Sam Haskell – ex-entertainment mogul is agent of Christ in Hollywood
Rebecca Grace
Rebecca Grace
AFA Journal staff writer

5th in a series about Christians in Hollywood

September 2005 – Uncovering the spiritual beliefs of Hollywood is like finding a golden needle in a gigantic haystack says author and evangelist Ray Comfort. The task is tedious, but the findings are fruitful.

Sam Haskell III, former executive vice president and worldwide head of television for the William Morris Agency (WMA), Inc., is one of those rare finds in a haystack called the entertainment industry. He relies on his Christian faith to dictate his identity in the world of television and in the wake of a spiritually-emergent Hollywood.

“My Christian faith is very much a part of who I am and how I conduct myself,” he told AFA Journal. “I accept the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I accept the fact that He is saving me from my sins. I accept the fact that my belief in Him will send me to heaven one day.” 

William Morris Agency
But during his time on earth, God has been using Haskell to bring a sense of integrity, kindness, and Christianity to the entertainment industry.

“Where I can insert my influence, I try,” Haskell said two months prior to his December 27, 2004, resignation from his 26-year tenure with WMA. He cited “philosophical differences regarding the focus and direction of the company” as his reason for leaving, according to Daily Variety.

Haskell’s responsibilities with WMA were numerous and most recently included overseeing 75 agents in the television department. He directed them in the packaging, maintaining and servicing of shows. 

“I have some 72 television shows that we have packaged through my division that are currently airing on one of the six major commercial networks, on cable networks, and in the syndication marketplaces,” Haskell explained. 

In addition, he handled his own list of about 40 clients including Ray Romano, Bill Cosby, Dolly Parton, Kirstie Alley, HRH the Prince Edward and Brenda Hampton. 

“Being represented by Sam Haskell means having the best representation in Hollywood,” said Hampton, creator, show runner, and executive producer of the family drama 7th Heaven

For example, Haskell found it very important to take the company’s aspiring young agents and groom them for success by turning his WMA office into a training desk.

“He made a special point to teach you things much beyond being an agent,” said Jeff Goldberg, personal assistant to Haskell. “It was about being an honest businessman and an honest person – a respectable gentleman.

“To be taken in under Sam’s wing is absolutely priceless,” Goldberg added. “I want to be [another] Sam Haskell 25 years from now.”

Doing business the Sam Haskell way involves a collaboration of self-respect, inspiration, thoughtfulness, understanding, self-improvement, potentiality and success – all tied in to his Christian faith. 

“Sam’s Christian beliefs are evident in his kindness to other people,” Hampton said. “He’s not just an agent. He’s a friend.”

Haskell, who has been recognized as one of the “World’s 365 Most Influential People,” taught his clients and trainees the importance of instituting a thoughtful process in all aspects of business. He believes a thoughtful process – in terms of thinking – can turn desires into success. After all, he understood at a young age through daily chores that success is built on hard work.  

Hard work
At age 10, he took the initiative to get a job shelving books at the local library in his hometown of Amory, Mississippi, for 50 cents an hour. It was the same determination that led Haskell to work his way through college teaching swimming lessons and coaching the swim team. While at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), he met Mary Donnelly (Miss Mississippi 1977), who is now his wife of 22 years, and completed a degree in theater and radio/TV before leaving the South for Los Angeles.

Haskell’s father wanted him to become a doctor. Haskell’s mother wanted him to be happy. Haskell wanted a career in the entertainment industry. 

“It was something that was very important to me, but I couldn’t really talk about it because people couldn’t imagine how this kid from this little town [of Amory] could ever dream of going to California and actually doing this,” he said. 

But the skepticism did not stop him. 

In 1978, he went to Los Angeles looking for his place in Hollywood. Haskell was told to find a position in the mailroom of a major talent agency and work his way up by making contacts and developing an interest in the various aspects of the business. Knowing no one in the industry, Haskell went to the only agency he was familiar with and knocked on the door. 

“They thought I was crazy. … So I drove them crazy until they gave me an interview and that led to another interview and then a third and fourth,” he said.

By the fifth interview, Haskell had hooked the agency’s interest and was hired in the WMA mailroom at $125 a week.

