Photo credit: Julie Livingston
When someone you love dies, you don’t lose them all at once. You lose them in pieces over time, like how the mail stops coming.
—Jim Carrey (Narrator), Simon Birch
Christmas Eve I received a phone call from my former colleague and dear friend Bert Livingston. In his usual chipper voice Bert said, “Larry, guess what I am getting for Christmas?” Before I could answer his question, Bert joyfully exclaimed, “A new heart! Larry, I am getting a new heart for Christmas. The heart transplant is happening tonight.”
How does one describe Bert Livingston? Well, there’s only one Bert. I had the pleasure of meeting Bert Livingston back in 1985 when he was a branch manager for Twentieth Century Fox, and I was the head film buyer for Wometco Theatres in Miami, Florida. The two of us took a liking to each other from the get-go. We became life friends as we worked together day in and day out trying to do the best job for our respective companies, while understanding there always had to be a little give and take from both sides in order to get the Fox movies on the Wometco theatre’s screen.
For those of you who never had the privilege to meet Bert, let me try to describe him in a single word—GENUINE. Bert Livingston was one of the most genuine men that I have ever known. Bert was not a man of false pretenses: he said what he meant and meant what he said.
While my daughter Mentora and I were writing my life story, Hollywood’s Chosen, I asked Bert if he would look at the manuscript and give me any thoughts or suggestions as to how I might improve the book. After reading the manuscript, Bert called me and emphatically remarked as only Bert could say, “Larry, loyalty, you have got to emphasize to the reader how loyalty was our bond. Sure, we knew the rats who couldn’t be trusted, but for the most part, our business was all about loyalty.” As I listened to Bert, I thought back over my friendship and work relationship and how the word loyalty was a defining characteristic of exactly who Bert Livingston was.
For as long as I’ve known Bert, he has struggled with heart-related issues. Bert’s phone call on Christmas Eve seemed like the answer to all of our prayers. Christmas Eve was the start of six days of uncertainty and fear for all of us who knew and loved Bert. His new heart developed blood clots, and his doctors put him in an induced coma. The new heart never woke up. Bert passed away Tuesday, December 30th. The news broke my heart. The last few days felt like I’d been on a heart-wrenching roller coaster ride that ended with an unexpected crash. The sense of loss was overwhelming—as I didn’t just lose a former colleague, I lost my buddy, my friend. Bert and I have talked numerous times on the phone. Our friendship was rekindled through the writing of my life story. Bert would often end our phone conversations with, “You know I love you, Larry.”
God’s ways are not our ways. I’m thankful that I can rest knowing that His ways are best. My prayers go out to Janie, his beautiful wife and their adult children, Matt and Julie, and to the many friends and loved ones who knew this most wonderful man.
Eighteen years ago, Bert gave me the surprise of a lifetime when he flew to Greenville, South Carolina, for my surprise 50th birthday party. I was shocked and touched that Bert would come all that way for my birthday. I remember Bert got up to speak, and he said, “There’s a lot of stories that I could share.” Then he smiled and looked at me knowing I’d be squirming in my seat because we certainly had some wild stories that he could share! He continued, “There’s a lot of stories that I won’t share.” I had a hard time deciding which Bert story to share. Bert worked for Fox for twenty-nine years. I read an article online about his retirement where Bert said, “My life at Twentieth Century Fox has been the greatest. The studio has been like a second family to me. I love this business. Not many people know that I am a second generation film peddler, as I followed my father’s footsteps into an industry he loved, and he instilled in me a similar passion. But I’m at a point in my life where I’d like to spend more time with my wife and kids, do some traveling and just relax.” Here’s a great Bert moment that demonstrates his passion for his company:
Bert caught my attention as he stretched his arms. He smiled at me, tilted his head down slightly, and reached his right hand up and saluted me. His gesture affirmed that he was pleased with the way my testimony was going. His salute also brought back a funny Bert Livingston story from my Wometco days. I was attending a trade screening of a 20th Century Fox film; Bert, at the time, was the Florida branch manager for Fox. I don’t remember the movie that was being screened, but I do remember there were a lot of people at the screening. The lights in the auditorium dimmed, and the famous 20th Century Fox logo appeared on the screen, with its famous fanfare music. As soon as the drums started playing, Bert, who happened to be seated on the front row of the auditorium, immediately stood at attention and extended a lengthy salute that would have made a Marine Corps general proud. The audience broke into laughter, and then applause, as they enjoyed watching Bert give a wholehearted salute to his employer, the Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
Excerpt from Hollywood’s Chosen
If I could talk to Bert again. I would be sure to tell him, “You know I love you, Bert.” True friends are rare. They stick with you through thick and thin. I’m so thankful for the many fond memories I have of Bert Livingston. Bert, today I salute you. May Bert Livingston’s memory live on forever.
This one’s for Bert…