Agent's Hollywood success? Mom gets the credit

May 8, 2009 12:19:40 PM PDT
Sam Haskell's publisher wanted to adorn the cover of his new book with celebrity photos, a logical move.

During his days as a top Hollywood agent and executive, Haskell worked with George Clooney, Bill Cosby, Dolly Parton and more.

But Haskell insisted on a picture of him and the real star in his life - his mother.

"Promises I Made My Mother" is a memoir focusing on the lessons Haskell got from his mom, Mary Kirkpatrick Haskell, and how he sought to follow her creed of being honorable and kind - even in an industry routinely likened to a shark tank.

The book's charming cover photo, taken in 1955, shows a 5-month-old Haskell on the lap of his pretty, smiling mom, a red umbrella shielding the pair from the sun.

Mary Haskell's buoyancy survived cruel disappointments in marriage, Haskell said, and her attitude and beliefs continue to guide him. His mother died in 1987.

"I'm proud to have been a momma's boy," he said. "This particular momma instilled in me a desire to succeed, a desire to be a good person, a desire to walk in the light. ... the best part of this momma's boy is my momma."

In the book's forward, former client Ray Romano ("Everybody Loves Raymond") describes the genial Haskell as "Gomer Pyle in a suit."

Haskell, who grew up in Amory, Miss., mixes accounts of his childhood and youth with his show-biz experience, all framed by mom's words of wisdom and the example she set.

He called on that guidance during his 26-year career at William Morris, in which he rose to head the worldwide TV division. (Last month, William Morris announced a merger with another agency, Endeavor.)

"Promises" (Ballantine), written with David Rensin, is no tell-all, but Haskell acknowledges that a few people managed to test him, including client Kathie Lee Gifford's husband, Frank, who set limits on Haskell's calls to his wife.

"Frank was suspicious of agents. To him they were money-hungry flesh peddlers. He also had other frustrating restrictions and was testy with me a couple times," Haskell writes. "But I never fought back or confronted him."

Being consistent, and consistently kind, was key to his success and the approach he advocates in any field, Haskell said in an interview.

"I truly believe that people who were the biggest sharks in the business treated me differently because they believed I deserved it," he said.

Haskell retired in 2004. He couldn't support a management shift in philosophy that meant "the slow but deliberate destruction" of a culture he helped build, he wrote.

"I realize if I had to change what I believed my image to be, of character and integrity, how could I represent clients?" Haskell said.

Haskell, who's married to his college sweetheart, Mary Donnelly Haskell, and has two children, has been focusing on charitable work and is weighing a move into politics.

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