Part of the “Shorts Program: Gone Hollywood” collection at the 2014 AFI DOCS, this is one of those plucky, nostalgic entries that affectionately cobbles together quick glimpses of several aging entertainers or showbiz periphery players who reside at the Motion Picture & Television Fund Home in Woodland Hills, California. That’s where Hollywood has been caring for more than a few of its retired senior citizens for over 90 years.
Opening with a montage of the beautifully manicured MPTF Country House, the action quickly shifts to the seven main attractions, starting with Monica Lewis, a terrific American vocalist born into a family of musicians. She had a lengthy film-television career, dated Ronald Reagan, and may well be best remembered as the singing voice of Miss Chiquita Banana. She was on the premiere of the first Ed Sullivan show (“Toast of the Town’) on June 20, 1948. Other snappy folks follow: Milt Goldstein, a statistician who worked for Paramount and Cecil B. DeMille; Ruthie Tompson, who labored at Disney for decades (and was well over 100 when filmed); vaudevillian-comedienne Connie Sawyer (cue the clip of her on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno”); pianist (for Jackie Gleason, Motown, and others) Larry Kelem, who loves his scooter; dapper greensman Marty Seidman talks about working on “Gilligan’s Island” and now loves to deliver flowers to all the ladies; and Shirley “Toodie” Wieberg recalls working at Deluxe Film Laboratories (where she met her husband and whose Hollywood office closed a month ago, another victim of the encroaching digital technology) before becoming a tap dancer.
They all reminisce, all too briefly, about their careers, and all too sadly about their families (and the pain of loved ones lose). Yet they are all still active in their extended retirements. We should all be so lucky. None of these guys are ready for the alternative. There is joy in the San Fernando Valley.
Ok, cool, but what about the film? Well, Australian-born Ned McNeilage, who produced, directed, and wrote this short, has spent his adult life as a creative director for such firms as Wieden+Kennedy and Creative Artists Agency. His expertise is building brands, not (yet) making movies, but he is learning. You know he loves them (the movies, his cast) dearly. “Showfolk” is best described as an extended public service announcement, and that’s probably what the MPTF wanted. Something straight arrow and talking head.