Jane Taught Me "What
Our Journey to Ojai, Her final Resting Place
By Jim Cusumano
(April 2002, Ojai, CA) Jane found Ojai late in life, but her
connection to this valley was immediate and endearing. One
month after completing her three-year search for a home in
the Ojai Valley, she discovered that she had breast cancer.
As a mother, wife, artist, musician, writer and soon-to-be
filmmaker, she took on the challenge of battling this disease
head on while restoring our newly purchased Wallace Neff home
to its original 1924 grandeur.
I knew Jane for what seemed
like a lifetime, but it was really just shy of 20 years. During
that time, she touched not only me, but also family, friends,
and just about everyone around her, with her spirit, passion,
creativity, and most of all, with her love and generosity.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in her short-lived tenure
in Ojai and as screenplay writer/director in the making of
her first and last feature film. We completed "What Matters
Most" on May 1, 2001, and she lost her courageous 4-year
battle with breast cancer one month later. Jane died quietly
in my arms on June 1 at 10:30 a.m. at Cottage Hospital, in
The convergence of our lives and our
wonderful journey together had its genesis in the early 1950s,
several years before Jane was even born. During that time
I fell in love with two unlikely mistresses---chemistry and
rock n' roll---and they have followed me through my life ever
since. It started with a Gilbert chemistry set that my parents
gave me for my 9th Christmas. After the usual "boy things,"
pyrotechnics and rockets, I settled down as a serious entrepreneur
at the age of 12 "manufacturing" cosmetics and household
products in the cellar of the two-family home we shared with
my grandparents in Elizabeth, New Jersey. I suppose out of
pity, the neighbors indulged me and bought my products. I
can not tell you how many cases of "cosmetic dermatitis"
I may have caused, I hope they were few. By today's litigious
standards, I am sure that potential product liability suits
would have filled the courts for years.
At age 13, I developed a strong interest in rock n' roll.
It was 1955, Elvis was on the scene, but even more interesting
to me were the rhythm and blues groups coming out of Harlem
just across the river from where I lived. I loved their music
and I began to write similar songs, although I had no formal
training. They must have been good enough because I sold them
successfully in Manhattan by knocking on doors at the famous
Brill Building at 1650 Broadway where Carole King, Neil Sedaka
and a host of other superstars from yesteryear did their thing.
At $50 to $300 a song, and as the oldest of 10 children living
at significantly less than modest means, the money was a god
sent. A year of piano lessons and I was again in my entrepreneur
mode with my first rock band, Little Orbie and The Satellites,
playing high school proms and any bar or club in the New Jersey/New
York area whose manager would believe that we were 18 years
of age. The oldest of the five of us was 15.
Pay dirt hit in 1958 when I joined
the Royal Teens who recorded several gold records, the most
significant being "Short Shorts" which sold more
than 2 million records. For a 16-year-old who had never been
to any other state beyond New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania,
this was an incredible learning experience. I traveled nationwide
with the best of rock n' roll; groups such as Buddy Holly
and the Crickets, The Platters, The Coasters, Little Richard,
and Ritchie Valens. And so it went, hand-in-hand, rock n'
roll and chemistry, all the way through graduate school, culminating
in a PhD in chemical physics from Rutgers University in 1967.
Three thousand miles away in Los Altos, California, Jane was
about 13 years of age.
It was time to get serious and get a "day job."
I went to work for Exxon in Linden, New Jersey, and shortly
thereafter became the Director of Research and Development.
I continued to sing and play part-time with the Royal Teens
in Manhattan. But after meeting Ricardo Levy, a charismatic
Ecuadorian research engineer at Exxon, who had become my closest
friend, it was clear that we were destined to build a business
together. Neither he nor I could tolerate the bureaucratic
pace of a large company. I gave up rock n' roll and we moved
to California's Silicon Valley in 1974 and founded Catalytica,
Inc. with Professor Michel Boudart, a world-renowned researcher
in catalytic science at Stanford University.
