As The Oscar Glow Faded, The Motion Picture Home Faced Another Daunting Year

The Motion Picture and Television Fund's 48 acres include gardens, fountains, assisted living facilities and homes for independent residents Motion Picture Television Fund

Was it only a year ago—no, 10 months, the last Oscar show was on April 25—that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to the Motion Picture and Television Fund?

It seems longer, with all the ups and downs, re-openings and fresh lockdowns, trucker convoys and international crises that have come between.

Back then, the Hersholt award brought welcome attention and a jolt of energy to the fund’s famous Motion Picture Home (as it is colloquially called) in Woodland Hills. In the run-up to the Oscars, we virtually visited the Wasserman Campus via an email blog maintained by entertainment lawyer Robert Mirisch, a six year-plus resident at the facility.

Well, Bob is still blogging for friends and family, and life at the home goes on. But based on his reports (quoted with his kind permission), even an attentive staff and the Oscar afterglow couldn’t keep this past year’s tribulations at bay.

Things started well enough–though Bob the Blogger wasn’t much charmed by the Academy Awards telecast. “No humor, no performances and no host,” he grumped on April 30: “Academy pay attention to your ratings. 16 million Americans can’t be wrong.”

Still, the outlook was bright in early May, as the pandemic seemed to be lifting, and the vaccines offered hope. Dining rooms on the campus were re-opening, and, according to the May 6 Mirisch report, the home was getting ready for its first movie screenings—of “The Father” and “Nomadland”—in 14 months.

Spring was in the air. “I must tell you how absolutely gorgeous our campus is right now,” Mirisch wrote on May 13. “Everything is blooming. There is color all over. The topiaries (and there are many of them) are perfectly trimmed, the roses are abundant and (despite the drought) plentiful and fragrant. It is a treat to walk (or wheel) around.”

Dining together was a special pleasure. “The noise, the activity has an amazing effect,” wrote Mirisch. “My entire being is improved.”

By May 27, the residents—remember, these are show business professionals, with an enviable store of talent—had even wrapped their fifth annual Instant Film Festival. It’s a crazy competition that finds five in-house teams making a short film in four hours or less. Bob’s team produced a comedy, about an alien invader hand puppet making off with all the bagel and schmear in the world. I don’t know that it won, but “boy, did we have fun!” Mirisch wrote.

In June, off-campus dining was allowed. In July, three helpers chased a lizard from Bob’s room: “It looked like a scene from a Marx Brothers movie.” With August came the booster shots, and a cautious expectation of normalcy.

“Here’s my arm, baby. It’s all yours,” wrote Mirisch. But for those at the home, as for the rest of us, normal was not yet to be.

In the wake of his booster, Mirisch was unwell. “Hopefully, I’m Covid immune, but I still feel crummy,” he wrote on October 1.

Worse, the Omicron surge, as it swept Los Angeles County, reached toward the home. By December 23, residents and staff were being tested twice a week. Visitor protocols were tightened. Two weeks later, reported Mirisch, the campus was in “almost total lockdown.”

The January 13 report: “Another lockdown week.”

January 20: “Another activity-less week on campus.”

January 27: “Another week of filling time.”

February brought four or five days of power outages—a not uncommon problem in energy-challenged California. Plans for outdoor dining went awry when the weather turned windy and cold. Activity through the winter months was a solitary affair—for Mirisch, that meant watching films on TCM, and subscribing to a 25-installment series of video lectures on “The Great Trials of World History and the Lessons They Teach Us.”

In all, it was a fairly dark season. But, as the Oscars roll back around, life is getting brighter in Woodland Hills.

If things go according to plan, the dining rooms will be open this week. “Bad news,” noted Mirisch on February 24. “I guess that means I’ll have to get dressed.”

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