Photo by Virginia
Television pioneers Ralph Edwards (B.A., '35, English) and the late Mark Goodson (B.A. '37, Economics) not only originated the concept of prime-time programming with game shows that brought viewers of all ages together to sit and root for the common man and woman, they paved the way for generations of Cal grads turned Hollywood honchos.
Among the list of notable Berkeley alums in show business are Peter Chernin (B.A. '74, English), chairman of 20th Century Fox film corporation, and James Day (B.A. '41, Economics), PBS pioneer and co-founder of KQED-TV. Richard Klubeck (J.D., '87) and Edward Labowitz (J.D., '73) are successful entertainment attorneys. Screenwriter Audry Lederer (B.A., '81, Mass Communications) wrote the screenplay for the film, "The Truth About Cats and Dogs." Takashi Fujimoto (B.A., '62, Political Science) is an accomplished Hollywood cameraman. Author Joan Didion (B.A., '56, English) has written best-selling novels as well as screenplays. And Leigh Steinberg (B.A., '70, Political Science; J.D. '73) is a top sports agent who served as the inspiration for the title character in the hit movie "Jerry McGuire," starring Tom Cruise.
Berkeley's Electrical Engineering & Computer Science department has trained some of the brightest talent in Hollywood special effects. Mark Dippé (M.S., '80, Ph.D. '85, Computer Science) at Industrial Light and Magic in Marin County and Pauline Tso (M.S. '85, Computer Science) at Pixar in Point Richmond helped create the dazzling computer animation scenes in "Jurassic Park" and "Toy Story."
Not that Cal has kept its graduates completely away from center stage. Gregory Peck (B.A., '42, English) is one of the most distinguished and respected actors in American film. The popular CBS show "Picket Fences" earned Kathy Baker (B.A., '77, French) an Emmy Award in 1994. Stacey Keach (B.A., '63, English, Dramatic Art) has appeared in numerous television and film productions. And Susanna Hoffs (B.A., '80, Art), ex-leader of the '80s girl group, the Bangles, will make her dramatic debut in an upcoming feature film.
In this star-studded report, Edwards and four other Berkeley alums who have made their mark in show business share their success stories and fondest memories - both attributed to Cal.
Madonna. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Susan Sarandon. Mel Gibson. Julia Roberts. Denzel Washington. Jodie Foster. Richard Gere.Sharon Stone. Woody Allen.
The list of current and recent clients of International Creative Management, Inc. reads like a Who's Who in Entertainment. As chairman and chief executive of ICM, Jeff Berg (B.A., '69, English) is being called one of the most powerful men in Hollywood.
A highly-publicized rivalry between Berg and Michael Ovitz, former head of Creative Artists Agency, ended last year when Ovitz took over as second in command at Disney, leaving Berg's ICM in the No. 1 spot.
The sleek Beverly Hills headquarters of ICM, which also has offices in New York, London, Paris and Rome, exudes power and predominance. The striking, three-story steel, glass and marble building with its fountain-filled courtyard is strategically located directly across the street from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which each year hands out the awards most coveted by Berg's clients: the Oscars.
In the waiting area outside Berg's office, two men who appear to be ICM agents are talking shop. "I did talk to Susan and Tim, by the way," one of them says, no doubt referring to Sarandon and her live-in lover, actor Tim Robbins.
Around a corner and through a long, narrow hallway, Berg is in his office wrapping up a heated telephone conversation with someone about Gerard Depardieu.
"I've always been a competitor," he begins. "Berkeley sharpened my competitive skills, and laid the groundwork for my success. As an undergrad, I was thrown into an environment for which I was ill prepared. But I made some quick adaptations. After navigating my way through, I found my own voice and articulated my own views that didn't require outside validation. I developed a sense of independence."
As a member of the Class of '69, Berg attended Berkeley during one of the most turbulent and colorful periods in the university's history. "People's Park. Free Speech Movement. Anti-war demonstrations. They were all happening," Berg recalls.
"I think of Berkeley as a community where I had my psyche formed," Berg says. "I absorbed so much information and divergent points of view at Berkeley. I believe it has made me a smarter and more tolerant individual."
Berg, whose father ran a paint business and art gallery in Westport, Conn., before moving his family to Los Angeles to become a television producer and writer, got his own start in the entertainment business reading movie scripts while an undergraduate. Shortly after graduation, Berg joined Creative Management Associates, one of ICM's predecessor agencies, as a literary and film agent.
For Berg, Berkeley remains a special place that holds visibly heartwarming memories - even for a man some people around town call "Ice-Berg."
"There is no other place in the world like it. There's a difference in ideas and attitudes and cultures that tend to bring out the best in you," Berg says beaming. "As a result, you're forced to rise to the occasion."
