Haskell to tell Mississippi to Hollywood story at NLCC

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 24, 2010

NATCHEZ — A Mississippi boy once went to Hollywood. He became successful, but — thanks to the advice his mother gave him — he was able to keep his soul in the process.

And Friday, he’ll be in town to tell his tale.

Sam Haskell, the author of the nationally best-selling “Promises I Made My Mother,” will be the featured speaker at the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration’s “A Festive Evening Celebrating the Arts and the Humanities,” starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

“He grew up in Amory, Miss., went to Ole Miss and met and married Mary Donnelly, and they went to seek their fortune in Hollywood,” NLCC Co-chair Carolyn Vance Smith said.

“His story is like something from the movies — he started out at the bottom in the mailroom at the William Morris talent agency, the biggest talent agency in the world, and he worked his way up very quickly to Worldwide Head Television (for the agency).”

While working for the William Morris agency, Haskell’s clients included George Clooney, Bill Cosby, Dolly Parton, Ray Romano, Lily Tomlin and Prince Edward, among others.

He also oversaw the packaging of network television projects the agency represented, including “The Cosby Show,” “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “Mad About You,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Murphy Brown,” “Sisters,” “Suddenly Susan,” “Live with Regis & Kathie Lee,” “Diagnosis Murder,” “King of Queens,” “Las Vegas,” “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” and “Lost.”

His book is based on his experiences from small town life to life in Hollywood, Smith said.

“It is based on living the principles his mother taught him while he was in the viper’s den,” she said. “There were so many pressures for a Mississippi boy in Beverly Hills, Calif., and he succeeded by staying true to the fundamental Christian beliefs he was raised with and his wife shares.”

He is currently the chairman of the board for the Miss America Organization, and will be introduced by Natchez native and former Miss America Lynda Mead Shea.

“(Haskell) is the kind of speaker who mesmerizes the audience, the kind you are sitting on the edge of your seat listening to,” Smith said.

Haskell’s wife, Mary Donnelley Haskell, is a former Miss Mississippi, and through that connection they became friends with Shea.

Following Haskell’s speech, Mary Donnelly-Haskell will present a vocal concert.

“She recently recorded with the Prague Symphony Orchestra, she is of that caliber,” Smith said.

The evening will also feature comments by U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran.

“He is a long-time champion of the arts in the Congress, and he really likes this conference and he really loves Natchez,” Smith said.

After Cochran’s comments, Dillard University professor Jerry W. Ward Jr. will be presented the 2010 Thad Cochran Humanities Award for his work with the NLCC.

“(Ward) came up every month for a year and led a reading-thinking discussion about Richard Wright,” Smith said.

Haskell and Ward will be signing books and Donnelly-Haskell will be signing CDs after the ceremony Friday.

The Haskells will be donating proceeds from their sales to the NLCC, Smith said.

Later, a gala reception will follow at Greenlea, and the proceeds of the evening will go to the Chocolate Milk Café, a writing-thinking program that collects and publishes the poetry and writing of elementary-age children, Smith said.

“These young children amaze you with their ability to think and write,” she said. “Then they get to autograph their book, and it is quite exciting for them and their parents.”

The cost for the Friday event is $10.

To purchase tickets with a credit card, call 601-446-1289 or toll free at 866-296-6522.

To use PayPal, e-mail businessoffice@colin.edu, or to buy tickets online, visit www.colin.edu/nlcc.

The conference begins Thursday and runs through Sunday.

Other NLCC events include:

4Screenings of the film “Steel Magnolias,” one at 2:30 p.m. and the second at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Natchez Mall Cinema.

4At 5 p.m. Friday will be the grand opening of the Richard Wright Exhibit Hall and Finley Collection of West African Art at the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture Museum. The exhibit will cost $10 at the door.

4At 4:30 p.m. Saturday, the NLCC will have its annual Richard Wright Literary Excellence Awards ceremony.

4At 6 p.m. Saturday, a gala benefit reception at Stanton Hall to honor award winners and speakers. Tickets for the reception are $135, $100 of which will be tax deductible.