Sam Haskell has always been a dreamer even as a little boy. Growing up in Amory, Mississippi (population 6,871), he loved going to the local movie theater most afternoons and reading TV Guide. While his parents wanted him to become a doctor, Sam had other aspirations – to work in show business. After graduating from the University of Mississippi in 1977, he moved to Los Angeles and fought his way into the renowned William Morris Agency mailroom, about which David Rensin wrote extensively in his 2003 bestseller ‘The Mailroom: Hollywood History from the Bottom Up.’
“I moved to Los Angeles to go to law school. I thought it might be a way to get into the entertainment business,” says Haskell. “To help my plan, I tried to get in touch with Ruth Englehart, head of business affairs at William Morris. After many weeks of calling, I finally got through to her and she met me that day. After 3 hours of chatting she told me I’d need to start in the mailroom, and she set me up for a final interview with William Morris COO, Walter Zifkin.”
Haskell’s tenacity and persistence is the bedrock upon which his success is founded on today. After leaving law school he found himself starting in the William Morris mailroom in the fall of 1978 making just $125 a week. It would take many years of hard work and dedication to eventually rise to the top, but he was following his passion.
“I have always been strong-willed and determined. Even in the mailroom, I dedicated myself to being the first to volunteer for the most menial of chores, from being best pencil sharpener to best Xeroxer. Other mailroom guys would actually sit on their butts and watch me do this. Fine with me. I knew hard work would be noticed. I was an Eagle Scout. I’d played football. I knew what it was like to be part of a team. Instead of following examples, I set the example. Working in the mailroom taught me to leverage my strong work ethic into advancing myself. It has supported me throughout my entire career,” explains Haskell.
By May 1980, he was promoted to agent in the TV Variety Department where he packaged specials starring Lily Tomlin, Lynda Carter, Debbie Allen, David Frost and Diana Ross. In 1990, Haskell became the agency’s youngest Senior Vice-President, and in 1994, was elevated to the position of West Coast Head of Television. In 1997 he was named Executive Vice President and a member of the WMA Board of Directors, and, in 1999, he was appointed to the esteemed position of Worldwide Head of Television.
Climbing the ranks of Hollywood is no easy task but for Haskell it’s always been about living his dream. Indeed, throughout his 40+ year career he’s represented and worked with some of the industry’s most important talent and artists.
At William Morris, Haskell oversaw the “packaging” of all agency-represented network projects, including such mega-hits as “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “Mad About You,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Lost,” “Murphy Brown,” “Sisters,” “Suddenly Susan,” “Live with Regis & Kathie Lee,” “Diagnosis Murder,” “King of Queens,” “Las Vegas,” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” among many others. Prior to his retirement from WMA in 2005, his clients included: Dolly Parton, Kathy Ireland, Kathie Lee Gifford, Ray Romano, Whoopi Goldberg, Debbie Allen, Delta Burke, George Clooney, Sela Ward, Marilu Henner, Martin Short, Kirstie Alley, Tony Danza, Sean Hayes, Michael Feinstein, Emily Procter, Lily Tomlin, Marilyn McCoo, Joan Van Ark, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Swoosie Kurtz, Lucie Arnaz and His Royal Highness The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
“I didn’t get into this business to get rich. I’m in it for the relationships with people I admire and to be able to help talent whom I dearly love,” says Haskell. “From a very young age, I knew who I was and what I wanted to be. The key to my success and to my life for that matter has been my maintenance of self.”
Today, Haskell is now on the producing side of the business where he runs Magnolia Hill Productions. With a development deal at Warner Bros Television, the company most recently debuted an 8 episode anthology series entitled ‘Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings’ on Netflix last November 2019. Based on the eponymous country icon’s songs and stories, the show aired in 100 languages in over 190 countries. Prior to that Haskell produced the NBC TV movies: ‘Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors’ and the Emmy nominated ‘Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors – Circle of Love.’ Most recently, he finished an original Dolly Netflix musical that will air this holiday season. It includes all new music and lyrics written by Dolly Parton who stars in the show as well.
On pursuing your dreams, Haskell concludes, “You only have one life to live, so make sure it counts. Do something you love.”