Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Rancho Mirage’s Rupert Macnee has a story that could easily be the subject of one of his documentary films.

Macnee, 73, was born and raised in London. He went off to boarding school at 13, thanks to a generous godmother, and found his way to Princeton University, where he earned a degree in public and international affairs—before heading into a career as a freelance documentary filmmaker. (Full disclosure: I have had a personal relationship with Rupert Macnee for nine years.)

But his backstory includes him feeling abandoned by his actor father, Patrick, who became famous after playing secret agent John Steed in the British television series The Avengers; hiding with his mother and younger sister from knocks on the door demanding rent; learning from his way-ahead-of-her-time lesbian godmother how to write proper letters, as well as fish, shoot and behave like a proper gentleman; and desiring to make films, starting when he and a friend made historical dramas complete with swordfights at the age of 14.

“My mom had been illegitimate, as had her mother before her, and had always felt like an outsider, growing up in foster homes,” Macnee says. “She was an actor by training and had met my father that way, but gave that up when my younger sister was born. My mother was ambitious for me, hoping I might become a doctor, and focused on my being educated and going to university. We never had enough money, and we moved around a lot, but she was always there for us and fiercely defended us.

“My father left and moved to Canada to get on television there and in the U.S. when I was just 4, and didn’t really return until I was almost 13 and heading off to boarding school. He and my mother had met in drama school and had toured together for a while, but they divorced while he was gone. His advice to me was to always be prepared to cut the ground from under your own feet—which may explain why I spent most of my career as a freelancer.

“I was attracted to being in the same business as him, but not as an actor. My whole life, I’ve been around people in the business. I’m used to that world.”

At 18, after boarding school, Macnee took a gap year and worked as an intern in film and television in London.

“My stepfather had been to college at Berkeley, and I thought it would be exciting to go to the ‘new world,’ so I went to the American Embassy in London and applied to universities including Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Princeton. I wanted to study sociology, because I thought it would be interesting to have that perspective as a filmmaker. Princeton wanted me, and while there, I made several films, did a disc-jockey show, and even got a grant from the Ford Foundation to establish a filmmaking class in the Creative Arts Department. Almost everyone in our initial group went on to a career in film and television.

“After Princeton, I went to CTV in Toronto. I was a researcher for a 30-episode half-hour series about animal wildlife, and about a year and a half later, I went to Los Angeles as a film editor. Editing is time-consuming, and you spend a lot of time by yourself. That’s been a large part of my professional life.

“In 1971, I visited my uncle in Ecuador and worked at a radio station in Quito, doing a daily music show. That was one of the best decisions in my life—getting an appreciation for a world beyond Europe and North America, seeing people who had literally come out of the jungles. I came back to L.A. and worked on a film about drugs with a group of former UCLA students I had met in 1968, when I had taken a TV-production course there. I moved to England in 1972, and then back to Toronto in 1973 to work as producer of 100 30-minute films for syndication—50 of them hosted by Glenn Ford and 50 hosted by Jonathan Winters. In 1980, I again worked with Winters in L.A. on a pilot.”

Macnee’s career also includes producing 50 hours of An Evening at the Improv; a stint at NBC in their promotions and marketing department; working on a documentary comedy about diabetes that shipped 1.2 million units to benefit the American Diabetes Association; and jobs in Seattle and Lincoln, Neb., with PBS stations. He also wrote and produced several scripts throughout the 1990s, including work related to Kawasaki disease, including a film in 2006 in India.

“My mother would say I was fulfilling her desire for me to be a doctor!” Macnee says. “… I’ve been lucky to have traveled all over the world in the course of my work—Thailand, South America, England, Scotland, Germany and every state in the U.S. Two places I’ve never been that I’d love to see are Italy and Uruguay.”

Macnee has kept journals all his life, going back to the “R. Macnee Weekly” he “published” at age 11. While at Princeton, he studied history, because he remembered learning to think like a historian at boarding school.

“I crammed at 4 a.m. every day for a year, and realized I was not just learning about things that had happened, but learning how to understand the things that had happened,” he says.

Macnee has been going through those journals and boxes full of memories during the pandemic, and he’s come across many drawings he’s done throughout his life, including original Christmas cards he’s sent out each year since 1977.

“Growing up without a TV meant I had to find my own fun,” Macnee says. “I’ve always done writing and drawing, and discovered so many things I didn’t even remember doing. I’ve scanned about 50 years’ worth of drawings into my computer, and started sending them out to friends every morning. Suddenly, I’ve found myself with a new persona as an artist. I also did the illustrations for a book a life-long friend, Richard Heller, published about his experience during the pandemic.”

