Known and loved: These six residents of LA’s Motion Picture home died of coronavirus
This story was produced as part of a larger project by Brenda Gazzar, a participant in the 2020 California Fellowship.
Her other stories include:
'This isn't a drill': How LA's Motion Picture home battled coronavirus
‘Pandemic within a pandemic:’ What’s fueling LA County’s coronavirus death toll in nursing homes?
‘Behind the 8-ball:’ Many Southern California nursing homes hit hard by coronavirus had prior issues
A tale of two Southern California nursing homes in the era of coronavirus
Family of nursing home resident who died: ‘She had 3 really good years there and 1 really bad week’
Social isolation takes toll on Southern California nursing home residents during pandemic holidays
Can California nursing homes avoid the next ‘humanitarian crisis?’
This nursing home ‘angel’ struggled to support her family. Then she got coronavirus…
An Oscar-nominated cinematographer. A Disney animator. A recognizable character actor.
These were among the six residents of the Motion Picture and Television Fund Wasserman Campus in Woodland Hills, a congregate living facility that caters to entertainment-industry retirees and their spouses, who died of novel coronavirus complications in April.
They were all skilled nursing residents between the ages of 64 and 99.
Some were more well-known to the public than others, but “they were all well known to us and loved by us,” said Bob Beitcher, president and CEO of the Motion Picture and Television Fund.
Here are their stories:
John Breier was a fighter.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis some 25 years ago, he eventually had to use a cane, a walker and then a wheelchair. Breier had four brain surgeries, fought off multiple infections and got pneumonia a couple of times. But he always pushed on, until the new coronavirus struck.
“He fought everything else, but this was the beast he could not fight,” said Mona Jacobson-Breier, his wife of 21 years.rosis some 25 years ago, he eventually had to use a cane, a walker and then a wheelchair. Breier had four brain surgeries, fought off multiple infections and got pneumonia a couple of times. But he always pushed on, until the new coronavirus struck.
The Canadian-born Breier liked “to be the party person,” according to his brother, Armin, and “was always there for people.”The 64-year-old son of Holocaust survivors was the first of six residents from the Motion Picture Home with the coronavirus to die.
Breier was 6 feet, 4 inches, had a strong personality and was an avid fan of the San Francisco Giants, the Rams and the Lakers, said his wife, who recently retired from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. He was not one to get enthusiastic easily, she said, but “when it was his team, any one of those, that’s when you saw him come alive.”
“I was able to say how I feel and I know he heard me …and in a soft voice he was able to say that he loved me and that was important,” she said.Breier and his wife, who each had two children from previous marriages, had an expressive relationship and kept things “out in the open,” Jacobson-Breier said. While they weren’t able to be together at the end of his life because of hospital restrictions, they did speak by phone shortly before his death on April 6.
Joel Rogosin was not only a writer and Emmy-nominated television producer but he also was the “heart-center” of his adoring family, said his daughter, Robin Rogosin.
“He’s a really interesting combination of intellect with fun and a lot of integrity,” she said. “And he taught us all a lot about how to treat people.
Rogosin started out as a messenger at Columbia Pictures in 1957. By 1961, he was producing the popular television show, “77 Sunset Strip.” He produced nearly two dozen prime time series, television movies and specials during his illustrious career, including “The Virginian,” “Ironside” and “Magnum, P.I.”
His work, which aimed to be inclusive, led to a meeting with Jerry Lewis. He produced two of the comedian’s Muscular Dystrophy Association telethons in the 1970s.
“He loved the philanthropic nature of that,” his daughter said.
Rogosin and wife Deborah, a psychotherapist, moved into the Motion Picture Home seven years ago. After he fell and broke his hip, he moved to the skilled nursing part of the facility while his wife of 65 years remained in the independent living area. They spent nearly all their time together.
“He told (his wife) every day how much he loved her; how beautiful she was,” Robin Rogosin said.
For Robin Rogosin, not being with her father at the time of his death due to hospital restrictions was “very hard.”
“We expected to be there … to just hold his hand or rub his feet, or make him feel comfortable in any way we could,” his daughter said.
Joel Rogosin, who died April 21 at the age of 87, has three daughters, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Ann Sullivan, who was nicknamed “Giggles” at the Motion Picture home, doggedly pursued her dream of working at Walt Disney Studios..
Sullivan, from Fargo, North Dakota, followed her sister, Helen, to California and studied at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena before working in Walt Disney’s animation paint lab in the early ’50s, according to the Motion Picture home.
After taking a hiatus to start a family, she “fought her way back into the business,” eventually returning to Disney’s animation department to work on such classics as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Lion King” and “Lilo & Stitch,” according to the home. She switched to computerized animation before retiring.
Sullivan loved the beach, was “extremely positive” and fastidious with her appearance, which often made her late, according to family members.
She turned 91 years old, connecting with family and friends through FaceTime, just days before her April 13 death, according to the home.
Leah Bernstein served as executive secretary for entertainment industry titans, including producer-director Stanley Kramer and comedian Jack Benny’s manager, Irving Fein.
The native Angeleno landed her first industry job at the age of 16, working the late shift with MGM Studios. She worked with Kramer on more than two dozen films and “counted luminaries such as Sidney Poitier, Bobby Darin and Vivien Leigh among her friends,” according to the Motion Picture home.
She was proud of the impact of the films she made with Kramer and Poitier, according to the facility, and the way they defied stereotypes of the day.
“Even in her late 90s, Leah had a dry witty sense of humor and was a flirt,” the home said in her remembrance.
Bernstein, who died April 23 at the age of 99, was a longtime volunteer who was said to appreciate kindness above all.
Allen Daviau was an icon of American cinematography in the 1980s and early ’90s, earning five Academy Award nominations during his career.
Three of the nominations were with director-producer Steven Spielberg for “E.T.,” “The Color Purple” and “Empire of the Sun” while the others were with Barry Levinson for “Avalon” and “Bugsy.” He also earned a British Academy Film Award for best cinematography for “Empire of the Sun.”
Daviau first worked with Spielberg in 1968 on the short film “Amblin’” before they collaborated years later on the blockbuster movies that made Spielberg a household name.
When Spielberg heard that his friend had contracted the virus, the director sent him a letter recalling their history together, according to the Motion Picture home.
When Spielberg’s letter was read to him several times at his bedside, Daviau “smiled and his eyes twinkled,” the home said. After the final reading on April 15, Daviau took two breaths and died. He was 77.
Spielberg recalled Daviau as “a wonderful artist” whose “warmth and humanity were as powerful as his lens.”
Allen Garfield, whose career spanned four decades, has been described as one of the best character actors of all time.
Garfield, who often played antsy villains, appeared in early films by Brian de Palma, Robert Downey Sr., Milos Forman and Herbert Ross.
The actor’s prominent roles included Robert Altman’s “Nashville,” Tony Scott’s “Beverly Hills Cop II” and several of Francis Ford Coppola films, including “The Conversation” and “One From the Heart.”
The New Jersey native, who sometimes used his birth name Allen Goorwitz, had worked as a journalist, competed as an amateur boxer and served as a mentor to a young Quentin Tarantino.
Garfield, who died April 7 at the age of 80, had lived at the Motion Picture home for nearly 17 years following multiple strokes.
The many friends he made there, the home said in his remembrance, “will miss him every day.”
Brenda Gazzar wrote this story while participating in the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism‘s California Fellowship.
[This article was originally published by Los Angeles Daily News]