Because we had little money, Catalytica was started as a consulting
company, based in Palo Alto. Ricardo and I had been well schooled
at Exxon in the science and technology of catalytic processes,
and with Michel's reputation and connections, it was only
six months before we were profitable. We hired the brightest
scientists and engineers from all over the world and over
the next 8 years, built a consulting and contract research
business well beyond our expectations.
It was the summer of 1982, Catalytica had grown to a $5 million
profitable enterprise and two critical events happened in
my life. First, by raising more than 50 million in venture
capital, we exited our consulting business and initiated research
and development to create our own technologies so that we
could eventually enter manufacturing. And second, an incredible
human being named Jane Neece walked into my life.
Bob Garten, our Vice President of R&D hired Jane as his
executive assistant. I still remember the day that he brought
her to my office on her first day at Catalytica. They peeked
into my office, "Hi Jim, this is Jane Neece, she will
be working with us in R&D," declared Bob. My gaze
on this tall mystical statuesque blond would not release.
"Say, Jim," Bob repeated, to knock me out of my
stupor. My Sicilian father and mother had often spoke of this
phenomenon, fulmine they called it in their native dialect,
or thunderbolt. It happens rarely, but when it does there
is nothing your heart can do but surrender to the other person.
I had just gone through a messy divorce from my first wife
of 18 years and I was not looking for another woman, but there
she was. I had no choice. I fell in love with Jane the moment
I laid eyes on her.
The first time I asked her out on a date she responded with
a categorical, "No." I guess she wasn't interested
in someone who had just gone through a divorce, someone on
the "rebound." But I persisted again, and again,
always with the same response. I suppose I just wore her down,
she finally conceded, probably out of pity. I brought her
to the nicest restaurant in town and I dressed to the nines
in a new hand-tailored, monogrammed shirt. Over dinner we
spoke about everything from Dostoevsky (The Idiot was one
of her casual reads at the time!) to rock n' roll. Her breadth
of knowledge impressed me. At work Jane had been so unassuming.
Who would have guessed that she had an intellect to match
All through dinner, she kept staring at the monogram on my
shirt. Finally, I inquired with a big smile, "Like the
shirt?" She coolly replied, "Not really. I know
who you are, you know who you are and God knows who your are,
so why the monogram?" I haven't worn a monogram since
then. Jane was an incredible human being, not just striking
and beautiful on the outside, but also mystical and spiritual
on the inside. She taught me the true meaning of humility
and what it means to serve others. She inspired those around
her with her incredible, quiet, unassuming creativity, always
willing to help, never seeking anything in return.
Jane had a lovely 5-year old daughter named Polly from her
first marriage. Polly and I also fell in love with each other
from the first time we met one Saturday, while I was working
and Jane came in to pick up some papers. I shared my Big Mac
with her. She asked me to take off the onions, as Jane rolled
her eyes in discontent with Polly's request. I concurred and
we have been the best of friends ever since. The three of
us along with my daughter, Doreen, from my first marriage,
became a family on June 15, 1985 when Jane and I married,
one of the happiest days of my life.
Jane was an incredibly talent person, but her family always
came first and she chose to support me emotionally and spiritually
as I built Catalytica. She was an accomplished artist, musician
and writer and a promising screenplay writer and filmmaker.
But you would never know it unless you pulled the information
from her. Jane's piano playing was magical. I learned only
after we were married for several years that she had played
Rachmaninoff in concert at the age of nine. It was also some
time before I realized she was an accomplished artist. We
were just married and I was a struggling entrepreneur. We
had our challenges making ends meet. Jane solicited and acquired
several commissions to paint portraits of multi-million dollar
racehorses for very handsome fees. When Polly went off to
Vassar, Jane bought a horse and became an accomplished equestrian,
winning numerous ribbons in competitions. To fill the void
of an "empty nest," and when not riding her horse
Netty Lark, she wrote almost obsessively and completed a novel
under the guidance of her agent, Al Zuckerman, who managed
a number of best-selling writers, including Ken Follet and
Stephen Hawking. The novel, entitled The Blue Mirror, remains
unpublished (It will be published this year.), in part due
to her drive for personal excellence, and partly because she
transformed it into an enticing screenplay, her very first.