At Il Fornaio in Beverly Hills, just a block away from the exclusive boutiques of Rodeo Drive, the rich, the famous and the beautiful are getting their early morning cappuccino fix. Aaron Meyerson (B.A. '84, Economics) breezes in and sits down to a bowl of Granola, fresh strawberries and skim milk. Wearing mocha corduroy pants and an espresso Merino wool turtleneck sweater, his casual elegance and youthful, good looks blend right in.
At 34, Meyerson, vice president of motion pictures at DIC, a Disney-owned entertainment company and a leading producer of children's animated television programming, represents the youngest generation of Cal alums who are making a name for themselves in the entertainment industry.
Over the next year, the release of several family-oriented feature films will be result of Meyerson's deal-making, which includes having first look, first refusal rights on movie scripts. Coming soon to a theater near you are live-action versions of the Saturday morning cartoon shows, "Inspector Gadget" and "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" Meyerson, who has developed and sold original ideas and scripts to Disney and other studios, does not credit his success in the entertainment industry to any particular courses or field of study, but rather the Berkeley experience as a whole.
"I really just learned to truly exercise my options, to try things. There was so much going on at Berkeley, so much to choose from. I think that my taking the initiative to just go ahead and try something new is a holdover from college," he says.
Meyerson also says he got his first lessons in schmoozing - an essential skill in Hollywood - at Cal. "Our industry is very social. I spent a year in a fraternity and was captain of the sailing team at Cal. I learned a lot about communicating with people then."
Meyerson attended business school at Stanford (though he always cheers for the Bears in the Big Game), and afterward, enrolled in a management trainee program, which led to a creative executive position at Disney.
"It was a dream job, but I was way in over my head. I was responsible for reading scripts, writing story notes, meeting with writers and supporting vice presidents of production," he says. "That is when a good, solid liberal arts education comes in handy."
In 1990, Meyerson joined New Line Cinema, where he served as creative executive on several feature films, including the hit comedy, "Dumb and Dumber" starring Jim Carrey.
So does Meyerson know a hit movie when he sees one? "The prevailing wisdom in this town is no one knows anything."
That is, of course, unless you're a Cal graduate.
The private office of talent agent extraordinaire Ken Kragen (B.A. '58, Communications) is a virtual museum. Framed checks signed by every
president of the United States hang above his door. The walls of his office are cluttered with autographed portraits and mementos from entertainment and sports stars including a letter from director Cecil B. DeMille and Olivia DeHaviland's copy of the script for "Gone With the Wind." An avid collector, Kragen even owns the space suit worn by NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Historical surroundings are only fitting for a man who made a bit of his own history as organizer of two of the most successful private fund-raising events ever. In 1985, he organized 45 of the biggest names in music including Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Diana Ross, Tina Turner and Willie Nelson to record "We are the World." The song and the African relief organization that succeeded it helped raise awareness of world poverty and hunger more than any news report or TV documentary had ever done before.
Today, Kragen represents some of the biggest names in country music including Trisha Yearwood, Travis Tritt and his client of 27 years, Kenny Rogers. Past clients have included Burt Reynolds, the Smothers Brothers, Olivia Newton-John, the Bee Gees and the late Harry Chapin.
The 1986 Alumnus of the Year has written a book, "Life Is a Contact Sport," and teaches a highly successful course in personal management at UCLA Extension. One of the most recent events Kragen helped put together along with producer and musician Quincy Jones was an all-star concert at Lincoln Memorial to kick off President Clinton's inauguration.
Kragen fondly recalls promoting his first major event when he was just a junior at Cal. It was the mid-'50s, and across the bay in San Francisco, the Beat Movement was just getting underway. The Purple Onion and the hungry i became favorite hangouts for Beatniks and cool Cal students alike. One night, Kragen met one of the members of a group called the Kingston Trio, and after hearing them perform, offered to produce a concert in Berkeley. The event was a sellout, and Kragen's destiny in the entertainment business was sealed.
"Along with a solid education, Berkeley provided my first important experiences in organization and leadership," says Kragen, whose father, Adrian Kragen, was an entertainment lawyer who left Hollywood in 1952 to take a teaching position at Boalt Hall. Also a Cal alum, the senior Kragen met his wife at Berkeley when he was a sophomore.
"If it weren't for the University, I might not ever have been born," Kragen says.
It was television producer Ralph Edwards who literally put Hollywood on the map. After more than 65 years in show business, the member of the Class of '35 remains a class act. At the Roosevelt Hotel, a local landmark next to Edwards' Hollywood Boulevard office that once brimmed with the brightest stars of Hollywood's Golden Age, the only celebrities around are Edwards and a blonde, buxom woman known only as Angelyne, and known only for her self-promoting appearances on L.A.-area billboards.
Over lunch, Edwards and his devoted assistant of nearly 50 years, Sue Chadwick, go down Memory Lane. Between Edwards and Chadwick lies half a century of entertainment history. Their conversation is peppered with the some of the greatest names in show business: Milton Berle, Maurice Chevalier, Frank Capra and Edward G. Robinson.
