Tony Lawrence & Madi Smith: A Love Story
Performed by Idina Menzel
We all love a good story, and people in the film industry spend the best part of their adult lives in the service of telling stories we hope the world wants to hear. That’s what Hollywood’s all about in the end - it’s a story business. And there’s one kind of story Hollywood loves more than any other - a story that can be franchised. A story with a built-in sequel.
Here’s a romantic and heartwarming story unlike any other, performed by Idina Menzel (Frozen, Broadway’s Wicked and If/Then) and written by Michele and Kieran Mulroney (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows). Watch the video, or read the full story below.
Four years ago, we celebrated the story of Tony Lawrence. After his career as an actor petered out in the ‘60’s, Tony became a prolific TV and film writer, spending 30 years working in the industry on shows such as Bonanza, Hawaii Five-O, and The Twilight Zone, to name just a few.
But the real passion in Tony’s life was his wife, Nancy. They had one of those enviable relationships, the kind you usually only hear about in stories. Tony and Nancy were married for 50 years. They were partners in both life and work, raising five kids and co-writing and producing several TV shows and movies together. Tony lovingly referred to her as his “secret weapon.”
But then Alzheimer’s struck. In 2005, Tony and Nancy took up residence in the Motion Picture Home. Tony describes the last years of Nancy’s life as the “slow process of watching her personality slip away.” After she was lovingly cared for at Harry’s Haven, in 2008, Tony Lawrence lost his wife, his partner of 50 years... his “secret weapon.” Without her, Tony felt his life was over. There he was, brokenhearted and utterly alone at 83.
Except at the MPTF, you’re never really alone. Supported by the staff and the great friendships he made there, Tony very slowly emerged from this dark period. He found solace in creativity and collaboration and eventually, Tony found himself writing again. Every day. A memoir... a poetry collection... a full-length musical he composed with a fellow MPTF resident. His creative life, as he said at the time, “saved his sanity”. As for love, Tony was resigned to the fact that that part of his story was over. One and done. ’Cause in real life, you rarely get a Hollywood ending.
While Tony’s creative output continued to be prolific, something was missing. Though of course Nancy was irreplaceable, Tony eventually decided to dip his toes into the world of online dating, without much luck. He even starred in a short film about the experience which made the festival rounds: Dreamcatchers, chronicling the trials and tribulations of online dating for the octogenarian set. By the way, this was Tony’s directorial debut. At age 87.
But wait, we promised you a sequel. Well, for Tony, it came in the form of Madi Smith: the new girl on campus. At the urging of her mother, Madi had started out as a dancer and violinist, but her dancing days were short- lived. At 18, she left the dance world behind and transitioned into production and personal assistant work for a long list of major entertainers. Madi had a brief and unsatisfactory marriage at a young age and was later unceremoniously jilted weeks before her wedding to a well-known industry figure. She hadn’t exactly been lucky in love, and like Tony, Madi figured that her love story was a wrap. But unbeknownst to Toni and Madi, greater forces were at work...
At the urging of her friend and former employer, Jerry McPhee - who described the MPTF as “paradise on earth” - Madi had come to visit the campus a few times. But as a seventy-something woman with the spirit and energy of a 30-year-old, she’d always assumed it was a place for old farts. She considered herself waaaay too young to live there. But the more Madi visited, the more she realized how vibrant and active the place was and how fulfilled the residents were. I mean, Happy Hour every day from 3 to 5? Who wouldn’t want that?! And so, a couple years ago, Madi finally made the move to Woodland Hills and settled into a quiet life on campus.
One fateful day, Tony happened to be looking out of the window of his cottage when he saw an attractive woman... pushing a baby stroller through the gardens. It struck him as odd: baby carriages and retirement communities don’t usually go together. The mystery was solved when Tony realized the “baby” was in fact a three-legged Yorkie named Dexter. But the bigger question: who was this girl?
Now, since all of us are pretty much doomed to repeat scenes from our high school lives over and over, picture this. Preferably in slo-mo. We’re in the cafeteria. Tony spots Madi. His heart races. I mean, she’s a very attractive woman, did we mention that? She’s sitting alone at a table. Tony looks, and looks and finally, he picks up his coffee. What the hell? Nervously, he walks over and introduces himself. “I’ve been told you’re a nice person and I should get to know you. So here I am.” Okay, maybe not the best pick-up line of all time...
What followed were agonizing mixed signals from Madi, but Tony couldn’t ignore how he felt every time he saw her. So in a last-ditch attempt at winning Madi over, he bought a bouquet of flowers, marched over to her cottage, and knocked on the door. And this time, he got the girl. Soon, against all their expectations, they were falling madly in love.
After a dizzying courtship, this past November in the Roddy McDowell Rose Garden on campus, at age 88 and 75 respectively, Tony and Madi were married. With Dexter on hand, of course. This marked the first time in the 75-year history of the MPTF that a couple had met and made it all the way to the altar. Ah, young love.
When asked to describe Tony, apart from “sexy” and “a great kisser”, Madi calls him “the finest man I’ve ever known”. For the first time, she says she feels safe, alive, and energized. For Tony, he simply can’t believe he’s been lucky enough to find true love twice in one lifetime.
These days, the newlyweds are happily ensconced in their cozy cottage on campus, where Madi is busy decorating and cooking up their favorite meals. They describe one another as “always working”, stressing that it helps them “feel relevant” and that there should be no age limit on creativity.
Fact is, their creative output would put most people half their age to shame: Tony remains very active with Channel 22, the MPTF’s on-campus TV station, where he made the movie Hi Lillian and is currently developing a story about two friends living in an old folks’ home, one of whom turns out to be... a Nazi!
Madi writes poetry and short stories and together, they attend the Grey Quill writing class. They collaborated on a movie called The 3-Legged Stool, inspired by you-know-who. And both Tony and Madi recently signed with acting agents for the first time in decades and are now going out on commercial auditions.
But most of all, they’re just living moment to moment. “When you find love the second time around at this stage of life”, says Tony, “You recognize that your future together isn’t unlimited, so you make every moment count.”
Of course, we all know a franchise isn’t a franchise unless you get three stories out of it. So stay tuned. See you in a couple of years...