was once Daniel Quinn. This reluctant hero, infamous for his rage against the machine that controlled motion picture and television industry long-term care, now lay silently. The only noise was the whir and click of the life support system that kept him alive. Because Daniel was part of the group that fought for motion picture and elderly long-term care, I was used to seeing Daniel in hospital rooms and residential care facilities. But not now and not like this.

The heart is a muscle of grit and irony. The same heart that did not fail the elderly had now failed Daniel. I remembered the last time I saw Daniel in a hospital room. My mother lay dying, and Daniel had arrived first to be there. I wasn’t surprised to see him. Daniel was at his best when he was taking care of others. And on that afternoon, I cried in his arms, and was comforted by “It’s OK my brother, she’s in a better place.” Daniel’s priority was care — whether it was that of his mother or his friend’s mothers. Daniel loved the elderly, and they loved him back.

During those difficult days when we were a fixture at The Motion Picture Home, Daniel reminded us of fundamental truths that were central to the legacy of the Motion Picture and Television Fund — our common sense of humanity and the need to “take care of our own.” Those truths were undeniable, and because of Daniel’s unflinching commitment to the tenets of care — an industry got together and arrived at a solution that continues to care for our most frail and elderly motion picture and television workers.

This was the Daniel Quinn that I knew. As an actor he was a chameleon, morphing into roles that demanded a glimpse into the underbelly of human darkness or the exuberant innocence of mental frailty. Daniel could play a serial killer or a soccer dad. His greatest role however was as a supporter of the elderly, and he had a lot of fans. However, as an actor can remove the makeup and leave the set, Daniel never left those at the Motion Picture Home whose friendship extended past the issues that brought him to that campus. He would continue to stop by and schmooze with the nurses, and interact with the residents. His commitment to the elderly continued after the glare of publicity went away. While many of us thought it was time to “move on,” Daniel “moved in.” The relationships that he forged were real, and his phone number was on speed dial for many residents and care givers.

I remember having lunch with Daniel shortly after his mother died. There had been an issue with his mother’s care that infuriated Daniel, and I was thinking that a pint of the local brew might smooth things over. Daniel came into the restaurant all smiles. The rage that I heard that morning was gone. Instead of conflict, Daniel got compassion – and he received it from a source that surprised the hell out of me.

Bob Beitcher, the newly appointed CEO of the Motion Picture Home, had met with Daniel personally and addressed the issues that flipped Daniel out. We had come a long way, and certainly Beitcher’s intervention and concern created a bond between them, as he described when I asked him for a comment:

“For some time, Daniel and I were convinced that we were on opposing sides of an issue that was urgently critical to the both of us. After a while, we realized we actually had similar interests. We shared a passion for the legacy of MPTF and its mission for the industry.” Bob continued, “Thanks to the attention that loving family members like Daniel brought to the issue, and the creativity and commitment of the MPTF Board, the situation worked itself out. I learned to admire Daniel’s fierce loyalty to his mother. I deeply admired him for that and grieved with him when his mother, Rosemary, finally passed. I’d like to think that he considered me a friend. I certainly thought that way about him.”

Daniel was a child of Milwaukee. His dairy farm upbringing and father’s job with Pabst was a heady brew that usually resulted in beer salesmen, Teamster executives, and die hard Packers fans — not actors. The acting bug struck him at the age of 8, when he appeared as Kurt in “The Sound of Music.”

As a teenager, Daniel traveled to London to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre School at Stratford-Upon-Avon. His pursuit of his art also embraced classical dance. The strict discipline that was required helped to focus Daniel. He refined his talents, and developed a keen sense of timing, affect, and he moved around the stage like liquid. His passion for acting is shown in nearly every role. His compassion for humanity allowed him to reveal facets of a character that lesser actors either ignored or were not aware of. That empathy created a bond between Daniel and his mother, along with all of our parents who were part of a greater community.

John Schneider shared many experiences with Daniel. Schneider was the first call that Daniel made when issues at The Motion Picture home threatened long term care. John remembers Daniel:

“Daniel Quinn saved lives. Plain and simple. The Motion Picture Home would be a parking lot if it weren’t for his heart, intellect and tenacity. He is my hero.”

