Every Wednesday this month, Turner Classic Movies dedicates its programming to highlighting the Motion Picture & Television Fund, one of the great treasures of the film industry. Securing the livelihoods of countless people who work or have worked in motion pictures, the MPTF operates a hospital, a senior home for those who need those services, and a general fund to help elderly people remain in their homes or to provide a safety net for former film workers who have fallen on hard times.
The programming consists of movies introduced by the people who were a part of them, now residents of the Motion Picture Country House. I was thrilled to hear about this tribute, as I find that few people outside of the world of film and television know much about the MPTF, truly a labor of love and dedication to, as the slogan says, “Taking Care of Our Own.”
The history of the MPTF is a storied one. Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith, and Charlie Chaplin (the same group that created United Artists) saw a need to provide a fund for those working in movies who were down on their luck. To start it, they created a simple coin box system, in which people could donate their spare change to help their fellow Hollywood folk. In 1921, the fund was incorporated as the Motion Picture Relief Fund, with Joe Schenck serving as its first president, and Pickford serving as vice-president. No one served in an advisory capacity for very long–as an egalitarian organization, and one by the film industry and for the film industry, presidents served on a rotating basis and came from varying Hollywood backgrounds, including Harold Lloyd, Jesse Lasky, and Marion Davies.
Pickford campaigned tirelessly for the fund, gathering donations and organizing events and programs that would serve as benefits. The 1929 stock market crash combined with the coming of talkies to Hollywood had left many of the film colony without work, and the fund was needed now more than ever. She noted, to her frustration, that there were 20,000 people working in films, but only 400 people were signed up as contributors to the Motion Picture Relief Fund. In order to streamline her campaigning, she instituted the Payroll Pledge Program in 1932, in which a very small portion of an person’s paycheck from working in the movies went to the fund–much like a social security program or insurance policy for Hollywood workers. In the midst of the Depression, the Motion Picture Relief Fund saved 75 people from being evicted and purchased groceries for 2,500.
Even as early as 1924, the need for a specialized senior care facility was on the minds of Pickford and those invested in the Motion Picture Relief Fund. In order to raise money for the construction, in 1939 Jean Hersholt (president of the fund at the time) came up with the idea of having a radio show in which many big name celebrities would appear, who would all donate their salaries to the Motion Picture Relief Fund. The plan worked, the radio show was a smash hit, and construction on the Motion Picture Country House (“house” instead of “home” because, as Pickford said, Hollywood people always consider themselves “between engagements”) began in 1941. Operations started in 1948, and among its more prominent residents over the years have been Norma Shearer, Bud Abbott, Mary Astor, Mack Sennett, Donald O’Connor, Joel McCrea, Edna Purviance, and countless others. Today, it is home to more than 100 long-term residents, and operates 6 outpatient facilities across Los Angeles.
Upon a visit to the Motion Picture Country House a number of years ago to see a friend, it was clear what remarkable and important work the MPTF does. My friend is valued and respected, getting care that goes above and beyond the call of duty. I came away from the visit with a deep sense of appreciation for the MPTF and everything the organization does for the industry. I’m happy to see that TCM is helping to shine a light on their work.
Be sure to see residents of the Motion Picture Country House every Wednesday in September on TCM, introducing movies they had a part in. For more information on the activities of Mary Pickford surrounding the Motion Picture Relief Fund, please see Cari Beauchamp’s article for the Mary Pickford Foundation, from which much of this piece was drawn, by clicking here.
If you would like to donate to the current Motion Picture & Television Fund, you can do so online at http://mptf.com/donate or by mail:
PO Box 51151
Los Angeles, CA 90051-9727
Thanks for reading!