Los Angeles-based entertainment attorney John T. Frankenheimer, Variety’s Power of Law honoree this year, understands the devastating impact of cancer all too well. In 2013, his wife, Leslie, a multi-Emmy award-winning set decorator who worked on such feature films and TV series as “Blade Runner” and “Star Trek: Voyager” died from complications of the disease.
“Unfortunately, she contracted a very aggressive form of leukemia,” says Frankenheimer, chairman emeritus at the law firm Loeb & Loeb. “It was so aggressive, within 24 hours we were given the conversation about whether we wanted extraordinary measures taken [to save her life]. It was so bad they didn’t think there was any way she would even survive a couple of weeks.”
But thanks to the medical staff at City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, Calif., Leslie underwent six months of aggressive treatment and a bone marrow transplant and outlasted that grim prognosis.
“She got an extra 2½ years — good years — that she would not otherwise have had an opportunity to have,” Frankenheimer says. “There was an arc of four years from when she was told it was just a matter of a month or two, and not even that, to having four years more. That’s something you view very preciously.”
|Michael Lewis for Variety|
For decades prior to his wife’s illness and 2013 death, Frankenheimer had come to know the doctors and medical staff at City of Hope through his philanthropic work with the world-renowned hospital and research center. A longtime board member of City of Hope’s Music, Film and Entertainment Industry group, founded in 1973, Frankenheimer has spent nearly 40 years working to advance City of Hope’s two-fold mission: to treat both the physical and emotional needs of patients suffering from cancer, diabetes and other catastrophic life-threatening diseases such as HIV and AIDS.
“I had just become a partner at Loeb, and it was important to me that I make a commitment to the community in some fashion,” he recalls. “It was important that I attach myself to something where I felt that I was giving back to the community.”
Positioned firmly at the forefront of cancer research, treatment and prevention, City of Hope was a pioneer in bone marrow and stem cell transplants. The organization is a founding member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and is one of only 47 comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Its main campus, located in Duarte, Calif., features cutting-edge medical and research facilities surrounded by lush greenery, blooming rose gardens, koi ponds and meditation areas.
The institution also has oupatient sites in other Southern California cities such as Arcadia, Simi Valley and Palm Springs.
Compassion is the driving force behind City of Hope’s approach to treatment. Social services, educational classes and support groups are available to both patients and their families. A precursor to the well-known Ronald McDonald House model, City of Hope was the first such institution to build bungalows on its campus so that families could stay nearby while loved ones underwent treatment.
“Our motto at City of Hope is ‘There is no profit in curing the body if, in the process, we destroy the soul,’” says Sharon A. Joyce, VP of corporate and national philanthropy programs. “The secret behind our good outcome statistics is not only the excellent treatment but also the emotional care we provide. We uniquely combine the concerns for the patients’ emotional and spiritual well-being with the science that we have to back it up.”
Adds Frankenheimer, “This is a highly stressful process to go through for the families as well as the patients, and they go out of their way to make sure people feel as comforted as possible and realize there are others there to support them. It’s an extraordinary caring place.”
|Michael Lewis for Variety|
It’s also a place empowered by the kindness and philanthropic donations of people in the community. Each year City of Hope spends roughly $96 million in medical care service benefits for “vulnerable populations,” health research educational training and other health benefits to the community at large.
“Our concentration is to make sure the fundraising continues on at a very brisk pace because they’re doing extraordinary work, but it is incredibly expensive, and the more [money] they have the more they can do,” says Frankenheimer.
Through annual fundraising events that include City of Hope’s Taste of Hope wine-tasting soiree, Spirit of Life celebration and dinner, and the Leslie Frankenheimer Leukemia Fund Walk/Run for a Cure, Frankenheimer has focused his efforts on “enhancing the awareness of City of Hope.”
“It’s a very large foundation with a broad reach, and people who even think they know something about it don’t fully understand everything that City of Hope does,” he says. “During the course of the year we are often approached by people seeking connections to City of Hope because either their own family members or friends that have been in treatment somewhere else have essentially been told nothing else can be done. We do everything we can to work with the administrators at City of Hope to find the appropriate doctor or doctors to meet with these individuals to see whether there’s something else that can be done — and most often there is.”
Joyce confirms Frankenheimer’s critical role in advancing the cause. “He has been a leading advocate on behalf of City of Hope in the entertainment industry,” says Joyce. “We owe a great deal to his leadership and his strategic guidance.”
Frankenheimer remains in awe of one particular encounter he had with doctors at City of Hope some years ago, during the early days of gene therapy advancements.
“These doctors were treating a man who had been told there was virtually nothing else that could be done — it was blood cancer of some kind,” he says. “They re-engineered his genes. It was just fascinating … people hadn’t read about this yet. A year later, I was at this dinner where they introduced the [patient], who walked out on stage. He’s a big, vibrant, strapping guy. He talked about how he essentially had been told he had mere months to live, and then they experimented with this cutting-edge [gene] therapy at City of Hope. He gave the speech to a large crowd through tears. It just shows you the level of care that exists there. The doctors are saint-like in their dedication.”
Determined to get the younger generation involved in City of Hope, Frankenheimer has also helped establish Future Hope, made up of young executives and creatives in the entertainment community “who have the same vision where you want to be about something bigger than yourself.”
He adds that “the ability of doctors and researchers to work hand-in-glove in developing protocols and approaches to catastrophic illness that are truly cutting edge is just amazing. … It’s not just a phrase, it’s grounded in the reality. It’s very inspirational.” Thanks, he says, comes in the form of being able to witness the miraculous stories of treatment and recovery.