“It’s the only job I’ve had since I left Ole Miss other than working at Universal Studios, on the tour, to make some extra money because I couldn’t live on $125 a week,” Haskell recalled. 

But money wasn’t an issue for long as Haskell immediately began climbing the agency’s chain of command. From 1980 to 1999, Haskell received five promotions that moved him from the mailroom all the way to worldwide head of television. 

“I also served on the board of directors of the company for the last 10 years,” Haskell said. In addition, he presently sits on nine charitable boards in Los Angeles, most of which deal with children. Haskell was recently appointed to the Miss America Organization Board of Directors on which he serves as an advisor.

Stars Over Mississippi
Although Haskell’s positions at WMA allowed him to exert his influence on numerous entertainment projects, his continuous impact is not restricted to the industry.   

Haskell credits his mother, Mississippi’s first school nurse practitioner, with inspiring him to make a difference in others’ lives.

“Sam, a blessing is not a blessing unless it is shared,” Haskell recalled his mother saying. “If you find yourself blessed in your life, you must find a way to give something back to society.”

Heeding his mother’s words, Haskell decided to create the Mary Kirkpatrick Haskell Scholarship Foundation to aid Monroe County students in attending a public university in Mississippi. He saw this as a way to celebrate his mother’s life after her death in 1987.

Following the creation of the foundation, Haskell turned to his Hollywood and hometown friends for help. Every other year in Amory, the foundation sponsors a fund-raising weekend known as Stars Over Mississippi. Well-known actors and actresses spend the weekend in Haskell’s hometown and participate in a number of activities that culminate with a large concert that draws a crowd of about 10,000 people. Hundreds of volunteers in Amory have helped make this special dream of Haskell’s come true. The foundation to date has raised over $4 million for deserving students in Mississippi. 

“She [my mother] always felt like it was important … to take care of those less privileged,” Haskell said. She also placed great value in expressing her gratitude to God. 

“I gave you back to God the day that you were born, and God has a plan for you,” Haskell recalled his mother telling him when he became a Christian at nine years old.

The journey continues
For Haskell, God’s plans have far exceeded his expectations, and he only wishes his mother were here to see it. 

“It’s been an incredible journey for me,” Haskell said of all his endeavors. “It’s a dream come true, but it’s a dream that was only made reality by extreme dedication and hard work. 

“I’ve had a wonderful life,” he added. “My journey has taken me from Amory, Mississippi, to the great cities of the world; from the White House to Buckingham Palace.” 

And it’s the same dedication and hard work that will spur Haskell to future success as he embarks on a new journey in life that he anticipates will ultimately lead him back to his roots in Mississippi. 

“I hope I never reach my potential,” Haskell said. “I hope I’m always reaching for it. …For if I ever reach it, I’ll have nowhere to look but down, and I want to spend the rest of my life looking up, into the light.”  undefined

From Hollywood to fatherhood … and beyond
Sam Haskell III, is making the most of life during his recent career hiatus that is nearing its ninth month. Having turned down over 20 job offers ranging from television production work to the presidencies of cable networks, Haskell is right at home, literally, in his new office suite located in the family’s Encino, California, residence. But, Haskell is still interested in working in the entertainment industry if the right situation presents itself.

“God’s blessing to me and my family during this period of change in my life is that I am in a financial position to never have to work again,” Haskell explained. “Right now, however, it’s great just to be able to walk down to another part of the house and be able to do everything [work-wise] at home and yet still be here to be hands-on with whatever goes on in terms of the family.” 

Family is a top priority for Haskell, therefore he has spent the last several months reinserting himself into the lives of his children, Mary Lane,16, and Sam IV, 17. He is also working with his wife to promote her recently released Concord Records album, titled Mary Haskell Inspired: Standards – Good for the Soul, available in retail stores nationwide.     

 “So the album is just as much a part of my life as it is Mary’s … , ” he said. 

After all, Haskell believes the family should be a unit that is loving and loyal – values the couple instilled in their children from the beginning.

Christians in Hollywood series
Take 1: Patricia Heaton
Take 2: Kirk Cameron
Take 3: Ted Baehr
Take 4: Karen Covell