Oscars Legacy Lives on Campus

February 27, 2013

Part of the brilliant legacy of MPTF is our 40-acre residential campus in Woodland Hills, since the early 1940s an historical treasure overflowing with Hollywood mystique and creative people whose contributions to film and television have made the entertainment industry what it is today. At any given time, you never know who you’ll find living here, but you can be certain that they’ve had long and interesting careers “in the business.” And they’ve got great stories to tell!

Three of our former residents received special tribute at Sunday night’s wonderful Oscars event – an AD who broke through racial boundaries; a one-of-a-kind visual effects artist, and a make-up artist talented enough to be hired by the CIA. All three represent what we love about Hollywood and why we honor MPTF’s special place in it.

Charles Washburn lived at MPTF from 2008 – 2012. The first African American to apply and graduate from the DGA’s Assistant Directors Training Program, Charles had a successful career as an AD and production manager in film and television. Known to many as “Star Trek Charlie,” Charlie spent his 400 hours of DGA apprenticeship on the original Paramount sci-fi series and then was asked back as a 2nd AD. Twenty years later, Charles also worked on several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the late 1960s, along with DGA’s first black member, 1st AD Wendell Franklin, Charles worked on The Bill Cosby Show.

Working in a time when racism was still prevalent on Hollywood film and TV sets, Charles always said that he never had any issues. No surprise! You’ll never meet a more courtly, gentle, and self-assured character than Charlie Washburn. I had the pleasure over the past few years of spending time once a month with CW at our Men’s Club breakfasts, and I enjoyed every moment of dining with a motion picture pioneer.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences paid tribute to Charles Washburn in its In Memoriam. Well done and appreciated by everyone who knew him at MPTF.

Matthew Yuricich, an MPTF resident who lived here only from March until the end of May last year, was also deservedly recognized in the In Memoriam on Sunday night’s Oscars. A winner of the 1976 Academy award for Visual Effects for his work in Logan’s Run, Matt was one of Hollywood’s finest and most prolific visual effects artists, specializing in matte painting on glass. He was one of the last surviving matte artists from the Golden Era of Hollywood, with a career that reached its pinnacle just as CGI was moving into this territory. Matt was also nominated for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Bladerunner (1982). His speech in accepting the Oscar from actor Roy Scheider included the classic: “..and I’d like to thank myself, I think I deserve it.”

Much of Matt’s earliest works as a matte artist was uncredited but included work on North by Northwest and Ben Hur (both 1959). There are about another 200 film credits to follow. Look for the “money shots” in films like Ben Hur, Planet of the Apes, Ghostbusters, China Syndrome, and they involved photographing Matt’s painting on glass.

The third special tribute from Sunday night’s show is a bit more obscure, but hang in there with me. Best Picture of the Year – Argo! Key character in the film, wonderfully portrayed by John Goodman, honorary Academy-award winner John Chambers. You got it, an MPTF resident until his death in August 2001. John’s story has been told and re-told so many times in the past few months due to the fascination with this Hollywood character’s involvement in CIA activities, including the Argo episode. John worked as a dental technician in World War II and in dealing with the ravages of war he learned much about repairing more than just teeth. Chambers created new ears, noses, chins, and teeth for our service members and when the war ended he applied those skills to make up effects. While he had a remarkable showbiz career, capped by an honorary Oscar in 1969 for his work on the 1968 classic Planet of the Apes (there was no Oscar for Make-Up until 1981), Chambers used to talk to folks at MPTF about a different activity that he was very proud of: making prosthetics for cancer victims who were otherwise too poor to obtain support.

John was very proud of his Oscar and glad to share it with those who wanted to see it. He was a real raconteur, with his sly Irish humor, and loved to share stories about his life and work. Linda Young, an MPTF volunteer (she shares her wonderful dogs with the residents), was a particularly close friend of John’s and still has John’s copy of Tony Mendez’s book Master of Disguise about Argo. (He loaned it to her to read and then insisted that she was the right person to have it.) It has a special personal note from Tony on it: “To John Chambers, aka Jerome Calloway. He showed us the way to play the game and how to win!” Linda described him to me as “brilliant and smart, immensely humorous, as well as a kind and charming man.”

Looking at John’s IMDB entry for this blog, I also realized that John created the trademark pointed ears for Leonard Nimoy for his Mr. Spock character as well as the incredible “masks” for Planet of the Apes. John Chambers’ life at MPTF and those of Charles Washburn and Matthew Yuricich didn’t overlap, and sadly they are not around today to ask if they knew or worked with each other back in the Star Trek or Planet of the Apes days, but like so many of our residents here at MPTF there is that interconnectivity that comes from a close-knit family of industry members creating the world’s greatest entertainment.

About Bob Beitcher

Bob Beitcher is the President and CEO of the Motion Picture & Television Fund. He has been a senior executive in the entertainment industry for 30 years, having held leadership roles at Jim Henson Productions, Paramount Pictures, Panavision and MacAndrews & Forbes Media Group. Bob has been an MPTF board member since 2007. He became interim CEO in 2010 and was named permanent CEO in 2011.

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