From Producing Movies and Television to Producing a Worthy Cause, Gilbert Adler Helps Wounded Veterans Find Their Way Back HomeBy Kaylene Peoples | April 22nd, 2011 | Category: Human Interest, Interviews | 3 comments
“When many of the vets who are burn victims return from being overseas, those who can’t be helped at the facility in Texas are turned over to Dr. Miller. It’s a very small operation, but what they’re doing is just phenomenal.” –TV & Film Producer/Director Gilbert Adler
Producer/Director Gilbert Adler (Valkyrie, Superman Returns, Starsky & Hutch) has a heart for veterans and he shows it in a big way by producing probably one of the most significant events of his life. Instead of producing a film, he’s producing an event—a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion sponsored by The Thalians—on April 30, 2011, to help United States veterans. Never having any direct contact with the military or combat of any kind before, his heart for the wounded and his passion for veterans is contagious, even though he had his own struggles to make a difference. But those struggles didn’t stop him.
“My wife Jeannie Adler, David Loftus, and Sherri Hacket are my partners in trying to secure funds for veteran housing and have been instrumental in our success thus far.”—Gilbert Adler
I had a chance to interview Gilbert Adler about his upcoming production, The Thalians 55th Gala, with proceeds benefiting Operation Mend and special recognition going to Timothy A. Miller, MD. The Thalians is an organization that has been around since 1955. Debbie Reynolds and Ruta Lee started raising money for mental health in the early 50s and they have continued every year. Instead of the proceeds going to Cedars-Sinai, this year’s proceeds will go to UCLA’s Operation Mend, an organization that helps veterans who have been wounded or have mental disabilities from their military service in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Psychiatrist Dr. Tom Strauss and plastic surgeon Dr. Tim Miller have a facility at UCLA called The Ronald Reagan Medical Facility where they selflessly treat veterans.
Interviewed by Kaylene Peoples
Responses by Gilbert Adler
How did you get involved in the project to help veterans?
I made a movie called ValKyrie, starring Tom Cruise. It was about a guy who was trying to kill Hitler. While I was making another movie, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, UA (United Artist) called me and asked me if we’d present the movie (Valkyrie) in Washington, D.C., to the military—I’ve never done anything with the military. I never served. I had armored flat feet as a kid and they never accepted me—So we went to D.C. and stayed in a hotel about a mile from the White House. The event was for a thousand vets. We screened the movie, had an hour-long Q&A session afterward, and then a red carpet reception. At the reception we had the opportunity to meet these guys. We noticed that they were very young, and some of them were walking over to me with one cane, two canes, and some were in wheelchairs, and even the ones that were standing on their own, standing at attention, were talking to us. You could sort of see the back of their eyes . . . the back of their heads. I mean there was nothing going on. They were so damaged and they were so not-with-it for 18-19-year-old kids. We had a very difficult time that night. Went back to the hotel and we couldn’t sleep, cried most of the night and tried to figure out what happened.
What we thought was going to be a fun evening and give something to the military became this macabre thing. We were totally distraught. The next day we had a meeting with some senators and some smaller groups of people to find out what was going on (to help these veterans), and we learned there wasn’t a lot going on. We investigated further. After shooting another movie in New Orleans, we returned to LA; we wondered how we could help these guys.
We did some research on wheelchairs and tried to get some for them; and when that didn’t pan out, we tried to come up with a plan for education for getting them back into the labor market. And that didn’t really work out. Then we met with some people up at the VA in Bremerton, Washington. They said, “There is government money for these vets, but they need an address so the government can track them, find them, and make sure they’re using their money correctly, and monitor them; then they’re not eligible for anything.” So we realized that the problem for getting money for veterans has to do with housing. If we could get them housing, we could then get them money. That’s what we did. We started raising money for housing. We made a deal with Christian charities to accept monies that were tax deductible. We made a deal with the VA in Bremerton—If we could get these veterans into apartments, and if they would do all the paperwork. They said it would only take three or four months for these vets to get their money after their paperwork is underway. We got our first vets into housing on January 1. In the meantime, we’re trying to raise more money for more housing.
Friends of mine (Bob and Kira Lorsch, who are the co-chair of this year’s event) called me and said they were involved with the Thaliana Ball. They asked me to produce it. I told them I produce movies and television, not events. And they said, “We thought you were interested in helping the vets?” They explained to me what Operation Mend was. We “Googled” them and met with the doctors, some of the patients, and we were sold! We had to do it. April 30—Playboy Mansion—we take money—we take donations—we take everything!
How much is a ticket?
They’re asking $1,000 for a ticket. We have tables for sale. Some $50,000 per table for people who really want to give money to the organization. And there are tables that are selling for $8,000 – $10,000. We’re trying to raise a million dollars.
Part of the reason I wanted to interview you about this had to do with some of the difficulties you went through just trying to get the government to help in this situation.
