At 8:45 p.m. on Thursday night came one of my favorite regular reports on the state of the entertainment industry and its denizens. That is, an emailed “blog” from lawyer and friend Robert Mirisch about life in the Wasserman Campus retirement residences and skilled nursing facilities operated by the Motion Picture & Television Fund.
“OH HAPPY DAY!” wrote Bob, whose special charm is that he wears his very large heart on his sleeve. “This week, for the first time in a year, I got to eat a meal seeing people in person.”
It was, as Bob described it, an outdoor lunch at the Woodland Hills campus, with maybe a dozen people at individual tables. “We were allowed (nay-encouraged) to take our masks off to eat.” Speaking, but not visiting, was permitted. “At first I was baffled by the metal utensils at our place settings,” wrote Bob. “We even had glass glasses. Everything was lovely.”
The viral thaw comes just in time for the Oscars next month. With a little luck and a lot of caution, who knows, those on the campus may even manage some modified group viewing when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presents the fund with an unusual Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. The honor is usually reserved for individuals (including Tyler Perry, who also gets one). But this time, and this time only, a special waiver allows the film industry’s pet charity to collect an award.
Based on the Mirisch reports (which Bob has graciously allowed us to quote), recognition would be in order for having seen the residents through a year of soul-damaging isolation, never mind the many charities performed by the fund in the last hundred years.
Not until the first week of March was the months-long ban on outside visitors lifted. In his March 5 missive, Bob described the shock of seeing outlanders suddenly appear at the home. “People were actually visible (in 3D),” he wrote. “Many were not wearing uniforms that designate their function. Civilians. Amazing.”
Bob the Blogger didn’t mind sharing his feelings about a visit from his son: “I got the best hug in a year. It felt so good to actually have a body close to me. To let out a big ‘Ahhh’ at last.”
Of course, staff members had done what they could to fill the hours. There was an in-house radio performance of Dracula, with plans for future audio plays based on scripts from The Mercury Theater of the Air and Lux Radio Theater. Streaming brought timely access to movies. (Bob particularly liked Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman. “She is charming, mysterious, intriguing, sexy, humorous—all in one part,” he wrote in his mini-review.) And some of the employees bonded with residents in ways that were as much human as professional.
On the retirement of Recreational Activities director Sue Schubert, who left after 47 years at the home, Bob wrote: “To me her greatest trait is her deep and abiding love and compassion for the literally hundreds of residents who have passed her way during her tenure.”
But with the gates shut for a year, even the brightest spirits darkened. “I am sick of news. I’m impatient with streaming,” Bob snapped in his Feb. 25 report. Others at the home must have felt likewise.
Still more, the Mirisch blog began to dwell on personal pangs. On March 11, he told of picking up a copy of Joan Didion’s “Play It As It Lays” in the library, only to discover from the card in back that it had last been checked out by “my Anita.” That would be a fellow resident, whom he had met in the home. They fell in love, and held a commitment ceremony, but couldn’t marry because she was an Alzheimer’s patient.
Bob has explained in a separate account—a 28-page narrative, called “My Miracle”—that Anita died shortly before the lockdown began. It’s another story, almost a movie.
Last Thursday, after pondering the recent death of a friend and table-mate at the home, Bob’s report returned to “Play It As It Lays.” The handwriting on the library check-out card was too scratchy to be Anita’s, he said. In fact, he now recognized it as his own. He had once borrowed the book in her name, when he was in the habit of reading aloud at her bedside. But the story seemed too grim for an Alzheimer’s patient, especially his; so he had let it go.
This time, however, he read Didion’s novel, and loved it. “Thanks, Anita,” he said.
“It reads like an insight into one’s soul.”