Breakfast and conversation with George Clooney

I’m not a celebrity reporter. I write about fires,  homicides, protests,  diseases no one wants,  or an injustice that’s been committed.  BUT, when news stories cross into celebrity territory (and they do often in  L.A.),  I won’t say no. That was the case a few days ago when I was invited to a breakfast at the Beverly Hills Hotel a few days before the Academy Awards to chat with George Clooney. Clooney was there to help launch a campaign to help raise money for the Motion Picture & Television Fund, a 90 year old charity founded by Charlie Chaplain among others that helps movie industry workers with health services, including long term care.    Mr. Clooney was very nice, and as I told my colleagues,  better looking in person, if that’s possible.  Here’s part of my story (Feb. 24, 2011):

BEVERLY HILLS – Instead of a golden statuette, George Clooney held a tin can in his hand Thursday when he announced the launch of a campaign to raise $350 million for the Motion Picture & Television Fund over the next three years.

The Oscar winner, who became a MPTF board member a year ago, said long-term care and other health services provided at the fund’s Woodland Hills campus were too important to the entertainment industry, and must continue for generations to come.

“We can’t just let it go,” Clooney said Thursday morning at a MPTF supporters breakfast and press conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “We’re a family. The Motion Picture & Television Fund was established so we could protect members of our family.”

Clooney held the can as a symbolic acknowledgment to film pioneers Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith, who founded the nonprofit Motion Picture & Television Fund in 1921 with donations they collected from putting out tin cans.

Back then, they called the effort the Motion Picture Relief Fund, and their motto was “Taking Care of Our Own.” That collection of loose change eventually helped the fund evolve into a sprawling 40-acre campus that includes cottage residences and other health-care and recreational services – such as Harry’s Haven, an Alzheimer’s wing named for the father of actor Kirk Douglas, who, with his son Michael, provided much of the funding.

The landmark nursing home and hospital, which served thousands of Hollywood stars, camera operators, set designers and others for decades, was set to be closed after board members announced in 2009 an anticipated $10 million-a-year shortfall.

After the announcement, a bitter feud arose between MPTF board members and relatives of patients at the home, which was beloved for its services and staff. Demonstrations were held outside the facility and lawsuits were threatened. Services were gradually reduced and patients were transferred to other facilities.

Board members examined partnering with Providence Health & Services to run the nursing home, but ultimately decided it wasn’t the right move.

In the end, the board instead reconsidered its initial decision to close and determined it would try to raise the needed funds. Last month, the board announced it will be able to save its long-term care unit from closure and reopen on a limited basis, inviting new residents as well as those who were moved out in 2009.

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