Jane had found her true passion in life---filmmaking.
But I was still building Catalytica through mergers and acquisitions,
and she decided to bide her time and stay on the sidelines
until the right moment. We had taken the company public on
the NASDAQ, focused in two divisions, pharmaceuticals and
environmental. We had become a world player with more than
1600 employees and major manufacturing plants in California,
Michigan and North Carolina. Using our technologies and know
how, we became the drug manufacturer of choice for most major
international pharmaceutical companies. We produced the world
supply of prescription medicines such as AZT, Wellbutrin,
Lanoxin, Zyban, and over-the-counter drugs such as Sudefed,
Actifed and Neosporin. In 1999, we produced more than 5 billion
tablets at our plant in Greenville, North Carolina. That year,
Catalytica achieved a market value of more than $1 billion.
And to think, it all started several years earlier in Ricardo's
cellar. But I could never have achieved a fraction of this
success had it not been for Jane's role in mentoring me spiritually
and emotionally. She was always there for me. Her advice and
counsel were always on target. As my Sicilian parents would
say, she had become my Consigliore. I treasured her guidance
in this capacity until her very last breath on this Earth.
Long before I did, Jane recognized the challenges of living
in Silicon Valley. We had a lovely home in Los Altos, but
the Valley had changed over the prior two decades---traffic
jams, pollution and people frenetically running in multiple
directions focused on the material things in life. It was
becoming easy for me to do the same. But, Jane persisted and
she saved me from my natural inclination to continue building
an empire at the expense of my family and that delicate soul
We began to look around for someplace that we could retire
to, someplace that had a much more spiritual presence and
where Jane could pursue her natural artistic talents with
a sense of peace. We made a list of criteria. It had to be
a small town that was not "hokey;" it had to have
mixed demographics and not be focused on just the upper strata;
it had to be horse friendly; it must not be located too far
from an ocean, we always found peace in the "negative
ions of the sea;" it could not be far from a major airport
and a good university; and most importantly, it must be friendly
to the arts. We visited many of the obvious locations, Seattle,
Phoenix, Portland, Santa Fe, Carmel, but none of them had
it all. And then I remembered a small town that I had seen
on TV while growing up with rock n' roll and chemistry in
New Jersey. It was called Ojai and was the home of The Bionic
Woman, Jamie Summers, played by Lindsay Wagner. I convinced
Jane to take the 5-hour ride south from our home in Los Altos
to visit this little village. The minute we arrived, she fell
in love with Ojai. An incredibly sensitive woman, she felt
the positive vibrations that permeate the valley. She was
Jane immediately found her way to Coldwell Bankers where she
met Nora Davis, who was to become one of her closest friends.
Nora worked patiently with us for almost three years to find
a home in Ojai. The one we eventually bought wasn't even on
the market. It was designed and built in 1924 by renowned
architect, Wallace Neff. It was owned by Rosemary Rodie, an
elderly woman who had lived in the home for decades, and for
the last 19 years as a widow. Although a beautiful home, it
was in significant disrepair and had been modified by the
first three owners in a way that was far afield from what
Wallace Neff had intended. Nora arranged for us to meet Rosemary
and I spent the better part of two meetings with her doing
the most significant sales job I had ever done in my life.
She finally conceded and on December 31, 1997 we became the
new owners of what we affectionately christened "Chateau
Wally." Jane was ecstatic, we had the original plans
and she was determined and committed to restore the home to
its original splendor, both inside and out.
The plan was for Jane, in the company of her sister, Janelle
to move to Ojai while I began to phase out of my responsibilities
at Catalytica. We quickly sold our home in Los Altos and I
leased an apartment near Catalytica so that I could work there
Monday through Thursday. I commuted by plane from San Jose
to Santa Barbara and spent the long weekends helping Jane.