It’s just difficult because their agenda is very different than what my agenda might be. Mine is clear and simple. So the problem I had with the government was very simple. I came about this in a very naïve way, having nothing to do with the government in the past and I thought I’d just come up with an idea about buying wheelchairs. Found out that unless you follow all the procedures that are suggested by the government, they can’t really help you, even if they don’t put up the money. In this case, we suggested we’d raise a million dollars for wheelchairs, but we needed their help to distribute those wheelchairs. I don’t know which vets need them the most. The government said they couldn’t help us because when we raised the money, we didn’t have a bidding policy and we didn’t offer it to various companies. We just went to this one wheelchair company that was started by Vietnam vets and had a wheelchair called the RoughRider, which has a low center of gravity and doesn’t fall over as easily. Because we didn’t put it out to bid, they said they couldn’t help us even though we weren’t asking for any government money. So, it’s more about the bureaucracy of doing it the right way from the government’s point of view. Everything would have taken longer; that is why we went into the private sector. I want it to happen for these vets now, not nine months from now. Maybe at some point the government will see what we’re doing and want to help.
All I want to do is raise money to help vets now, whether it’s medical, housing, or getting these vets a dog.
There is this other program I’m involved in where we raised money to help vets get a dog. The guys who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder do not do well with people, but they do respond well to the dogs. The dogs cost around $5,000. They have to be trained, and trained with the vet. There has to be an insurance policy for veterinarian care in case the dog gets ill. There has to be an amount of money set aside for dog food in case the vet doesn’t have money for dog food. There has to be a monitoring system so the dog doesn’t get abused. Vets suffering from Post Traumatic Stress, often times have terrible problems coping with day-to-day life. And we don’t want the dogs to suffer or be punished just because of that. We have four dogs now that are being trained.
“I want to rescue dogs and have trained the appropriate breed that can help our vets. Have those rescued dogs help rescue the vets.”–Gilbert Adler
Are there particular breeds that you are getting?
I want to expand the program. There’s an East Coast group that trains the dogs for autistic kids as well as for what we need. They bring the dogs out and supervise the training with the vet. We’re talking to the correction facility in the state of Washington about helping us. I want to rescue dogs and have trained the appropriate breed that can help our vets. Have those rescued dogs help rescue the vets. My partner is in Washington right now having conversations about implementing this. There were suggestions from the corrections facility in the state of Washington that they might be able to help us with training the dogs through the facility. Therefore helping the guys and gals in prison. We’re trying to explore that to see if we could create that because that would reduce the amount of costs per dog. And we could get more dogs to vets.
Have there been any challenges besides some of the governmental issues? Has this event come together pretty easily?
These events never come together easily. People’s intentions are great; but then you get into the specifics and the minutia of it, and it becomes insanity. The logistics of working at the Playboy Mansion—security, food, music, access, transportation—it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger.
How many veterans will be at the fundraiser?
Some guys will be there who are patients of the Operation Mend, about half a dozen. The first patient of Operation Mend will be there.
What’s the background of the doctors?
Dr. Miller served in Vietnam. He became a plastic surgeon and he wants to help veterans. He’s growing things that normally people don’t grow. People lose hands and they have stumps, they get prosthetic metal pieces that are attached to the hands and hopefully attached to nerves so that they can move them. He’s not doing that at all. He’s actually growing fingers. I think it has to do with stem cells. It’s just amazing.
On Flag Day in 2007, a soldier was blown up in Iraq, and he came back without a face. They built him a nose, eyelids, and prosthetic ears. I was really nervous about meeting him. We met him, and he looked normal. They really created a face. His attitude was great. In fact, this particular gentleman lives in Minnesota. [Now] they put him up in a place by UCLA for three or four weeks, put him in the hospital for a few days, and then send him back home. I asked his wife what he did in Minnesota. She replied, “He has a hotline 24/7.” I asked, “What is the hotline for?” And he himself actually replied, “For vets that want to commit suicide.” I asked him who funded that. He answered, “I have a cell phone. I have a pickup truck, and if a tank of gas will help save a guy’s life, I can take care of it myself.” He’ll be there [on April 30].
I’m always blown away when I meet people who take such huge action. It seems to me like it was a single moment that forced you to do something—that moment after the screening in Washington, D.C. And now you’re moving mountains.
Had anyone ever said to me that by making a movie called Valkyrie I would wind up with such a passion and determination to raise money for vets . . . it really just shows you how you have no idea where a career is going to lead you.
For more information on this event, please visit http://www.thethalians.org/upcoming-events.html and scroll to the “Thalians 55th Gala” on Saturday, April 30, 2011. RSVP to The Thalians at (310) 423-1040. Aside from the incredible talent that will be performing that evening: Billy Morrison (Billy Idol/The Cult), Matt Sorum (Guns N Roses, Velvet Revolver), Donovan Leitch (Son of legendary folk singer, Donovan), Steve Stevens (Billy Idol) Franky Perez (Scars On Broadway/Slash), America’s Got Talent singing group – New Directions Veteran Choir 36-62, there will also be a silent auction.
***The Thalian’s event was sold out and raised more funds for veterans and mental health than ever before in its 55-year history!