Much of Macnee’s family ended up in the Coachella Valley. His mother lived in Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage until her death in 2012. Macnee left his home in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2010 to come and help his sister care for their father, who had been diagnosed with dementia in 2003, and who died in 2015.

“Once I was living here, I decided to get an master’s in career and technical education at Cal State, hoping to teach video production for use in training and marketing,” he says.

Growing up with a famous parent can be particularly challenging, Macnee says. “I remember clearly deciding at about age 8 that I never wanted to have children. I didn’t want them to go through what I had gone through, feeling abandoned. Yet one of my best memories is when, at 11, I got to fly from London to Los Angeles and spent five weeks with my dad, complete with hamburgers, surfing and walking on the beach. It made me want to be where you could be, whatever you wanted to be.

“He taught me that every job will have an ending—and I’ve learned that every ending can be a new beginning.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show The Lovable Liberal airs on IHubRadio. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

The concept of “dementia cafés”—places where people, who all too often feel isolated and socially separated from their communities, can come together to relax and enjoy good company—has evolved and spread from Australia to England to Holland to Japan to San Francisco to Seattle to Santa Fe. It’s estimated that there are currently about 200 such cafés throughout the United States, designed to address the social implications of a dementia diagnosis on individuals, families, friends and caregivers.

Starting anything new is always a gamble, so as one of the founders of the Coachella Valley’s first Dementia-Friendly Café, I am proud to announce that the café is beginning its third year of operation this month.

At the first café, we thought we’d be lucky to have 15 to 20 people; 52 showed up. Clearly, there was a need.

Dementia cafés are not support groups or seminars or daycare. There are no presentations or literature, and no commercial promotions are allowed. It’s simply a place where people can meet others with similar experiences and concerns, and a place where everyone understands the need to just relax and enjoy being out in public without fear or embarrassment. The café is for spouses who need a break from their daily routine, or people who have been diagnosed but are still vibrant and independent, or friends who want to support other friends who are concerned about going out alone.

Too often, those with dementia (and their closest loved ones) tend to sever social connections at a time when they are needed most. There are lots of online sources for information as well as local organizations that offer support groups or counseling, but the café offers a chance to leave the disease at the door and just enjoy an afternoon with others who are happy to be able to do the same. 

According to Palm Desert resident Lynne Bailey, “Socialization opportunities diminish with the disease—for the one with the disease and the caretaker, also. The café is a welcoming place and gives our loved one with Alzheimer’s an opportunity to socialize without explaining, without judgment.” 

One of the first challenges of the founding group was figuring out where to hold the café. Palm Desert resident Dee Wieringa, administrator at Caleo Bay Alzheimer's Special Care Center, worked with management at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro at The River in Rancho Mirage to establish a safe, social atmosphere, where people can come together in a relaxed environment. “So many people feel isolated,” says Wieringa. “There’s so much satisfaction in seeing them come out and socialize.”

We were amazed that some local restaurants with suitable space—and far from busy on a Wednesday afternoon—said our “clientele” wouldn’t be appropriate for their establishment. That kind of attitude was exactly why we decided to call it the Dementia-Friendly Café instead of using a euphemistic name. We were committed to finding ways to destigmatize the word “dementia,” since we all remembered how recently people would only whisper the word “cancer.”

Many of those who attend are dealing with Parkinson’s disease. One is Karen Kramer, a resident of Sun City Palm Desert. “We love coming to the dementia café,” she says. “We meet our Parkinson’s group there as a social event, and it is truly a lift.”

All too often, caregivers get into a routine that becomes self-perpetuating. One founder is Rupert Macnee of Rancho Mirage: “My role with the café was to greet folks and to circulate, bringing people together. The experience went a long way in helping me, along with my sister, to effectively manage our father’s care.

“I became much more understanding of his flights of fancy. I learned to accommodate his dreams and perceptions, without blocking them, or trying to make him ‘normal.’ My expectations of how I expected him to behave changed. I knew that to allay his fears was a No. 1 priority.”

Dementia in its many forms is an ever-increasing reality for many families. With that in mind, Dr. Soo Borson, another member of our original group, is beginning a Memory Café in Palm Springs in conjunction with Temple Isaiah. The first gathering is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 25, from 3 to 5 p.m.  Snacks, beverages and music will be offered. Everyone is welcome at no charge.

