Worked at William Morris
Agency for 26 years:
- Worldwide Head of TV from 1999-2004
- Started as an agent in 1980 (first clients include Kathy Lee Gifford, Debbie Allen, and Kirstie Alley)
- Senior VP from 1990-1995
- Executive VP 1995-1999
Named one of the 25 Most Innovative and Influential People in TV over the last quarter century by TVWeek
Married to former Miss Mississippi, Mary Donnelly Haskell, 2 adult children, Sam IV and Mary Lane
Sam Haskell: 'Promises I Made My Mother'
By Heather Salon
The 700 Club
STAND IN THE LIGHT
Sam’s mother, Mary Kirkpatrick Haskell, always told him to stand in the light of God’s grace and everything is clear. He’s had to remember this advice many times throughout his career.
He started in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency. He worked up to be an agent, and finally became the Worldwide Head of TV, being poised to become president of the agency. His first clients were Kathie Lee Gifford, Debbie Allen, and Kirstie Allie. Some other people he’s also worked with are Prince Edward, Ray Romano, Ann-Margaret, Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis, Jr., Kathy Ireland and Dolly Parton. Some of the movie stars the agency represents are Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Michael Douglas. Some of William Morris’ TV hits have been The Cosby Show, Everybody Loves Raymond, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Lost, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Later in his career, People Magazine did a story on him. The reporter asked him what he was the most proud of. Sam answered, “I guess what I’m most proud of is that I’m exactly the same guy today that I was when I arrived in 1978.”
The reporter then asked for names of some of Sam’s really important friends for comments. To Sam’s surprise, she talked to the parking attendant at the William Morris garage and the secretary who was stationed in front of his office about Sam. Both of these people who saw Sam everyday had positive comments about him.
Sam Haskell describes his late mother as “one of those special people that made you feel important.” He had a special bond with his mother. He was the oldest of three sons (she had three unsuccessful pregnancies before him). Everyday she told Sam he was special, and she never discouraged him or told him “no” in regards to his dreams. She disciplined her children and made sure they were brought up in the Christian faith. Sam’s mother always said “you can.” She taught Sam to pray about his dreams and goals and pray about them wherever and whenever he could. She also taught him how to pray for strength to get through trials.
Everything his mother taught him has helped him throughout his life, especially working as an executive in Hollywood for almost 30 years. Through his career, he was able to hold on to the key teachings his mother taught him about character, faith, honesty, and faith in one’s self. Sam says he had the privilege of learning these at his mother’s knee.
In Los Angeles, a town and the entertainment business where holding on to one’s faith can be very challenging, Sam says holding on to his faith wasn’t the challenge, it was being judged for his faith. Sam believes in his heart that God brought him to all the places he went in life. Sam gives back to God first and then his mother. God is at the center of his life and he learned that from his mother.
Several years before Sam left the William Morris Agency in 2004 he had to really remember his mother’s words and stand in the light. He was being poised to become the next president of the agency; however, there was a lot of office politics and restructuring. Through it all, Sam kept his peace and made a point to stay positive and operate with integrity. After much prayer and perseverance, Sam decided it was time to leave the agency in 2004. Though it was difficult, Sam saw the past few years as divine intervention, which allowed him to take the next steps in his life instead of staying stagnant. Sam learned when we come to a crossroads, character must take over. From his years at William Morris, he learned that God was in charge, not him. Too many people in all walks of life compromise themselves because they fear that they don’t have the strength to stand up and say no. Sam wanted to stand in the light and no where else.
THE CHEER MAN
Sam grew up in a town much like Mayberry from the popular Andy Griffith show. As a nine-year-old in 1964, Sam already had a love for the entertainment industry. He read TV Guide weekly and Photoplay magazine to get the latest information on what was going on in entertainment and Hollywood, where he dreamed of working.
One TV commercial in particular caught his attention. He loved the commercial for Cheer detergent where the character, “The Cheer Man,” would go to different towns, door to door, and ask the lady of the house if she used Cheer. If she did, The Cheer Man would give her a check for $10. At the end of the commercial, the announcer would say, “The Cheer Man is coming to your town.” Since the first time he saw the commercial, Sam was convinced that The Cheer Man would come to his house. When Sam told his mother, she didn’t discourage him. She told him it was a beautiful dream and helped Sam plan for The Cheer Man’s arrival by making a huge Cheer sign.
The word spread throughout the town what Sam was doing, and he became a source of jokes for his dad and his friends. However, this didn’t deter Sam. He would believe and say with confidence, “He’s coming.” When his father would disbelieve, his mother would say, “If he believes the Cheer Man is coming, then of course he’s coming.”
Even when the commercial stopped running, Sam believed the Cheer Man would still come. One day, he did come and people in the town tried to get their make-shift Cheer signs ready to show that they used Cheer. Sam’s sign stood out, and he got the $10. This was a wonderful lesson in faith and perseverance for Sam.
PROMISES SAM KEPT FOR HIS MOTHER
Sam accepted Jesus into his heart when he was nine-years-old in his hometown of Amory, Mississippi. He walked up the aisle of the First Baptist Church and accepted Him. Sam describes Amory and his upbringing much like the town of Mayberry from the Andy Griffith Show. He went to church every Sunday, Sunday night, and Wednesday night – was the interim minister of music before the church hired a new music minister (who is still leading music ministry now). He kept his faith and the values his mother instilled in him.
Sam has tried to pass on the values his mother taught him to his own children. He made sure his children were raised in church just as he was. He has felt that he kept the promises he made to his mother: to share his blessings, to have faith in himself, to embrace change, to be kind, to find something to believe in, to treat everyone the same, to be a strong and fair parent, to never stop dreaming, to be a good friend, to keep God at the center of his life, to forgive, to resist jealousy, to never forget his character and integrity, to live everyday to the fullest, and to never forget how much his mother loved him.
Sam says if God called him home today, he has lived a life that his mother would have been proud of. He has also felt like George Bailey from the classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life –he has lived a wonderful life.
Sam’s mother died 22 years ago, but her legacy lives on. In 1992, Sam started the Mary Kirkpatrick Haskell Scholarship Foundation which raises funds to help young people go to college (the cause dear to Sam’s mother). Sam believes she would have been proud if she could see Sam’s life today. She would have loved her grandchildren and enjoyed Sam’s friends and clients. Sam continues to describe his mother as beautiful, funny, respected in the community, and having touched thousands of people by her goodness. If anything negative ever happened in her life, she would always look for the positive side and never dwelt on the negative. She wouldn’t let things keep her down, and she believed that it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you deal with things – it’s important to focus on what’s right. Her heart was for education for kids. When she passed away, she was mourned by many people. It took a lot for Sam to get over her death, but he took his grief and turned it into something positive. After her death, they established the Mary Kirkpatrick Foundation Scholarship Fund, an organization that has helped 450 kids go to college in northern Mississippi.
Sam has raised money for the foundation by holding bi-annual, star-studded concerts called “Stars Over Mississippi.” Some of the performers have included Debbie Allen, singers: Pam Tillis and Bryan White, Ann-Margaret and Diahann Carroll. He also helped put on another fund raising concert, “Mississippi Rising,” for Hurricane Katrina victims. Performers included Faith Hill, Jason Alexander, Ray Romano, and Morgan Freeman.
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