"It's been a great life," Edwards, 83, says between bites of fruit and raspberry sorbet. "And it keeps going on."
At age 15, Edwards became a radio newscaster, and later, used his skills as an announcer to help pay his way through Cal and earn his English degree.
"I think everyone, especially would-be performers and writers, need to know as much as possible about English. Being well versed in words, tenses, etcetera, is helpful in all walks of life but mandatory in the entertainment business," Edwards says. "I think the same is true of a liberal arts education. One learns to think, adjust and be comfortable in any cultural situation."
After graduation, Edwards headed for New York.
"The cold fright of first seeing New York reminds me of the same feeling of apprehension and excitement I felt the first day I walked through Sather Gate to enroll as a freshman," Edwards recalls.
After spending his last 15 cents for a meal, Edwards received a call to audition for a job as an announcer at CBS. Standing at the microphone with one hand covering a hole in the elbow of his only suit, he was hired over 69 others.
When he heard that one of his network's sponsors was looking for a new half-hour show, Edwards fashioned "Truth or Consequences" out of a parlor game he had played with his mother as a young boy growing up rural Colorado. It was No. 1 for 14 years on radio and ran for 28 years on television.
After airing as a radio program for two years, "This is Your Life" made its television debut in 1952, where it ran for nine years and earned two Emmy awards. The weekly British version is still going strong after 40 years.
All together, Edwards has created, produced or packaged 18 shows, including "Name That Tune," "Cross-Wits" and "The People's Court," which aired for 12 years and will return to television this fall, with former New York Mayor Ed Koch replacing Judge Joseph Wapner. A Ralph Edwards show has been on television every year since 1950.
Edwards, a 1965 Alumnus of the Year who for many years served on the UC Berkeley Foundation Board of Trustees, still attends the Big Game, and was recently back on campus for his class reunion.
"Cal is my haven - give me a 'C!'" he shouts back in his office overlooking Mann's Chinese Theater and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where two of the hundreds of gold stars cemented into the sidewalk are dedicated to Edwards for his contributions to television and radio. "I savor the memories of the drama classes and performances at the Greek Theater. I still mentally see myself dashing from classes to the radio station and to sporting events in my Model A Ford."
On the set of "Men Behaving Badly," an NBC comedy based on the British series of the same name, the testosterone level is dangerously high. The half-hour show is fueled by the politically incorrect behavior of two male roommates played by Rob Schneider of "Saturday Night Live" fame, and Ron Eldard, formerly of the hit show, "ER."
As the cast reads through a script for the latest episode inside one of several indistinguishable brown buildings on the back lot of the CBS Studio Center in Studio City, executive producer Harvey Myman (B.A. '70, English; M.J. '92, Journalism) keeps a critical eye on the action. Some jokes may be too over the top. Others fall flat. It is Myman's job, among other duties, to help determine what works and what doesn't.
"The basic tools I learned at Berkeley, what now seems like 100 years ago, have proved invaluable in my role as executive producer," says Myman, 48. "Having a background in literature and journalism helps a great deal because it provides you with so many cultural reference points, as well as an understanding of character development and storytelling."
"In this business, being from Berkeley can only have a positive cachet." Myman adds. "Lots of my pals and co-workers went to Ivy League schools, and I think they feel they missed something by not having the Berkeley experience."
In 1970, Myman entered the Graduate School of Journalism, which was then located at Sproul Hall. Myman worked as editor of the student lampoon publication, the Pelican, as well as on a weekly closed-circuit television news show.
"In graduate school, my universe was narrowly defined. I could find anyone I needed in my life at Sproul Hall," Myman recalls. "My sense of belonging was greatly intensified."
After talking to a few acquaintances in feature films and television, Myman went to work as program executive for ABC, approving stories and providing input on scripts, performances and rough cuts of completed episodes.
In 1990, Myman was named director of comedy development at ABC, where he was involved in the creation of comedy shows, working with writers from the development of a show through script, casting and production. In his current job as an executive producer for The Carsey-Werner Company, the group responsible for some of the biggest hits on television including the "The Cosby Show," "Roseanne," "3rd Rock from the Sun," and "Grace Under Fire," Myman oversees a production operation of close to 150 people.
"I opted for situation comedy because the form is indigenous to American television," Myman says. "I did my senior thesis on Mark Twain. I have a special fondness for humor that is grounded in truth."
Naturally, Myman also harbors a special fondness for Cal.
"When I'm back at Berkeley and wander through Sproul Plaza, it instantly fills me up with a sense of all the wild possibilities that existed then and still exist," Myman reminisces. "Memories of Berkeley have a long shelf life. The feelings I had then still hold true for me."
[Table of Contents] [Berkeley Magazine Home] [UC Berkeley Home]
Please e-mail your comments to email@example.com