Skip to main content

Remembering Linda Grinberg: A Thoroughbred of Commitment, Compassion and Continual Optimism

By Robert Guenette

Last March, when Los Angeles Media & Education Center (LAMEC) celebrated the IDA's 20th anniversary, Linda Grinberg, one of IDA’s founders, was too ill to attend the festivities. She was in our thoughts, but I failed that night to communicate the one thing about Linda that I most immediately recalled some months later, when I first heard about her death. I had failed to talk about her indomitable spirit, her unfailing courage and her ability to invoke in others an unlimited reservoir of optimism and hope that helped keep the IDA alive during those perilous days of creation.

In thinking about her energy and spirit, I conjured up images and memories of her. I heard her voice, loud and clear, straining to be heard above a roaring crowd at the racetrack. I saw her on her feet, beautiful and ladylike, her hands wielding a program, forcefully urging her horse home.

Linda was a force at the racetrack. She was a force wherever she was, especially at the IDA. Those of us who were present at the creation of the IDA remember the role she played in the formation of this organization, not only serving on its first Board of Directors, but later as its vice president and a valued trustee. She gave the battered community of documentary filmmakers not only her time and talent, but her money. She was one of the IDA's earliest benefactors, but she didn't think writing a check absolved her from putting in her time on the front lines.

And later, as a powerful force in the fight against HIV/AIDS, she was again a graceful, courageous and wonderful presence. I recall the night in 1996 when she was presented with the Project Inform Activist Award. She came forth that evening as an incandescent champion of optimism, clearly energizing a research program that produced the cocktail that gave hope to those who, until then, had no hope. I remember the comment of a young man who hadn't known who Linda was at the beginning of the evening. After hearing her speak and after hearing others sing her praises, he breathlessly enthused, "Wow! All I can say is, wow."

Wow. That's how I felt whenever I was in Linda's presence, whether it was at an IDA meeting in the Grinberg Film Archive library—her dad's library, an important and consequential resource that she herself later managed—or at an IDA meeting in a restaurant in Hollywood. I remember flying back with her from New York to LA, listening to her deconstruct a Picasso painting or extol the passion of an Arthur Barron documentary or refute F. Scott Fitzgerald's dictum that there are no second acts in America. She insisted that not only were there second acts in America, but there were even third and fourth acts. And she demonstrated the truth of her theories by managing to keep coming back, hitting her marks at center stage and living out yet another remarkable chapter in her remarkable life.

When I first told her of my plans to start LAMEC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing the people of Los Angeles together through the arts, she both encouraged and warned me, telling me that it took more than ideals and money to achieve one's goals in the public service arena. It took, she said, the full commitment of heart, mind and soul. Linda made that commitment, completely.

She was committed, compassionate and eager to serve, and she gave her all in the fight to defend the independent documentarian and in her fight to find a cure for AIDS. Linda was, in short, a true heroine, a woman—actually a person—for our times.

Linda and my late wife, Fran, got sick at the same time. They both faced the prospects of the end with a sense of humor and an eagerness to live out the remaining days of their lives, however few or many there might be, to the fullest. They lifted each others' spirits, and when the time came for Fran to leave, Linda selflessly gave her time and her humor to help Fran—and me—through those last days, some of which were spent at the racetrack.

What rousing, throaty full bursts of laughter emanated from her soul! Watching her boot home a winner, or watching her hang in with a no-show until the very end, confirmed what we knew about Linda: she couldn't quit, and she wouldn't abide your quitting, either.

Along with the memories, there are lasting legacies. Linda's legacy will resonate with us every time a young filmmaker screens a first film and every time an HIV/AIDS patient turns a corner to better health. For Linda, life was the racetrack; it was all about coming from behind. That's her legacy to the IDA: she made us look, look...look for the rainbow—and kept us moving forward. We are all in her debt.


Robert Guenette served as IDA President in 1986 and 1987.