Marc Whitman, of Whitman Architecture, and whom we retained
to help with drawings and to get the necessary permits, leased
us a cabin at the Blue Iguana Inn, which he had developed
with his wife. This was convenient because it had a homey
feel to it and because we also were able to keep our dog,
Heidi and our cat, Charlie there with us.
Everything was going perfectly until Tuesday afternoon January
13, 1998, just two weeks after buying our home. Jane called
me at the office in a panic. She had just stepped out of the
shower and had felt a large lump in her right breast. I did
my best to calm her down because I honestly felt it would
amount to nothing. She had been given a mammogram by her gynecologist
in August, and had a yearly checkup in December. If there
was anything to be concerned about, surely these two competent
physicians at Stanford Medical Center would have found it.
Within two weeks, the diagnosis was clear---third-stage breast
cancer. The firm tissue in Jane's breast had masked the tumor.
It only rose to the surface because a fluid-filled cyst formed
below the tumor and caused it to do so. Both of us were devastated.
How could this happen to Jane? She was tough physically and
mentally, healthy as a horse. But it did happen, and no one
yet knows why. It is difficult for me to relive those early
moments, they are almost as challenging as her last on this
planet. But somehow, we pulled ourselves up by our boot straps,
and said, "Dammit, we are going to beat this!" We
both honestly thought we could.
Over the next six weeks, Jane had a lumpectomy, then a mastectomy
and then she began intense chemotherapy. In the February to
April timeframe, she met with Marc Whitman, construction people
and scores of other workers. Weakened by a challenging surgery,
she still found time to drive to her "treasure yards"
in Berkeley, California where she bought windows, doors and
whatnot, all of which had been carefully removed from demolished
homes that were built during the 1920s. Her plan was to restore
every door, window and panel at Chateau Wally that had been
modernized over the years. No detail was left untouched. Jane
also designed an additional 1500 square feet of living space
to be added on and she wanted to be sure that it all looked
like a brand new 1924 Wallace Neff home when it was completed.
Old wavy glass in every window, restoration of the old pushbutton
light switches, crystal door knobs, antique light fixtures,
everything was pure 1924 vintage. She must have visited every
antique store between northern and southern California. Marc
Whitman supplied construction personnel, Jane hired others,
and in the end, she essentially became the general contractor.
She was there 10 hours a day and nothing was done unless it
was part of her plan. She kept this intense schedule even
during the April-July period of 1998 when she traveled by
car six days a week to Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara to
receive high doses of radiation therapy. March of 1998 through
February 1999, those were challenging months. But when all
was finished, we had a brand new 1924 Wallace Neff home on
5 acres of new incredible gardens, also completely designed
by Jane. She even used our truck to personally buy and deliver
hundreds of plants from nurseries throughout the county.
The ultimate compliment came with the visit of Wallace Neff,
Jr., son of the architect, who told Jane that Chateau Wally
was the best restored Wallace Neff home he had seen. Neff
had written a book on his father's architectural life with
descriptions of all of the Wallace Neff homes that were still
in existence. For us, living at Chateau Wally was a privilege.
The positive energies we experienced together were echoed
by all who would visit "Wally." With breast cancer
in remission and our home completed, we were ecstatic. What
next? Jane decided to finally pursue her lifelong dream and
passion to make her own feature film.
She had begun writing screenplays in the early 1990s after
studying with Robert McKee, the celebrated guru in the field.
Her dream had always been to direct her own feature film,
but as a devoted wife and mother, the timing just did not
seem right to her until our youngest daughter, Polly went
off to Vassar to study filmmaking, and I succeeded in taking
Catalytica public. The first event provided large blocks of
personal time and the second, potential funding for her foray
Shortly after Polly graduated from Vassar and began her career
as an actress, Jane conferred with her about a script idea.