Those words were echoed by others who knew and worked with Daniel:

“I was very fond of Daniel. He was such a sweet guy with a great generosity of spirit who always wore his heart on his sleeve. His love for his mother and his commitment to insuring her care and the care of others was unwavering. He will be sorely missed.” – Ken Howard, President, SAG-AFTRA

“Daniel was an actor’s actor. As a film composer, I respected Daniel for his craft. As a friend, I admired Daniel for his commitment to others and the love that he gave to those around him. He passed on too soon, but his legend will live on, especially in the eyes of the elderly who he loved so much” – Sharon Farber, Composer

“I met Daniel at a time in my life when I needed to meet Daniel. I had gone through over 3 years of caring for my mother, at home, while she was on life support. Daniel’s love and dedication of those who were unable to fend for themselves goes unmatched. His passing is unfair. He was finally getting back to concentrating on his life. But now, all those he helped, in their final days, especially his mother, are welcoming him with open arms and compassionately caring for him, as he cared for them.” – Anne Marie Johnson, Actor

“Daniel was like an innocent child when he was around his Mom and the other elderly residents of the Motion Picture Home. He recognized the importance and the simple magnificence of the place, and the dignity it provided to a parent when age and sickness can easily rob them of that dignity. He fought with every ounce of strength to make sure the Home would be there for future generations, and his spirit and love for the elderly will fill the halls…” – Andy Suser, Saving The Lives of Our Own

“We met Daniel Quinn in January of 2009. He was one of three extraordinary people who enrolled Katherine and me in a fight to save our loved ones from eviction from the Motion Picture Television Home. Daniel wasn’t easy — at times he was impossible, but we loved him for the passion and commitment he brought to the cause of Saving The Lives of Our Own. Through thick and thin, triumph and setback Daniel’s heart was always in the right place and we will never forget him.” – Dean Butler and Katherine Cannon Butler – Actors, Saving The Lives of Our Own

So now what? Most of what happened during our fight for motion picture and television industry elder care has evaporated from our minds, and for good reason. It’s the positive result that we now see, and the memories of those who passed in the bosom of their industry that we remember. When Daniel stood up and shook his fist, he inspired others. When Daniel refused to leave his mother’s side during her final days, he inspired others. When Daniel picked up the pieces of his career and refused to be waylaid by a system of indifference, he inspired others. And now, outside of Daniel’s hospital room, was a close knit grouping of friends and family, headed by his sister Colleen and brother-in-law John. Each one greeting another with warm embraces. Did we know each other? Not really, but through our love for Daniel we seemed to create a bond in that ICU family waiting room that will carry us forward as friends.

Daniel was the campfire that we gathered around. His exuberance was contagious. We warmed our hearts in the glow of his soul. With Daniel, cantankerous was an art form that was fueled by Guinness and diffused in the wee hours of gathering car keys and singing Irish songs.

If anyone knew Daniel, it was Nancy Biederman. Nancy organized the coalition of concerned relatives of Motion Picture Home residents, Saving The Lives Of Our Home. The yin and yang of Nancy and Daniel’s relationship forged a bond that did indeed save lives. We followed their leadership, even though it often took hairpin turns. They operated at different levels, and you could see the admiration and love that both had for each other. There could not have been any other outcome for the elderly. Daniel’s tenacity was metered by Nancy’s coolness. Nancy’s sense of the political was often mitigated by Daniel’s sense of urgency.

Nancy best summed up our beloved friend, Daniel Quinn:

“With his unbridled passion for love and life, Daniel was fiercely devoted to his family and to the residents and the historic mission of the Motion Picture and Television Fund (MPTF). This talented and dedicated young man left us far too soon.”

Had Daniel succumbed to death at the ripe old age of 90, we might still be saying that he left us far too soon. His loved The Green Bay Packers and Irish music. He gave great hugs and would cry with you at your own loss. He was never short on love, and I love him for that. We all do.

When Nancy remembered Daniel, she concluded with this, and there is no better way to end this tribute for our beautiful friend.

“In our hearts and in our memories, Daniel Quinn will forever live on.”