Golden Bears in Tinsel Town

by Fernando Quintero

With the Hollywood spotlight on Berkeley film producer Saul Zaentz, whose film "The English Patient" won nine Academy Awards this year including Best Picture honors, Berkeley has received worldwide recognition for its star quality.

But it's a little known fact that UC Berkeley is alma mater to several of Tinseltown's most influential behind-the-scenes men and women. This elite group of talent and literary agents, television and film producers, and studio executives work with some of the biggest names in entertainment, making the decisions and the deals that ultimately decide what the nation and the world will watch on television and at the movies, read in a book, and listen to on the radio. Together, they help shape American popular culture.

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.

Perhaps the biggest testament to Berkeley's influence in Hollywood is the long roster of stars who belong to the Cal Parents club: Barbara Streisand and Elliot Gould, Suzanne Somers, Tom Brokaw and Raquel Welch all sent their kids to Berkeley. Children of "Star Trek" stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy also chose to boldly go where so many bright young men and women had gone before (George H. Takei, who played Mr. Sulu on the popular TV series, attended Berkeley himself in 1959, but did not graduate).

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. He gets out from behind his desk and sinks into an Italian leather chair, his legs spread wide apart, looking ready to tame the next wild horse that comes running by.

"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. Like so many others of his generation, Berg did his part in questioning authority, and joined the Peace and Freedom party for a brief period.

"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 is asked to recollect a few favorite Berkeley memories and suddenly, a deep furrow that seemed permanently lodged in his brow magically disappears.

"I have vivid memories of walking through Sproul Plaza. It was always such an energetic place to be. The smells, beats and rhythms of the place have become permanently imprinted."

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.

Berg, who presently serves on a number of educational, cultural and public policy boards, is founding president of Berkeley's College of Letters and Science Executive Board.

"His incisive intelligence, his vision of higher education, his sophisticated understanding of its private and public context, and his own humane values made the Board a wonderful resource for the College," says Carol Christ, Vice Chancellor and Provost.

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?" He is also working on the development of a film based on the Japanese animation game, "Sailor Moon."

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 scans the front door between bites of cereal, and catches the eye of a film producer who walks in for a latte to go. Later, Gabriel Byrne, dressed in black, saunters in and squeezes himself into a far corner of the restaurant. The actor glances toward the front entrance, as if he is expecting someone. Perhaps Madonna. An alleged love affair between the "Evita" star and Byrne is the hottest gossip in Hollywood.

After graduation, Meyerson found himself unable to make a choice about what to do next. "I went to Europe for a few months. Then I did an internship at Cal in the Capital. And later, I worked for E.F. Hutton on Wall Street. It was there that I ended up working on a finance deal for a film company when I got bit by the entertainment bug," he recalls. "None of it was really planned."

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 Aldridge. The quaint Mediterranean bungalow, located on a quiet residential street just off glitzy Sunset Boulevard, itself has a bit of a past. It once was owned by Hollywood legend Danny Kaye. Years later, it became the headquarters of Casablanca Records, the once-giant recording label of the hedonistic Disco Era that in the '70s launched the careers of Donna Summer and the Village People. When Kragen took over nearly 20 years ago, he was told of a button supposedly located somewhere on the massive stone fireplace in his office that summoned police in a hurry. As the story goes, Neil Bogart, the late owner of Casablanca, dealt with his share of shady characters in those fast times of sex, drugs and disco music.

"I never found that button," Kragen says.

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. The following year, five and a half million Americans stood hand in hand from the Pacific to the Atlantic ocean singing "America, the Beautiful" in solidarity with the nation's homeless and hungry. Both events raised more than $100 million and earned him the highly coveted United Nations Peace Medal.

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.

His senior year at Cal, Kragen ran for student body president. Kragen lost, but after a running his first campaign for office, and later putting on the homecoming show, Kragen discovered his "lifelong propensity to make everything more unique and larger than what anyone had done before."

Although Kragen initially enrolled in engineering, his failure to consider that he had skipped out on math classes in high school in order to make basketball practice led him to transfer into a little-known major called Communications.

"I'll always remember what the school counselor said: "You can be an average engineer if you work at it, but you'll be much better in a field that requires people skills." Kragen's major allowed him to take courses in a wide variety of disciplines.

"I came away with a broad, eclectic education," Kragen says. "I was allowed to explore all kinds of areas that intrigued me. Berkeley reinforced my curiosity about everything."

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. "I was frightened then: all the lines, the Sophomore Vigilantes, the procedures, the swirl of people all looking as if they knew exactly where they were going and why."

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.

In 1947, one year after Edwards set up offices in Hollywood, a stunt on "Truth or Consequences" sent contestants across the country to gain signatures and make the city both an official postmark and a place on the U.S. map.

And on the 10th anniversary of the show, the town of Hot Springs, N.M., voted to change its name to Truth or Consequences. Each year for the past 45 years, Edwards has attended the town's anniversary fiesta.

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.

Of the show, former Los Angeles Times arts editor Charles Champlin wrote: "There have been certain landmark shows that have just changed the entire face of television. 'This is Your Life' proved that there were common chords linking lives great and small."

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.

Recently, Edwards has teamed up with producer Stu Billett. Their game show, "Bzzzt!" is seen in hundreds of cities throughout the country. Their most anticipated project is an upcoming animated musical called, "Annabelle's Wish."

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."

These days Edwards is an active supporter of the American Parkinson's Disease Association and attends numerous charitable events. A generous, approachable man, Edwards extends the same kindness and warmth to everyone he encounters.

"My husband said it best," says Chadwick. "'Ralph Edwards lives like everybody should, and none of us do.'"

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."

As a transfer student to Berkeley from Cal State Northridge in 1968, Myman landed at Cal just in time for the Free Speech Movement, and was involved in anti-war demonstrations and civil rights rallies. "Even then, I had a suspicion that it was an extraordinary time to be alive and at Berkeley," he says.

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."

Myman's first job as a news reporter came in 1972, working for the Novato Advance. Then came a stint as reporter and city editor for the Berkeley Gazette. In 1981, Myman joined the staff of the Orange County Register, where he ultimately served as assistant managing editor before making the big switch to television, opting for entertainment rather than news.

"There are news stories TV does well, but newspapers are more fulfilling in that regard - wonderfully relevant and exciting," Myman says. "Great newspaper writing is great writing, period."

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.

"When I first went into the TV business, I was struck with a sense of all this junk on television," Myman says. "Now I would argue that there is more good writing on television than there is in the movies, and knowing the process, I am amazed how much good work gets done."

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. He is involved in many aspects of the production, including casting, writing and editing of the show as well as wardrobe and set design.

After a quick barbecue lunch on the lot provided by studio caterers, Myman heads back past Gilligan's Island Way and Mary Tyler Moore Avenue to Stage 5 just as "Seinfeld" star Julia Louis-Dreyfus is rushing out of the parking lot in a black Mercedes.

In the second run-through of a scene with Eldard and Schneider in their bachelor pad, Eldard grabs a carton of milk out of the refrigerator and tips it over, but nothing comes out. "Put it in the cheese drawer," Schneider quips. Myman reacts instinctively with a belly laugh.

"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. Being from Berkeley is one of the few associations in my life I would say I still feel linked to."

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