As a young girl, Jane had often vacationed at her grandparents'
cotton farm in Oklahoma. Driving from California, she was
impressed by the stark beauty of the Texas Panhandle and the
warmth of its people. These early impressions were reinforced
in her artistic soul by great movie standards such as The
Last Picture Show, Giant and Tender Mercies. From those early
discussions with Polly, the script for What Matters Most emerged.
Beautifully shot on the Texas Panhandle, this bittersweet
Romeo and Juliet story is about following your heart, no matter
what obstacles are thrown your way.
It all started on a sunny April 2000 day in Ojai. Jane had
just completed the script and we were discussing how to get
the film off the ground. In short, how to get it funded? She
saw it as a $500,000 project, but after reviewing her plans,
I knew that the final number would be much higher.
Through a number of contacts that I pursued in Los Angeles,
we arranged meetings with several producers and investors
who were looking for new material. After more "That's
not our kind of thing; it's not edgy enough" meetings
than I care to recall, we found ourselves in front of a group
that fell in love with the script. After some back and forth,
they offered $100,000 for Jane's script. Not too shabby! The
catch was that Jane could have no further creative input.
She was elated and depressed at the same time. What to do?
That was the question that April afternoon.
Finally, Jane exclaimed with an epiphany, "We'll do it
ourselves; we'll form our own film company." "Lovely,"
I thought. I had founded, built and taken two high-tech companies
public, but they were in the pharmaceutical and energy sectors.
What did we know about making films? Jane persisted, and I
finally conceded. Several months prior, she had successfully
put her first bout with breast cancer in remission and she
was ready to roll. And so, Chateau Wally Films was born on
June 1, 2000.
As executive producer, the first thing I did was to hire a
consulting director for Jane. She had never even been on a
movie set and I felt that she needed to know some of the technicalities.
The problem was that the first two candidates wanted to take
over her film, and there was no way that was going to happen.
I fired both of them.
One of them was a real gem. He told us that there was no way
we could shoot the film on the Texas Panhandle. "No infrastructure
to work with," he pontificated. He fancied himself as
a location scout and flew us to Montana to fake the Panhandle.
Jane stepped off the plane in Helena and took one look at
those beautiful mountains and said, "No way!" He
then ushered us off to Dallas because they do have a great
film infrastructure. "This looks like Pennsylvania or
New Jersey," she observed. Jane pulled me aside at the
Dallas airport and asked me to do something, which I did.
I fired the guy, right then and there.
Jane marched over to the Southwest Airlines counter and bought
two tickets to Amarillo. Upon arrival, we rented a car and
drove around Amarillo until she found two towns that fit her
image of the film, Channing and Vega. She chose Vega, population
840, situated about 40 miles west of Amarillo on old Route
66. We immediately visited the Mayor and after describing
the script to him and his council, found we had more cooperation
than we could ask for. We had all we needed, no permits or
fees, free access to all areas and buildings in town, large
numbers of enthusiastic extras who were willing to work for
free and standby patiently until needed. The sheriff and his
deputies even worked part-time for us as carpenters and security
Jane's next thought was to identify local people who could
help us pull off a project in a cost-effective way. She called
the Texas Film Commission and they put us in contact with
Sue Burns Hoffman, who had just finished work on Waking Up
In Reno with Billy Bob Thornton, and who knows just about
everyone in Amarillo and the surrounding area. She eventually
became our associate producer. Sue introduced us to Sherry
Anderson, the primary talent agent in Amarillo. Sherry provided
the local talent. Most significant was 11-year old Kaitlyn
Lewis who did a magnificent job in her role as Jeanetta Warner.
But perhaps the most important connection realized through
Sue and Sherry was our introduction to Charla Diver who was
to become our producer. Charla had lived in Los Angeles, produced
more than 15 films, and now as a single mom with a 5-year
old boy had decided to come back to the family values of the
Panhandle to raise her son. It turned out to be a great opportunity
for both Charla and us. Charla hired all of the other key
crew---cinematographer, sound, editor, assistant directors,
etc. She also identified Richard Munchkin, who had produced
or directed more than 20 action films and was more than willing
to advise Jane as a director's consultant, and truly let her
call the shots.
