Sam Rubin Saved Lives | Appreciation

The late KTLA journalist shined a light on residents of The Motion Picture Home when help was hard to find

A man with light-toned skin strikes a dynamic pose, wearing a suit and holding a microphone with "KTLA 5" on the side, next to a cameraman holding a camera pointing in a different direction.
Sam Rubin on Jan. 19, 2018 (Getty Images)

Sam Rubin, arguably the most respected and beloved entertainment journalist in the industry, taught me something that changed my life.

Many years ago, Sam hired me to design his first website, when he had a slot on Los Angeles’ KLSX-FM. Sam followed Howard Stern and was in the crosshairs of some forgotten radio guy who wanted his time slot. His name was Frosty Stillwell, and his churlish on-air jabs at Sam became a major annoyance to not only Sam, but to those of us who were fans of Sam’s show. But Frosty inspired something more insidious, and as his webmaster I saw the hordes of trolls who would send putrid comments to Sam.

I was embarrassed for Sam. I remember asking him, “How do you put up with this? What are we going to do about this?” Sam smiled at me, leaned back in his chair at a long table shared by crew, writers and producers at KTLA, and said “Punch up, not down.” 

Wow. Just freaking wow. That was powerful. He then cocked his head, motioning to me that our meeting was over, and I walked out forever changed.

It was soon thereafter that The Motion Picture Home, a retirement community that featured a state-of-the-art hospital, managed and assisted care bungalows, a long term care center for the most elderly, and the fabled “Harry’s Haven” – named after Kirk Douglas’ father and a testament to the Douglas family’s care and concern for Alzheimer’s patients — was on the chopping block. The hospital’s ICU was shuttered, and family members of long term care patients were notified to look for other digs for our parents, wives and husbands who were in the sterling care of the Motion Picture and Television Fund. We were told that there was no money left to fund long term care. We knew otherwise. So did Sam.

The families rallied and I cut my teeth as an activist by taking to a new entertainment news platform called TheWrap to lob verbal bombs at the studio bigwigs who were playing hide the salami with the truth.  I looked for Sam’s number and called him.  I gave him the elevator pitch on what was going on.  His response was “how can I help?”

Wow, how he helped. These were in the days when Michaela Pereira was co-anchor with Carlos Amezcua. KTLA Morning News was hot and had huge viewership numbers (as it still does now). I heard that the ex-CEO of the Motion Picture Home did a classic spit take when he watched KTLA reporting our story. Phone lines between DreamWorks, Paramount and Sony (where the deniers of care held forth) heated up. I mean, everyone watched KTLA. 

Sam took the elderly residents under his wing, so to speak. He was very fond of past Screen Actors Guild vice president and actress Anne-Marie Johnson.  Anne-Marie was a firebrand who commanded a loyal following in the Screen Actors Guild. The morning that he invited her and actor Scott Bakula to report on the dire situation, there resulted a shift in the public’s perception of what this impending closure of motion picture industry long term care meant: If it can happen to them, it can happen to us.

Punch up, not down. 

Sam gave those of us fighting for the care of The Motion Picture Home residents something valuable: legitimacy. We soon attracted the support of SAG-AFTRA under the leadership of Ken Howard. That would not have happened had we not gotten major attention. When you were on Sam’s news, that was “major attention.”

Sam helped us save motion picture and television industry long term care. Even when we were unable to get an A-Lister to tell our story, we had a journalistic A-Lister who didn’t abandon the elderly, who explained terms like “transfer trauma” and “elder abuse” to his viewers. Had it not been for Sam, we would have had to find other arrangements for our parents. Sam gave us a broadcast platform like Sharon Waxman gave us a digital voice that reached every single entertainment industry employee. In doing that, lives were saved – and Sam rejoiced with us when we won this battle. Long term care flourishes today under the leadership of Motion Picture Home CEO Bob Beitcher.

As happy an ending as that was, when I heard the news that Sam had passed, I was stunned. I knew Sam as more than an entertainment journalist – he was a guy “who didn’t suffer fools gladly.” He fought against anti-Semitism and all forms of systemic racism and cultural intolerance. His mother was the last child to be picked up at London’s Victoria Station during Kindertransport, a secretive rescue effort that saw Jewish children transported out of Nazi-controlled territories. 

I met Sam for the last time at the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum, with his sister who was conducting awareness tours along the Kindertransport route. The last text I got from him urged me to keep him in the loop on my non-profit’s fight against anti-Semitism. 

He left us too soon. I still need him – as much for his influence as his rock-steady focus and empathy for those who are also needy. We all need to punch up, and not down.  Right Sam?

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