It was a home invasion of the best kind.
On a recent cold and blustery December Saturday, members of IA Locals including 44, 729 and 700, Teamsters 399, retirees, producers, and kin of the above, all descended on the home of location manager George Herthel and his wife Pam Boroski. George had become a client of the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s Palliative Care program, which provides relief of suffering “and achievement of the best possible quality of life for patients with advanced illness, and their families.”
In George’s case, the illness was one of the more dreaded diagnoses one could have: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, or more colloquially, “Lou Gerhig’s Disease,” which is the inexorable whithering of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord which control movement, swallowing and breathing.
Herthel first noticed he wasn’t hitting the ball as far as he used to while golfing. Though producer Ian Sander (of Ghost Whisperer, I’ll Fly Away, the film D.O.A., and other fames) – who was there with his son – believes he was there at what turned out to be Herthel’s last golf game. “Weakening, he was better than I was at full strength!”
Sander also calls him “the best location manager I ever worked with,” noting Herthel could come up with last-minute fixes and creative solutions “whatever jam you were in.”
This jam though – for the man who’d location manged not only TV shows like Sander’s Ghost Whisperer, JAG, The ’60s and The ’70s miniseries, and films like Sister Act and Ocean’s Twelve – is, heartwrenchingly, intractable.
As his Dalmatian, Ringo, patrolled the houseful of busy painters, door hangers, and garden landscapers, wagging his tail in general greeting and letting out only the occasional querying howl at what was going on, Herthel finished dressing and with the help of wife Pam, appeared to greet all the colleagues who’d shown up to help manage – and spruce up – the location he calls “home.”
In the short span since that spring golf game, the disease has already taken its toll on Herthel, who can no longer fully hold up his head, and often has to communicate – with Pam’s help – by using a pointer to indicate letters on a page. But he wore a smile that was unmistakable.
The project had its genesis in a question from Herthel’s RN, Lesli Leder, who asked him, if he had “one wish – what would it be?”
It turns out, it would be keeping the promise he’d made to Pam to get the house fixed up. That happened through MPTF’s Rebuilding Together and Home Safe Home, which “work in conjunction to make complete home modifications to help ease the lives of… entertainment industry members who are either elderly or have a… loved one who is in need of the updates to remain safely in their homes,” according to their mission statement.
We are living in such times where the challenge may be not just keeping homes physically safe but keeping them safe from banks, and general economic implosion as well, which may require even more communal ingenuity.
Seeing union members come to aid one of their own, in the midst of a political season where many candidates for high office regard “unions” as antiquated – if not dangerous – economic “relics” (whereas the philosophies of the Gilded Age are still lauded as cutting-edge theories), made you wonder what it was about people banding together that so infuriates the talking heads and representatives of the 1%?
“This is an industry that supports each other,” said George Palazzo, Local 729’s business rep as he made a pit-stop during one of his many walk-bys with a brush and equipment in hand. He noted all the donations – there was food and coffee from caterers, as well – that made everything possible.
MPTF’s CEO Bob Beitcher was there too, mentioning there were well over 50 film biz volunteers filling the yard – and eliciting queries and wags from Ringo – already there in the brisk A.M. Most of those sported T-shirts that were being given out, emblazoned with the slogan “taking care of our own.”
It’s a guiding philosophy that may become more essential in the years ahead. For the much shorter timeline facing George Herthel, it’s a principle that made all the difference on a windswept morning, eliciting the kind of smile he perhaps used to reserve for making a birdie on the course, or getting one more production out of a tight spot.
He still has smiles to give. And for his BTL community, that was more than enough.