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BHC - Thompson 121704

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    12-17-04

    BEVERLY
    HILLS BUSINESS

    Profile of:
    Larry Thompson

    ”I was finally here and figured I had it made!”
    —Larry Thompson

    By John L. Seitz – Courier Managing Editor

          OK, admittedly he was a two-time loser on the late, unlamented Chuck Barris’ TV show, The Dating Game. But that pretty well sums up one of the few times Beverly Hills’ star maker Larry Angelo Thompson has ever really come out on the short end.
          He has been voted “Showman of the Year”, produced 17 television movies, five motion pictures, and five series or TV specials. He established a law firm specializing in the music business, been personal manager to more than 200 entertainment stars, bought a studio, became a motivational guru, wrote a new McGraw-Hill book called Shine, and recently became a father for the first time.
          The native Mississippian has successfully launched at least 10 different careers for himself since his 1968 arrival at the corner of Hollywood and Vine in a beat-up, black Oldsmobile with $700 in his pocket, which his parents had generously staked him to so he could live out his childhood fantasy of the bright lights of show business.
          “Here I was, right in the heart of the industry at one of the most famous intersections in the world, having never been in the state nor even knowing anybody who had been to California in my entire life, with absolutely no connections and yet determined to get into the game somehow, someway,” Thompson stated. “I was finally here and figured I had it made!”
          He had grown up in a small burg up the Mississippi River in the northern part of the state called Clarksdale, where the “Blues was born”. Though staying around long enough to earn BA and law degrees from Ole Miss, his parents urged him to follow his dream and go west.
          “My folks, Angelo and Annie were of Italian descent, probably the only paisanos in the entire delta area, and also very practical. As soon as I passed the bar, they packed me off to California,” said Thompson.
          “Once getting here, I tried to hook on with every big law firm in town but was turned down flat. If you weren’t a Stanford, Harvard, or Boalt grad, they didn’t give you a tumble.”
          While taking an entertainment law night class at the University of Southern California, one of the guest lecturers turned out to be Elliot Chaum of Capitol Records. Thompson was so impressed, he followed him out to his car and begged for a job. No dice. He continued his cajoling with a full court press of daily and weekly phone calls for the next four months. His persistence finally paid off and he joined Capitol at $800 a month as the youngest of its in-house legal counsels.
          “I was the first to arrive at the office and the last to leave, and wanted to learn it all in the worst way. I also made sure to thank Elliot at least once a week for giving me the chance,” said Thompson.
          Being so ambitious to get ahead, he planned to ‘accidentally’ meet Capitol’s president, Sal Iannucci, by finding out what time the boss arrived for work in the morning and then riding up on the same elevator with him. “I introduced myself to him for two straight weeks until he finally remembered my name.
          “Although our company had a stable of mostly classic artists like Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee, Sal wanted to branch out into younger acts as well. He recruited me to take a crash course in negotiating record deals, feeling the contemporary performers would feel more comfortable haggling with someone my age,” said Thompson.
          “My first big break came when The Beatles broke up. Since we represented the entire group, Iannucci wanted to sign each one of them individually for any future product they might deliver. My developing skills as a delicate and successful negotiator led to finalizing agreements by John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr for us to distribute their upcoming works in the USA.”
          His aspiring ambition finally led him to leave Capitol and set-up the first entertainment law firm of its kind, specializing primarily in the music industry. Thompson, Shankman, Bond & Moss would also package movie and TV projects and represent the careers of many top performers.
          He is especially proud of his work with the late singing star, Barry White of Ally McBeal fame, who had walked 12 miles to the firm’s Hollywood office from South LA bearing nothing but a tape recording along with the desire that Thompson would represent him in the future. This bedraggled soul, appearing to be down to his last cent, was told the firm’s policy required a $500 retainer to begin any work.
          White said: “I want you to be my lawyer so I’ll be back with the money.” A couple of days later, he did just that but Thompson had previously listened to the tape and was already hooked on this whole new sound it represented. He ended up managing White for the next decade as the latter’s career as a major, world acclaimed singing star took off.
          Though Thompson had many other achievements as a lawyer, such as orchestrating the $300 million merger between Harrahs and Holiday Inn, and along with two other attorneys purchasing New World Pictures from Roger Corman for $16.5 million, he eventually decided to turn to a new venture.
          Dissolving his law partnership, he formed the Larry A. Thompson Organization to focus on film and TV production, and the personal management of actors and entertainers.
          “From my experience at Capitol Records onward, I’ve been amazed on what gives these people the ambition and drive to become major players,” Thompson explained. “While the old axiom that ‘only the public can make a star’ is certainly true enough, it takes an incredible internal push by these individuals and their support teams to bring it about.”