Charla worked with me and Jane in developing a realistic budget.
Jane's original estimate shot up to $800,000. Charla promised
that she could deliver the project within budget. We both
agreed that anything that Jane needed that was not in the
budget would be brought to my attention as executive producer
and would be implemented only as an "agreed upon overage."
I knew that there would be many of these, because I thoroughly
understood the "big sky" feel that Jane was looking
for in this film. I had the number $1.2 million in my head,
which I did not share with Jane, and which was ultimately
required to complete the film. Under the circumstances, it
was worth every penny.
With these details developed, we headed back to Ojai where
Jane and our daughter, Polly who plays Heather Stone in the
film, set about the task of auditioning more than 500 SAG
actors in Los Angeles. It required several weeks, but their
insight was phenomenal. They identified an ensemble cast that
had all of the right looks, personal chemistry and performances.
During August, Charla set up our production office in Amarillo
and hired local actors, extras and crew, as well as the crew
that she felt must come from the Los Angeles talent pool.
Jane and I flew out several times to be sure that all was
going according to plan and for Jane to have her input on
hiring local actors and crew. Jane spent significant time
identifying the specific shooting locations in Vega. She had
an uncanny insight and impressed even the most experienced
among the crew, including Michael Goi, our cinematographer.
It was September 12, just one week before Jane and I were
to leave for Amarillo when she learned that her breast cancer
was back and had metastasized to her lungs. We were devastated,
but the next morning she called her doctors at Stanford and
Santa Barbara and worked out a plan with them whereby she
would receive chemotherapy every Friday morning at 7:00 a.m.
at the Harrington Cancer Center in Amarillo, just prior to
going on set.
We set off for Amarillo by car on September 14. We rented
the Bonanza Motel in Vega for cast and crew. It was run-down,
but clean and looked like it hadn't seen this kind of action
since the sixties. Many of our actors, e.g. Chad Allen (Dr.
Quinn Medicine Woman) and Marshall Teague (Roadhouse, Armageddon,
The Rock) were accustomed to much nicer quarters, but all
of us eventually became one big family and thoroughly enjoyed
the experience. We all worked and played together.
We shot on a tight schedule of 22 days and, as we approached
late October, we were constantly praying for good weather!
Working 16-hour days, alternate six- and five-day weeks, I
knew that Jane was exhausted, but she never said a word. She
had brief rehearsals and rarely shot more than three takes,
pushing everyone at a rapid clip. She was an inspiration and
the performances show it. Marshall Teague was a Navy Seal
and a highly decorated black-belt martial artist, having played
the tough guy in everything from Road House to Armageddon
and The Rock. More than once, I saw him deep in tears as he
watched with amazement, Jane's passion and performance. We
had the luck of the gods with us. Everything fell in place.
It's not supposed to in the business of filmmaking. We finished
principle photography on November 6. The very next day Amarillo
was buried in its first snow of the winter, 15 inches deep!
Jane and I drove back to Ojai and she tried to rest, but the
next few months were packed with doctor visits, pain pills,
macrobiotic diets and trips to Mexico for treatments she could
not get legally in the states. She began to work with our
editor, Marc Leif, in March. She was driven every day by either
me or private car from Ojai to the studio in Burbank where
she gave Marc her input as she lay on a couch, growing weaker
each day. Those were very difficult months. We finished post
production in April and she viewed the final film on the big
screen at FotoKem on May 1. She cried with joy and consummate
satisfaction, and so did I. I hugged her until my arms ached,
I was so happy for her.
Jane was my wife, my best friend and my teacher. As my wife,
she provided unconditional love, constant encouragement and
sound counsel. I was most fortunate to co-found and help grow
a successful public company in Silicon Valley. This was not
an easy task and required millions of miles of travel and
many more hills than valleys along the way. Jane was always
there to help me through the darkest hours and to show me
how to celebrate our successes. She listened to my dreams.
