Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Taking Care of Our Own"

I had the privilege of attending an event at the MPTF's Motion Picture Country Home this past weekend. The Motion Picture and Television Fund has been around for ninety years. It was started in 1921 as a Relief Fund, brought into being by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, D. W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin for down-on-their luck movie workers, with the motto "Taking Care Of Our Own" ...

Today, the MPTF is a key part of the motion picture industry's health care system with seven health clinics in Southern California (or eight, if you count the clinic now open for business on DreamWorks Animation's Glendale campus), and forty acres of retirement housing and facilities off Mulholland Drive in Woodland Hills.

In addition to medical facilities, the Fund offers financial and counseling services to motion industry workers and their families. The Woodland Hills campus offers both assisted and independent retirement living and the Elder Connection providing counseling and referrals. Day care is available at the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation Children's Center in West L.A.

Over the last few years, the Fund has gone through a rough patch. There was a lot of controversy surrounding the badly-handled annoucement in January 2009 of the intent to close the MPTF hospital and long-term care center, which led to the resignation of the Fund's CEO who had pushed for the closures. In February 2011 the Fund announced it was arranging with Providence Health Services to keep the long-term care center open.

The Fund is coming up with new ways to be of assistance. They've announced Health Wheels, a 33-foot professional mobile health center with two well-equipped private examination rooms, designed to travel to studio lots, sets and locations where workers are often too busy to take care of their health needs. The Bridge to Health program offers office visits for a flat $25 fee, designed for industry workers with no health insurance or hospital-only coverage.

What should be obvious from the above is, the MPTF is a cornerstone for folks who work ... and struggle to survive ... in the motion picture business. It provides quality, low-cost health care. It offers shelter to industry veterans who can no longer fuction on their own and have nobody else to turn to. It is, in short, a life line for literally thousands of people.

For many years, the MPTF's major source of funding was voluntary, automatic payroll deductions. But with the diversification of Hollywood employers, fewer people working on studio lots, and the unwillingness of many studio payroll departments to handle the deductions, there's a strong need for the Fund to directly solicit contributions.

The Guild is now reaching out to our members and anyone interested in the needs of workers in our industry, to encourage contributions to the Fund and its programs. (Consider this post our first step in that regard.) You can start by making a direct contribution (be sure to indicate you're a member of Local 839). You can also check to see if you work for a company that allows for automatic contributions from your weekly paychecks, and download a form to authorize deductions.

For anybody who is thinking: "Yeah, great. Worthy cause and all that, but I'll never need it," let me offer the following: During my first ten years in the industry, I lived three doors down from a Disney veteran named Bob who went to work at the Mouse House in 1939 and retired from the place forty-two years later, when he was sixty-five. He raised his kids, buried his wife, and grew old and feeble in the same Burbank residence. But when he was no longer able to maintain the house or take care of himself, the MPTF's retirement center in Woodland Hills was waiting for him. The cottages there provided him shelter, and the staff (and residents) fed him, gave him companionship, and ultimately nursed him until his death at ninety-five.

After a lifetime of work, the Motion Picture and Television Fund was there to take care of Bob and provide him a comfortable and dignified old age. There are few industries in our country that do that, but this one does. That's why it's important, very important, to see that this ninety-year tradition continues. Please give what you can, even if it's only a couple of dollars per week.


Anonymous said...

I've had the privilege to work with, John Sparey, an animator who retired at the Motion Picture & Television Fund.

He continued to draw even after he suffered a stroke that upset his vision. His time was spent working in the closed-circuit television station where he animated 2 Shorts. He was a lovely and talented man and he received great care at the home.

Short Documentary about John:

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