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Episode 52: George Shapiro -- Legendary Hollywood Manager and Executive Producer of Seinfeld
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I’m a big believer that every once in a while, if you stay the path, dreams really can come true. And today’s episode, in my life, is evidence of that theory.
Ten years ago this summer, on my 35th birthday, a group of my closest friends and I went to a party at the Playboy Mansion of all places. I’ve said it a number of times on this series: if you have a chance to peek into a portal, to experience a glimpse of life that is counter to your own everyday routine, habits, surroundings, take it. And partying at the Playboy Mansion fell into that camp. While my friends and I – I believe there were ten of us in total – had a blast overall on that special evening, there was one unique highlight that -- for me -- was what some people might call a “pinch me” encounter.
I have a long history as a writer and a performer and a speaker, and I dabbled in stand-up comedy for about 3 years as I honed my comedic-writing chops. This ultimately led me to writing and producing and appearing in my one-woman show, "Glowing: A Reproduction Production", which chronicles my rocky road to motherhood in light of having been born short of one biological clock, and the challenges and hiccups, from foiled adoption attempts, to fertility issues and treatments, to all-day morning sickness, to cancer growing in my foot, to the crescendo of being hit full-on by an 18-wheeler love truck when my baby was eventually born. All that to say, in my life, I’ve always known who I was, who I am. A writer, a performer, a communicator. Someone who aims to connect with the goodness of humanity in a memorable and hopefully meaningful way. To that end, there are certain key players in my life who have stood out as real beacons – the ones whose light shines bright, as a reminder that with hard work, with abundance consciousness, with kindness, with lack of ego, with the old adage of “following one’s heart” at the forefront of decisions, and with a commitment to rising after every fall no matter how many times you do indeed fall – and one such beacon is George Shapiro.
Long story short, he and his colleague Aimee Hyatt, who that night became a dear friend, were sitting at the table next to us, and when I found out it was indeed THAT George Shapiro, I’m not ashamed to say it. I attacked him. He didn’t stand a chance. He was innocently eating a chocolate chip cookie and I pounced on him and, sadly for the cookie, it went flying, and I am pretty sure I didn’t let go of him for the entire evening.
When I decided last year to create this podcast for my daughters – JouJou is 4 and Birdie is 2 years old next week – so that they would have a library of inspiring conversations with fascinating people to draw upon whenever they feel stuck, the guest who I absolutely knew I needed to chat with, was indeed George Shapiro.
He is the embodiment of everything I admire: He’s self-made (he literally started in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency and through grit and passion, he worked his way up to being one of the most respected agents and then managers and producers and creative collaborators in Hollywood), he knows the correlation between failure and lessons learned (he has been there as clients like Jerry Seinfeld repetitively bombed on stage, time and again, only to ultimately hit it out of the park as a result of those lessons learned), and above all else, he is kind and a believer in what’s possible.
We talk about his time backstage on The Ed Sullivan Show with Elvis Presley, what is was like working with the one-of-a-kind Andy Kaufman, we talk about his years of not only working with Jerry Seinfeld and the fruition of the marginally successful sitcom Seinfeld, but just what a true and sincere love exists between the two of them – between George and Jerry.
Last week, I was invited to attend the premiere of the HBO documentary “If you’re not in the Obit, eat breakfast”, executive produced by my pal Aimee Hyatt and produced by George. In his opening remarks at the historic Samuel Goldywn Theater in Los Angeles, George described the documentary as a “love letter to the human race” – and I couldn’t agree more. The film examines what it means to age, not simply gracefully, but with downright vigour. Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, and Betty White – all highly productive contributors to the planet today, and all in their 90s. “If you’re not in the obit, eat breakfast” airs on HBO on June 5th.
The following day, after the screening, I made the trek over to the legendary offices of Shapiro/West, for the chat you are about to tune into. I was met with the warmth and the hospitality you can only dream of being on the receiving end of when you have the unique privilege of sitting down with one of your most revered and respected and admired icons.
Unlike a decade earlier when we met on that night at the Playboy Mansion, this time it wasn’t my birthday, it was his. So Happy Birthday, Georgie.
Danny Devito, who plays George Shapiro in the movie Man on the Moon says to Andy Kaufman – played by Jim Carey – “You are surrounded by what you create.” And George, you are surrounded by goodness and light.
I know it was your birthday, George, but the gifts were all mine.