Photo courtesy of the filmmaker.


This Friday, a beautiful little film, “Lives Well Lived: Celebrating the Secrets, Wit and Wisdom of Age” opens at Laemmle’s Monica Film Center (and on other Laemmle screens). And the 27th edition of “The Emeritus Chronicles,” featuring writing by Santa Monica College Emeritus College students, has been published and is available for very inexpensive purchase. If you’re in need of a little boost, some inspiration, a life lesson or two, you could save yourself thousands of dollars on self-improvement workshops just by paying attention to these elders.

Sky Bergman has documented, through one-on-one interviews, historic and personal images and footage, the lives of 40 people, aged 75 to 103, with a deep focus on a dozen individuals. Painters, poets, photographers, dancers, cooks, a yogini: their singular histories, the lessons they learned and the lives they’ve lived demonstrate profound examples of how to be successfully present in one’s life.

You’ll meet people who grew up in the Japanese internment camps, experienced the Great Depression, who were carried to safety from Germany to England by the Kindertransport and so much more, all of whom came out the other side wiser and grateful to be alive.

Bergman opens with her beloved Italian grandmother, whose kitchen she grew up in. She began filming her grandmother exercising at the gym at age 99. With her 100th birthday looming, Sky decided to ask what wisdom she might impart. It was the spark that inspired the movie. She lived to see her 103rd birthday…and passed a few weeks after.

Take Lou Tedone, a retired pediatrician in San Luis Obispo who goes by the nickname Lucky Louie, 92 at the time of the movie. Nowadays, after rising at dawn to clean the house and taking a walk, he goes into his kitchen to make fresh mozzarella cheese for his daughter’s deli every day.


I spent four figures on a six-week workshop, whose message was the same one that Lou shares: “Happiness is a state of mind. You can be happy with what you have or miserable with what you don’t have. You decide.”

95-year old Susy Eto Baumann (who really does not look her age) grew up in Manzanar, the Japanese internment camp. Her father nevertheless volunteered to fight for the US in World War II (the Japanese infantry regiment) and died for this country. With every excuse to be bitter, Susy chose positivity to guide her life.

Dancer Blanche Brown, 78 years old in the film, was a civil rights activist and is a literal mover and shaker, who loves to dance and teaches dance to others. To see her moves is like watching a woman one-third her age.

Emmy Cleaves, an 86-year old yogini, was born in Latvia, and following successive occupations of her country by Russia and Germany, escaped with her mother, only to be placed in a Polish labor camp. When that was bombed, they tried to leave but were separated at the train station. Neither knew whether the other still lived (finally reconnecting in the 1960s). She met her husband, a pilot, at Santa Monica’s Miramar Hotel. She is still teaching yoga.

This movie will give you hope and perspective, things in short supply these days. “Lives Well Lived” opens tomorrow at Laemmle’s Monica Film Center. Find out more at and get tickets here:


I recently attended a reading by Santa Monica College’s Emeritus College writing students. It’s a diverse group of older writers, poets and even a painter or two, who gather weekly in four different classes. Interestingly, the volume was produced for the first time by the students in the “Writing for Publication” class.

Ruth Lercher Bornstein not only writes but paints, and her image graces the cover. Her story “The Rage to Paint” is about a dream in which she needs to “Get it Out,” that urge to say things in colors and shapes, that she can’t say in words. She read it well, too.

Edna Erspamer had me hanging by a thread with her harrowing but hilarious story “Black Rock Mountain,” about an adventure gone awry, being snowbound along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

And husband and wife team Helen and Ron Telanoff both read their pieces, hers about her breast cancer surgery, and the support of her “friendly gargoyle,” a stuffed character named Max, gifted to her by a friend who’d gotten through the same surgery with Max’s help. Ron wrote philosophically about his love of science, the size of the universe and all its empty spaces, both macro and micro, as it relates to the truth of our lives.

While supplies last, pick up of The Emeritus Chronicles at 1227 2nd Street.


Once again, The Ruskin Group Theatre is premiering a new play, this time “The Alamo,” about the blue-collar inhabitants of an old-school neighborhood bar in Brooklyn, facing the winds of change and gentrification. Lots of class, cultural and romantic clashes and entanglements.

This theatre company makes optimal use of its space, the stage sets and quick changes scene changes continue to amaze, and the actors are really good; it’s another solid production from one of LA’s hardest working small theatres. “The Alamo” was extended through May 13, so catch it soon. The Ruskin Group Theatre is located at Santa Monica Airport.

Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.