Five years ago, at age 55, I confided to Jane that since the
time I was a boy growing up in New Jersey, I fantasized about
climbing mountains like Whitney, Rainier, and Kilimanjaro
in Africa. She encouraged me to 'just do it!' And I did. Every
one of them. The echo of her voice pushed me to the top as
I struggled through thin air on each of those peaks.
As my best friend, she is aptly described by a verse from
a poem by C. Raymond Beran, "What Is A Friend."
What is a friend? I will tell you. It is a person with
whom you dare to be yourself.
Your soul can be naked with her. She seems to ask of you to
put on nothing,
only to be what you are. She does not want you to be better
When you are with her, you feel as a prisoner feels who has
been declared innocent.
You do not have to be on your guard. You can say what you
so long as it is genuinely you.
Through it all ---- and underneath --- she sees, she knows
and loves you. A friend? What is a friend? Just one, I repeat,
with whom you dare be yourself.
I could always be me with Jane. She did not always agree,
but she was never judgmental. And she was always there for
As my teacher, she taught me to listen. "Bud (her affectionate
name for me)," she would say, "you learn so much
more when you are listening than when you are speaking."
Like an in-house 'Mother Theresa,' she taught me to serve
all people, no matter who they are. Once, while crossing the
border from San Diego into Tijuana for a cancer treatment
she could not legally receive in the U.S., she saw a disheveled
lady, holding her baby and begging. She asked me to give her
five dollars, and so I did. The next day upon our return,
the same lady was there, begging again. "Please give
her ten dollars, you clearly did not give her enough yesterday,"
was Jane's request. She taught me to give talent a chance
and to build on the strengths of people, a lesson that served
me well in building my company. Every actor she hired for
her film gave incredible performances, and they did it for
her. "We don't need stars, we need talented, committed,
hard-working actors," she would say. And she found them,
she loved and nurtured them, and drew from them performances
beyond what any of us thought possible.
On the day before Jane died, after her courageous four-year
battle with metastatic breast cancer, I lie sleeping on a
cot in her hospital room. She awoke miraculously out of pain,
the first time in weeks---the doctors still have no explanation.
She sat up excitedly on the edge of her bed talking about
life and death, about her children, her grandchildren, her
movie and that she wasn't afraid to die. She had two last
wishes. First, she prayed that her efforts to make her movie,
above anything else, would inspire young filmmakers to be
true to their passion. "Be tenacious and find a way to
make the movie you want, no matter what," she implored.
To this end, we established an annual film scholarship, humorously
dubbed The Jane Finish-Your-Film Award. Jane also asked that
I create a foundation with family funds, one that would be
managed pro-bono by qualified friends. She asked that it provide
financial assistance to needy children and older folks in
the town of Ojai where we lived. She loved her community.
She would often remind me that, "When you touch one person
in the community, you touch them all." And so, The Jane
Cusumano Foundation was born. Its mission is to help not only
folks in Ojai, but breast cancer patients throughout the country.
On June 1, 2001 at 10:30 a.m., just one month to the day after
completing "What Matters Most," Jane died quietly
in my arms at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, California.
All I could think of was the song she chose for our first
dance as husband and wife, "Always And Forever."
Sherry Lansing, Chairman and CEO of Paramount, who knew Jane,
called me after Jane's death and expressed her deep concern,
noting that the world had lost a writer/director with incredible
potential. Last summer and fall, I took the film on a special
7-city nationwide tour to raise awareness and funding for
breast cancer. Every audience was deeply touched by the film
and Jane's story. It continues to win awards at festivals
and we are currently in discussions with several distributors
for a release this year. Many of us, I in particular, will
always carry Jane in our hearts. She showed us what talent
and passion can do in the challenging world of filmmaking,
and perhaps more importantly, in our journey through life.
Janie, I will miss you dearly.
February 26, 2002
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