          The roster of talent whose careers were managed by his company included such luminaries as Sonny Bono, Cher, Drew Barrymore, Shannen Doherty, Cindy Crawford, Mariska Hargitay, Donna Mills, William Devane, Tori Spelling, Tatum O’Neal, Cicely Tyson, Merle Haggard, Richard Pryor, Delta Burke, Linda Blair, Joan Severance, Don Johnson, Helen Reddy, Justine Bateman, Mary Hart, Kay Starr, Morgan Fairchild, Tanya Tucker, Vicki Carr and some 175 others.
          “Being a manager was quite a rush for me because everyday was a new adventure. In fact, my pal Alan Thicke has hired and fired me five times during our 20 year relationship,” stated Thompson.
          With the single exception of TV star and pitchman William Shatner, whom he has represented for a quarter century, Thompson began devoting his full time efforts to producing for film, TV and new media in 1998.
          “Actually, I got started as a producer with The Jim Nabors Show way back in 1977 and then Frank Buck’s Bring ‘Em Back Alive series with Bruce Boxleitner seven years later. These were interspersed with a half dozen low budget features such as Crimes of Passion with Kathleen Turner and Anthony Perkins and the unforgettable Fraternity Vacation, which was ‘unforgettable’ because it introduced the world to Tim Robbins. They have to start somewhere.”
          From there, Thompson primarily began concentrating on making TV “movies of week”. Among his productions copping multiple Emmy (and some Golden Globe) nominations were a trio of biographies: The Woman He Loved, based on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, with Jane Seymour, Anthony Andrews and Olivia DeHavilland and Lucy and Desi: Before the Laughter. The third was one especially close to his heart called And the Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story because it involved two of his longtime management clients during their heyday run in the 1970s.
          “It was such a shame they broke up both their marriage and the act. One time Sonny Bono was attempting to record a solo album and my mother happened to be in the studio,” said Thompson. “After he finished, he asked mom for her opinion and unfortunately she gave it to him—’Sonny without Cher is like Sears without Roebuck’!
          That really got the point across and it wasn’t long thereafter, he ran for mayor of Palm Springs and began a new career in politics.
          “I really enjoy producing for TV because you are in charge and basically control the product from start to finish. This differs from making features when you spend all the time getting the financing in place and then having to beg all sorts of people to get anything off the ground. Sometimes it takes years and that’s not my style.”
          What is this dynamo’s style, however, is attempting to answer the question so many hundreds of people have asked him through the years: namely, how does one become a star?
          “I actually figured this out years ago and it has absolutely nothing to do with the entertainment business per se. To me a ‘star’ is anyone who has identified and maximized his or her full potential and is reaching that fulfillment point where they shine their brightest. Regardless of the profession, it requires a combination of four things and not necessarily in equal percentages. You have to have talent, rage, team and luck.
          Thompson claims that “folks can understand the first and last parts but in the middle, it’s a different story. What I mean by ‘rage” is having tunnel vision and a maniacal focus on becoming a success. More than just being passionate or wishing or hoping for something to happen, it has to be a total, 24/7 head-first commitment.”
          He added: “As far as ‘team’ is concerned, you’ll soon realize success can’t be done alone and you must enlist supporters along the way. Professionals, role models, mentors and—once you actually or almost have it made—reality checkers are all vital members of your ‘team’.
          “Reality checkers are true friends who are there for you through thick or thin and unafraid to tell you the sad, harsh truth regardless of whether it hurts. There is a time and a place in one’s business career when the following movie star cliché will apply: (1) Who is Brad Pitt?; (2) Get me Brad Pitt; (3) Get me a young Brad Pitt; and, finally, (4) Who is Brad Pitt? You can substitute anybody’s name in the ‘Brad Pitt’ slot but sooner or later will have to face reality that it’s over.”
          “To be able put it altogether in one concise place is why I wrote Shine: A Powerful 4-Step Plan For Becoming A Star in Anything You Do and McGraw-Hill agreed to publish it. In the book, I separate my ‘stars’ into two categories: dogs and cats. Dogs are loyal, easy to understand who think you’re the most wonderful thing in the world and say what they mean.
          “On the other hand, cats are smart, chic, mysterious, cutting edge, sexy and independent. They are to be respected for being able to land on their feet and having multiple lives. Once you’ve determined which of these apply, a team of like natured people should be built around you. And, by the way, I love both species.”
          Thompson’s book is a catalyst for “Project Rise And Shine” (www.projectriseandshine.com), whereby celebrities are using their status to uplift and motivate others to become stars in their own lives. The group will stage an event at the Sheraton Universal on April 9 and 10.
          With a motto of “never create a goal you can’t achieve—establish a new one”, his self-fulfillment methods have drawn praise from a wide range of big names including Dr. Phil, William Shatner, Jane Seymour, Catherine Crier, Roma Downey, Vanna White, and Donna Mills, as well as professional motivational peers such as Anthony Robbins and Dr. John Gray, author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.
          Along with his wife, Kelly, and their two and a half-year old daughter, Taylor, they live in a magnificent 10,000-sq. ft., Mediterranean domicile which was completely refurbished by Anne Fleming and Ken Kulas, designers of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.
          “Lots of great things have happened to me since my arrival at Hollywood and Vine 36 years ago,” Larry Thompson enthuses. “I’ve had a great life and it ‘ain’t’ done yet by a longshot.”

      
     
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