When she was interviewing Carl Reiner in mid-May for her web series “Dispatches from Quarantine,” producer Tiffany Woolf couldn’t have known it would be the comedy legend’s final interview. But Woolf is gratified she elicited his parting pearls of wisdom.
In the 10-minute interview, Reiner, who died June 29 at 98, revealed his secrets to life, said Mel Brooks is the “funniest human being who ever existed” and recited a bit of Shakespeare.
For the series, Woolf, who lives in Pacifica, seeks to find out how folks are holding up during the coronavirus lockdown. Each segment is exceptionally well-produced, including vintage photos and film clips, all summing up lives well-lived. They are available to view for free on YouTube.
In addition to Reiner, Woolf has interviewed “All in the Family” creator Norman Lear, comedian Tommy Chong, talk-show icon Larry King, “Happy Days” actress Marion Ross and Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn.
See the pattern? They’re all seniors who have remained vital and active into their 80s and 90s.
“A lot of these people could have hung their hats up at 80,” Woolf said, “but they’re still working and doing and learning. They’re not only interesting but interested in the world.”
Woolf has made it her life’s work to exalt society’s elders, having captured on film a number of seniors, some famous, some not, revealing their approach to living a satisfying life.
“They have the history, knowledge and attitude younger generations could learn from,” Woolf said. “America has a real problem with ageism. Our elders are, sadly, a very overlooked community.”
To make the series, Woolf, 49, partnered with Reboot, a Jewish arts and culture nonprofit. The content isn’t overtly Jewish (though Reiner, King and Lear have always been proud members of the tribe), but the subtext of honoring elders certainly embodies Jewish values.
“When I came up with this idea, I thought, ‘What does aging from a Jewish perspective look like?’” Woolf said. She felt drawn to seniors in part because she lost her father, pioneering sports agent Bob Woolf, before she turned 25 and her mom only a few years later.
“I always had an affinity for older generations,” she said. “I would think, ‘What does it look like to be a great 85-year-old?’”
The native of Brookline, Massachusetts, has been around this block before. Woolf worked in public relations and production for entertainment and documentary films. Her 2018 web series “Last Act,” also created under the aegis of Reboot, featured short interviews with Jewish seniors, including celebrities. She also filmed a number of interviews around the country for a Reboot series called “Coming of Age.”
But once the pandemic hit, Woolf and director Noam Dromi began conducting the interviews via Zoom and changing the focus a bit, resulting in “Dispatches from Quarantine.” Dromi is Israeli and is collaborating with her from his home in Los Angeles. They released both series on their website, SilverScreenStudios.org.
“We were going to hold ‘Coming of Age,’ but really wanted to get these stories out during this time,” she explained.
Though King and Ross were both family friends, Reiner was another matter. Woolf made cold calls to his representatives, and got more than a nibble.
“We did [the interview] on May 12 and premiered it June 22,” she recalled. “[Reiner] loved the interview so much he tweeted about it. We’re told he was going to show it to Mel Brooks the next night. He passed away five or six days later. I woke up with the news, crying.”
Of her swan-song interview with Reiner, she said, “People said it was like a living eulogy.”
Since it does not look like Covid-19 is going away anytime soon, Woolf and her Reboot partners are planning a second season of “Dispatches from Quarantine.” Meanwhile, she is plenty busy with her family (a husband, a son and two stepchildren). The family belongs to Or Shalom Jewish Community, a Reconstructionist congregation in San Francisco.
Though she has a ways to go before she becomes an elder herself, Woolf draws comfort seeing how the elders she talks to cope with a crisis like the pandemic.
“When you talk to older people,” she said, “you can see they’re, like, OK right now, because they know they can handle it.”