LOS ANGELES — Those who know I spent 25 years in show business often ask why I’d ever leave show business for dry cleaning. And they get one of three answers.
Some I tell that I’ve been to the Cannes Film Festival, to Sundance, to the Toronto, London and Telluride Film Festivals, and the nicest people I’ve met were at the Long Beach dry cleaners convention.
And that’s true: in Sundance, everyone looks both ways before saying hello; they don’t want to engage you and miss Harvey Weinstein or George Clooney coming their way. But dry cleaners have spent 12 hours a day for years being nice to the customers who walk in their stores and, as a result, they’ve just become nicer.
Others I tell that I wanted to represent a product instead of a person, especially after having clients who wanted me to complain to the studio and network of the series they were starring in that they wanted DirecTV, not Dish TV, wired into their dressing room. No matter how successful our business gets, I doubt one will ever demand premium cable channels.
But there’s another truth, probably related to why this column is called The High Road. I always believe in fighting for the right thing. And when I found that my show business profession, personal management, was wrongly being burdened by the enforcement of a law that allowed our clients not to pay us, I fought to change it. In 2007 my company was party to a California Supreme Court action in which we changed the way the law was enforced.
I made inroads, but not enough of them, which means I’m still fighting to change the enforcement in the way it should be changed, even though I’ve happily changed professions.
(If you’re interested, you can see the status of our fight, where I’m waiting again to hear if the Supreme Court will rightfully make sure that personal managers get paid for their labors just like everyone else. Check out A Marathon to Change Percenter Law at www.variety.com.)
In brief, we’re asking the Court, because the state’s legislature removed the penalties for unlicensed talent agents in 1982, to instruct the lower courts and the California labor commissioner not to penalize anyone for engaging in the activity of a talent agent—getting their clients jobs. Right now, personal managers, who the courts characterize as unlicensed agents, now lose their right to all the money a client owes them (my business lost the right to collect millions in commissions).
Imagine working for someone, making them successful beyond maybe their wildest dreams, and then having your state government give them the right not to pay you for your efforts. This is occurring in spite of there being no law against the activity. It’d be like you getting arrested for buying a six-pack of beer, even though Prohibition ended in 1932. It’s enough to make you want to leave show business.
I’m glad you now know this about me. And I want you to know I didn’t just decide to come in and tell a great industry that I knew something you all didn’t. My wife Jennie and I spent months deciding whether we should create and market our product for you. After much consideration, we thought the idea was too important not to do.
So we did, and now we start year four of our business. In all honesty, I thought our growth would be faster. But like you, with challenges from the general economy and the competition, we go into the New Year with more determination than success.
I recommend you do what we’re doing for 2012: keep working as smartly and efficiently and ethically as you can, and trust that Broadway’s Annie was right, that the sun will come up tomorrow. And all our businesses will flourish.
Have a great 2012!