When Natalie Denise Sperl asked her friend Francis “Frank” Kilduff what he wanted for his 100th birthday, he didn’t hesitate: a trip to Disney.
“And stay inside in a hotel, inside the park,” he added. “Sounds wonderful!”
Sperl is aiming to do exactly that in time for Kilduff’s centennial on Wednesday, May 17 ― and the public can help make it happen.
A nonprofit organization called Forever Young Veterans is paying for Amtrak tickets to Anaheim, California, a stay at a Disneyland hotel and tickets into the park. Sperl has set up a GoFundMe to cover the rest, including meals for Frank, a birthday cake, a new shirt and tie and a haircut for Kilduff’s shoulder-length locks.
“I was going to have him play Andy Warhol in a short film I was making, so I needed his hair long,” Sperl said. “I never made the film and he kept it all these years.”
Kilduff, a Navy Machinist’s Mate First Class on the escort aircraft carrier USS Kasaan Bay during World War II, met Sperl around 2001 when the two were extras on a film set in Hollywood. Sperl was an actress and Kilduff an aspiring filmmaker. The two hit it off immediately.
“Frank is very positive and easygoing,” Sperl said. “Old people are rad, especially our vets.”
Over the years, Sperl and Kilduff have filmed commercials together, traveled from Los Angeles to places like Colorado, Texas and Chicago (a last-minute trip simply to find the best deep-dish pizza) and hung out all over California. Train trips and concerts at the Walt Disney Concert Hall are favorites for Kilduff, a former business owner who became a ski instructor at age 70 and a filmmaker at 90.
The pair has also been to Disneyland several times together. Kilduff, a recipient of Asiatic Pacific Campaign, EAME Campaign and WWII Victory medals, is particularly fond of the Enchanted Tiki Room and Autopia ride.
“I think Disneyland makes him feel like a kid again,” Sperl said. “That’s his M.O. ― he’s very young at heart.”
So young, in fact, that the father of five initially wanted to go to Disneyworld in Florida for his special birthday. But after considering his health ― he uses a walker to get around his apartment of 30 years ― Kilduff and Sperl jointly decided that Disneyland would be just as fun. Sperl, who lived in the same building as Kilduff until a recent move to Phoenix, often helped him with cleaning and other errands. The two still chat via phone several times a week.
“I wanted to do something really big for his 100th birthday,” Sperl said. “He’s one of ‘the last of the Mohicans,’ these World War II vets. I just wanted to do something he’d never forget.”
To that end, Sperl is working on special surprises once inside Disneyland on May 17, including a flag-folding ceremony on Main Street at sunset. Two nights before, Sperl is also helping throw a birthday party for Kilduff at Hollywood Post 43, the American Legion post where Kilduff has his own engraved theater seat (well-deserved, considering that he once appeared in a music video with David Bowie).
“He’s so excited for his birthday and super-thankful to be going to Disneyland,” Sperl said. “I know how special he is to me, and I want everyone else to see how special he is, too.”