By ALISON BURMEISTER
Palisadian Lee Calvert, 97, does 15 push-ups every night before bed. “Push-ups are something everyone can do, but not everyone keeps doing them,” she said.
I last saw Lee at a “Fall Prevention” event I hosted at the Pacific Palisades Woman’s Club in September of 2019. I was curious if through the pandemic when so many of the gyms were closed, like the YMCA where Lee regularly attended Zumba and exercise classes, if she continued to do her push-ups at home.
When I arrived at Lee’s home overlooking the Pacific Ocean, she greeted me with an enthusiastic smile and hug.
When I asked her about the push-ups her response was “absolutely!” Lee believes that if you do push-ups, even if you fall, you can get up.
“Everyone keeps calling me to get one of those alerts you hang around your neck.” Lee said. “I don’t want anything around my neck, I’d probably not be wearing it anyway. I’d rather get up and call from my phone.”
As she is explaining, Lee kneels to the floor and takes proper push up position doing 15 on the spot. “Sometimes I don’t feel like doing them, but I do it anyway,” she said. “I do push-ups and sit-ups because we have to keep the core strong.” She then proceeds to do 15 sit-ups. At this point I feel lazy watching and get on the floor and do them with her!
It only takes one meeting with Lee Calvert to know she is a woman of determination and admittedly a bit on the competitive side.
“I like competition,” Lee said. “I was terrible in sports early on. When I went to the gym to play on teams, I was the last one picked.”
It wasn’t until she discovered badminton that Lee found her sport.
She said that just before the end of World War II, at the end of the Santa Monica Pier there used to be badminton courts. But she didn’t start playing competitively, until later in life. “I started playing badminton locally at Santa Monica College when I was 40. I was a little bit older than they were, but I loved it. I’d go to national teams, state teams.”
Calvert was inducted in the Badminton Hall of Fame and won three gold medals at the Huntsman World Senior Games in paddle tennis. Calvert says she never thought of age as a handicap. “It gets in the way sometimes,” as she points to her knee, “I had a hip and knee replaced, but I had fun messing them up and a lot of medals to show for them!”
Once her children were out of high school, she started her own business as a Hollywood continuity script transcriber. (A continuity transcript is a media script giving the complete action, scene descriptions, music, graphics in detail and in the order in which they are shown on the screen. Lee would also prepare them to sell to foreign markets.)
She began her work with “The Lucy Show” for Desilu Productions in 1964. Calvert enjoyed her work for Lucille Ball who owned the production company Desilu with her then husband Desi Arnaz.
Despite being afraid of Lucille Ball, Calvert loved to watch her work. “She would try anything.” Lee remembered when she spoke about the episode where Lucille Ball walked on stilts for the first time.
“She didn’t like people to watch, so I always had a script in my hand so she would think I was an extra.” Calvert describes Ball as “funny, but tough” and she had a lot of respect for her.
When Desilu sold to Paramount, Calvert said her heart sank. She feared the bigger studios had continuity departments and she was just a “little independent working out of the Palisades.” She learned that many did not, and her business thrived. The list of shows Calvert has worked on is a stroll down “Emmy Lane.”
To stay relevant with the changing technology, Lee went back to college to learn computers. She even attended the first screening of “Star Trek.”
“I thought it was weird” she laughed. “The cone shaped heads, I didn’t think anything would come of it.” Star Trek went on to be one of the most recognizable and highest grossing media franchises of all times and Lee was there at the show’s start.
Despite her career in Hollywood, Lee will tell you she is not a Hollywood person, she is a Palisadian. “I love Pacific Palisades and the air is wonderful here!”
One of her biggest complaints about Hollywood was that everyone smoked. She said the smoke made her sick and she couldn’t stay in the studios. So, she would go pick up her work and bring it back to the Palisades.
She was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, a recipient of the “Arnie Wishnick” award, a member of Palisades Americanism Parade Association (PAPA) and the Optimist Club. She is firmly rooted in the community. “I’m 97 now, moved here in my early 40’s and I wouldn’t go anywhere else. This is where I want to be.”
On her 95th birthday, she had a big party with friends and family and danced the tango. Does she have plans for 100?
“Well, I won’t bake a cake just yet,” she said.
This writer asked if I could be invited to the party, and we could do 15 push-ups together.
“SURE!” was Lee’s immediate response.