Meanwhile, the original Dementia-Friendly Café, held on the third Wednesday of each month from 3 to 5 p.m., is entering its third year at P.F. Chang’s. There is no cost to attend. Participants can order drinks or food from the happy-hour menu with separate checks, but no purchase is necessary.

I don’t really believe in horoscopes, although I read them every day. As I began this column, I read mine, which said: “Relationships are not simply about getting your needs met; they are about the profound impact that you have on others and how you are, in turn, affected by their stories.” That has been true for me these past two years as I have greeted everyone who has come to the Dementia-Friendly Café each month. 

Please feel free to join us as we move into our third year.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

How do you start up something new? No matter how worthy the cause, you need individuals who see a need and are willing to volunteer a substantial amount of time to satisfy that need.

A local coalition has cropped up committed to creating a “Dementia-Friendly Coachella Valley,” composed of individuals who represent local nonprofit organizations, those diagnosed with or caring for someone with a dementia-related disease (like Alzheimer’s), medical professionals and interested citizens.

The DF-CV group recently sponsored the first Dementia-Friendly Café as a way to expand awareness that those living with a diagnosis of a dementia-related disease are still able to enjoy life, socialize and be in a public setting without fear. They wanted to create a “safe space” in which people could come together for a purely social event.

What is a safe space? To me, it’s a place where one can be truly oneself, relaxed and able to be fully expressive without fear of ridicule, judgment, embarrassment or stigmatization based on sex, race, ethnicity, orientation, religion, age, physical disability or any other arbitrary characteristic.

Cathy Greenblat, author of Love, Loss, and Laughter—Seeing Alzheimer’s Differently, was the catalyst for the coalition after the exhibit in Palm Desert of her remarkable photographs of patients with dementia-related diseases in state-of-the-art treatment facilities.

Dee Wieringa, executive director of the new Stonewall Gardens in Palm Springs, made the arrangements for the café with Albert Morales, manager at PF Chang's China Bistro at The River. Morales was enthusiastic about the idea.

“Our company is always telling us to get involved with our community,” he said.

A dining room at the restaurant would be set aside from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Those attending could order off the menu if they chose to, get drinks at the bar, or just socialize with others who could relate.

Rupert Macnee, a filmmaker who lives in Rancho Mirage, did the first draft of a flier. With minimal tweaking, it was ready to distribute online, at hospital rounds and on counters and bulletin boards at businesses and organizations throughout the Coachella Valley.

Pat Kaplan, of Palm Desert, one of the honorary co-chairs of the 15th annual Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s, came up with the idea of coalition participants wearing purple ribbons, typically an Alzheimer’s disease symbol, so those attending the café would know whom to ask if they had questions or concerns. She greeted attendees warmly, and generally acted as the unofficial hostess.

Other coalition participants who worked the room included Anne Gimbel, regional director of the Alzheimer’s Association; John Wisor, of Palm Springs; Kae Hammond, executive director of the Dementia Help Center and the author of a definitive book, Pathways: A Guidebook for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Family Caregivers (if you need answers and guidance, this is THE book); Soo Borson, a geriatric psychiatrist; and yours truly, who prints nicely and thus did the name tags.

The expectation was that if we could turn out 15 to 20 people on our first outing, that would be a good start. We wanted to learn what the community needs—and what the community will respond to—when it comes to the potentially touchy subject of dementia. Imagine our surprise when more than 50 people showed up! The staff at Chang’s brought in extra tables, added another waitperson, and generally made it a good experience. People were sitting with others they didn’t already know, making new acquaintances, sharing stories and laughing. There was a lot of laughing.

Two women who attended came alone, without their husbands who are living with dementia-related diagnoses. The wives, being sensitive to what their husbands might require, wanted to make sure it would be a safe space. They were thrilled and plan to bring their husbands to the next café. Other attendees included people from all over the valley, ranging in age from their 40s to their 80s—daughters and sons, caregivers, spouses and live-in partners, gay and straight, long-time and new desert residents. It was a noisy, fun, purely social couple of hours with good food, good company and the comfort of a safe space. One attendee described it as “warm and fuzzy.”

The next Dementia-Friendly Café is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 3, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Chang’s. Morales is eagerly looking forward to making everyone comfortable, and the coalition members are planning to spread the word far and wide.

How do you start something new? You come together with people who know how to get things done—people who genuinely care about the issue you’re addressing, people who make time in busy schedules, people who are your neighbors. When’s the last time you got involved in something new?

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors