The Motion Picture & Television Fund, celebrating its 100th anniversary, might be the most active, admired — and most misunderstood — organization in Hollywood. Silent screen star Mary Pickford started the philanthropic org under the name Motion Picture Relief Fund (it was renamed in 1971).
Over the century, entertainment’s biggest heavyweights gave support. In 1965, Variety reported Elvis Presley’s $125,000 gift, the single biggest donation to that point. The fund has been supported by directors (John Ford to Steven Spielberg, to name a few), actors (Barbara Stanwyck to George Clooney, Jodie Foster and Hugh Jackman) and execs (Samuel Goldwyn to Jim Gianopulos). Key donors and recipients are behind-the-camera workers; for example, nearly 10,000 individuals received help in 2020 as everyone was hit by COVID.
“Part of my hope for the future: Communicating to the industry who we are and what we do,” says Bob Beitcher, MPTF president-CEO. “Probably seven out of 10 people in the industry don’t know who we are. I hope we can get the word out, to provide services for people and help free up support for our programs.”
Producer Lauren Shuler Donner, on the board of governors, adds, “A lot of people think the MPTF is just the Country House & Hospital. That’s certainly the jewel in the crown, but it’s so much more than that.”
Through their volunteer programs and financial programs, “they are providing food assistance, social services, physical therapy, mental-health services, elder care, child-care, financial aid, assistance to military veterans, all kinds of things. It’s important to get out the message that people in the industry have an opportunity to benefit from this organization in their time of need,” she adds.
MPTF provided assistance through the Depression and WWII; the Country House in Woodland Hills opened in 1942 and services are constantly added.
Actor-director Tony Goldwyn is on the board of governors, upholding his family heritage. He says: “My grandfather was one of the people who got it going. It was the most important charitable organization for him and for my father [Goldwyn Jr.]. And that was certainly passed down to us and our kids, my daughters, nieces and nephews.
“I’ve known about MPTF my entire life. But in my decades as a worker in this industry, I came to appreciate what the MPTF is all about.
“My dad realized so many industry workers did not have affordable child care.”
So Peggy and Samuel Goldwyn Jr.’s donations created the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation Children’s Center in 1990 “and it’s still going strong,” he says. In 2014, the Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Center for Behavioral Health opened.
Goldwyn reminds his co-workers: “We all have jobs today, but every one of us — or the person next to us — could be in a real bind at some point. And MPTF is always there for you. No other industry in the country does this for its workers and their families.”
Another misconception is that MPTF only helps retired people. The Next Generation Council (now called NextGen) launched in 1996 partly to remind young people about their eligibility for benefits and their contributions (money or volunteer work).
Beitcher says showbiz people provide clues about what’s needed. “For example, we noticed more and more military vets in the industry who are struggling to get VA benefits. We realized we needed to get expertise in helping them. We want people in the industry to point us in the right direction.”
Sherry Lansing is co-chair of the 100th host committee, preparing the June 18 gala event. Lansing was an industry groundbreaker, with a long career as a studio head and producer; since she retired 17 years ago, she has been equally successful in her philanthropy.
“I was always impressed by the MPTF and I made annual contributions, for probably 30 years; I felt it was my moral duty,” she says. “But MPTF wasn’t a top priority until two years ago.”
The turning point for her was due to a close friend, who was living a modest life and had made no financial blunders but was running out of money.
Lansing saw her friend in a downward spiral of debt, depression, alcohol and prescription drugs.
The friend was taken to MPTF, where the team did a complete medical evaluation and provided solutions — “and my old friend returned: joyous, funny, no more memory problems. I suddenly saw the miracle of what the home could do. And I thought, ‘This is going to be one of my top causes.’ ”
The MPTF requires 20 years in the industry to live at Country House; for other services, requirements vary and are available at its website, mptf.com. If the MPTF can’t help directly, they will steer you to someone who can.
Pickford used to say “We take care of our own,” which set the tone for all these years.
Here’s a small sample of MPTF expansion in the past 30 years:
• 1992: Harry’s Haven, an Alzheimer’s ward created by a gift from the Douglas family, was established;
• 2001: the Fran & Ray Stark Villa opens its doors in Woodland Hills;
• 2007 Saban Center for Health & Wellness debuts;
• 2017: The grand reopening of the Louis B. Mayer Memorial Theatre Complex, which was built in 1967.
Much of the funds raised by the MPTF come from corporate donations and from events including the Night Before and Evening Before, tied to the Oscars and Emmys, respectively.
Funds will also be raised at the June 18 gala, where Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg will receive the rarely presented Silver Medallion award.
The Katzenbergs, like the Goldwyns, Douglases, David Geffen, Sumner Redstone and Spielberg, made multimillion-dollar donations; two of the biggest fund-raisers were Lew and Edie Wasserman.
But MPTF leaders can’t rely on a few donors.
Corporate donations are key. Plus, Pickford and Goldwyn Sr. supported the Payroll Pledge Program.
Starting in the heyday of the studios, and for many decades later, workers would pledge a portion of each paycheck to the MPTF: Sometimes it was $1 a week, sometimes it was a fraction of their checks (0.5% to 1.5%). It provided a baseline of funding, but with the demise of the studio system, that stopped.
Goldwyn concludes, “Most people don’t understand the scope of what MPTF does. We want to make sure MPTF stays healthy and keeps going. So we have to let people know about it.”
Beitcher adds that an estimated 95,000 industry members will be retiring in the next 10 years. Plus many people haven’t had the opportunity to build solid financial reserves, thanks to the recession, the pandemic and less lucrative Hollywood deals. They may need MPTF one way or the other.
Lansing says, “I’m hoping we can make everyone in the industry realize you didn’t create a career on your own; there are thousands of people who helped you. This is a moral obligation to give back to people who are less fortunate.”
Shuler Donner started in the industry as a TV camerawoman. “I know what it’s like to be freelance and wonder how to pay the rent. It’s our responsibility to give back.”
Beitcher sums up, “We’ve been here for 100 years thanks to generosity of industry members. We live or die by the generosity. But we will only continue to be here if the industry supports us and understands the breadth of our services and the number of people we help.”