Why the Motion Picture & Television Fund is a family affair
by Fredda Johnson
When writer-producer-director Nunnally Johnson came to Hollywood in 1932 and started making contributions to the Motion Picture Relief Fund, he had no idea how the beginning of that relationship would resonate through three generations. I’m sure though that my father-in-law would be thrilled and proud to know that his family has continued to give back to an industry that treated him and us so well.
My first introduction to what became MPTF (Motion Picture & Television Fund) was through my mother-in-law, Dorris, who later in life became an active volunteer at the Cinema Glamour Shop, the now defunct thrift shop for the Fund, but it wasn’t until many years later that I fully understood the breadth of services that MPTF provided.
In 2004, it was time for Dorris, who was nearing 90-years-old to move out of her home and into a more social environment. She soon was living at the MPTF Wasserman Campus, a special residential community for people who worked in the industry, where she had stimulating activities, camaraderie, and most importantly, amazing care. I learned on a daily basis just how special “The Home” was, not only because of the meaningful programs, beautiful grounds, wonderful caretakers and medical staff, but because of all the dedicated and selfless volunteers.
When Dorris passed away, my husband Scott and I not only mourned her, but also the loss of coming to the campus and visiting with other residents. We couldn’t leave.
Knowing that movie night was as much a highlight for many of the residents as it had been for Dorris, we continued to wheel our friends to and from the on-site Louis B. Mayer Theater often visiting with them afterward. Residents who knew Nunnally and Dorris (Dorris had been in several Ford movies, most notably as Rosasharn in Grapes of Wrath), would share things we otherwise wouldn’t have known — talk about priceless!
Our son Jack, was also smitten with coming to the campus where he had spent so much time with his grandmother. During summer breaks from majoring in film at Wesleyan University, he interned at the MPTF Media Center where he shot and edited all sorts of pieces. For him, the magic was the generosity of the many residents who shared their immense body of knowledge, kindness, and humor. He’s currently working as a film editor and I believe his experience at MPTF was instrumental in him following that path.In 2010, I joined the Volunteer Guild Board that governs the oldest MPTF volunteer group. This group has been enriching the lives of people in the industry both on and off campus since 1966. Our volunteers are multi-faceted — they work on content in the Media Center, feed residents who cannot do so themselves, work as pool and fitness buddies, lead poetry and writing groups, staff the library, take residents shopping, and so much more.
The same year I joined the Volunteer Guild Board, Bob Beitcher took the reins as MPTF’s CEO. He infused the organization with new energy and purpose. He recognized the importance and impact volunteers had on this unique community. He also knew first hand how meaningful volunteering can be in one’s life.
I bumped into Bob recently at the Saban Center for Health and Wellness, where he was making his usual rounds visiting with some of the residents as they worked out in the gym. I was fortunate enough to get a few minutes with Bob and asked him about his thoughts on volunteerism and what makes the entertainment industry so special.
Fredda Johnson: Bob, I know you’ve been a part of MPTF long before becoming CEO.
Bob Beitcher: Yes, for more than 10 years, first as a donor and then a board member. I was asked to help MPTF with film development and post-production services on a pro bono basis while I was running CFI, a large, independent film lab in Hollywood. I later discovered that one of MPTF’s biggest industry supporters happens to be one of my best industry friends, Gary Martin, former President of Production at Sony. Gary and I got to talking about why he and his family are so generous to the organization. That discussion changed my perspective on what MPTF really means to the industry, and that’s a big reason why I first got involved.
FJ: As a volunteer, I’ve seen MPTF’s role in the industry and how it touches the lives of so many people.
BB: There is no other organization more tuned in to the needs of people working at every level in our industry. I’ve seen first-hand all of the good and at times life-affirming things MPTF is able to do thanks to the generosity of those who support it.
FJ: I see you’re wearing your “I’m MPTF” t-shirt today. What does that mean to you?
BB: For the past 30 years, over the span of my professional career in this business, I’ve seen tremendous changes that have transformed the industry. One thing that perseveres is a sense of “family” that defines people who work in entertainment. To say “I’m MPTF” acknowledges this sense of family, and points to a spirit of giving in the industry. We’re all in this together, and at times things can be pretty tumultuous—many people often aren’t sure where they’ll get their next paycheck. We have to take care of each other, because that’s what families do. Many years ago, Kirk Douglas said, “Those few who make it in the industry have to support the thousands who need our help” and I truly believe that.
FJ: Is that what you feel makes the entertainment industry so special?
BB: Yes, we are family in this industry, and there’s no greater sense of community among entertainment industry workers as what we experience every day at MPTF. At each MPTF event and in every service we offer, we have more and more industry members volunteering their time and energy to giving back. It is their support and philanthropic spirit that drives our organization and helps us sustain a safety net of services for others in times of need.