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Golden age of Hollywood alive at retirement home

By Agence France-Presse in Los Angeles | China Daily | Updated: 2016-05-31 08:24

Johnny Weissmuller was said to walk the grounds of this retirement home letting out his trademark Tarzan yell.

Another resident wistfully recalls missing out on a date with Marilyn Monroe, while a third has stories about "Walt" or "Frank" - that is Walt Disney or Frank Sinatra.

Hollywood's golden age may be long gone but it's still very much alive and kicking at this retirement community north of Los Angeles, where a who's who of the industry reside.

Here, you can meet a set director who worked on Doctor Zhivago or Mutiny on the Bounty, a film researcher who worked on Star Trek, Chinatown and Fiddler on the Roof, or a 103-year old actress who knew Sinatra and recently auditioned for a horror flick.

"The people here have done every kind of job you can imagine associated with film and television," said Bob Beitcher, president and CEO of the Motion Picture and Television Fund, which runs the home located in Woodland Hills.

"You have everything from publicists, to animators to character actors to directors, writers, wardrobe, costume, hair and makeup."

Founded in 1921 by cinema pioneers Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith and Mary Pickford, the home's mission was initially focused on helping stars unable to make the transition from silent film to 'talkies.'

The charitable organization began with coin boxes that were placed at the studios, where actors could drop spare change to help industry professionals who often worked as freelancers and had no job protection.

Nearly a century later, the home continues to take care of its own through donations, albeit on a much bigger scale, with the likes of George Clooney, Kirk Douglas and Steven Spielberg lending their support.

"No other industry in the world has done something like this and this is what makes it so remarkable," Beitcher said.

"People who work in the industry are like gypsies," he added. "They move from place to place, uproot their families to move to Louisiana, to New York or to Europe ... and many do physical labor on a film or TV set that is hard on them."

About half of the 165 residents at the retirement home pay for their room and board, which ranges from $3,400 to $6,100 a month, and the Fund pays for the other half unable to afford the cost.

Though a few of the retirees on the sprawling 40-acre campus are well-known in the industry, the majority are cast and crew members who spent their careers working quietly behind the scenes and never got on-screen billing.

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