I began my career in the entertainment business on the lowest rung of the proverbial ladder, starting in Hollywood was as a part-time studio Page. My job was to seat audiences for the live tapings of top-rated sitcoms and variety shows such as Norman Lear’s huge hits “All In The Family”, “Maude”, “One Day At A Time”, “The Jefferson’s” and variety hours such as “The Andy Williams Show” among many many others.
It was wonderful to watch Norman Lear perform his weekly schtick “warming up” the studio audience. He’d chat and tell funny anecdotes to get everyone in the laughing mood. One night, however, he thought he’d change up his routine a bit and decided to have a studio audience member volunteer to act out an improv with him.
Of course, not one soul volunteered to make a fool of themselves.
Then Norman spied me standing in the back. I knew instantly what was coming. “Hey Redhead…come on down here.”
Perhaps he had spotted me for the complete nincompoop I was about to feel like. The nuttier I looked, the louder the laughs were sure to be. Not wanting to disappoint–and let’s face it, I was stuck–I came down to the stage straight away.
After some additional prodding from Norman, an audience member called out the scenario “play teenagers at their first drive-in movie.”
Yes! It was humiliating. But Mr. Lear apparently liked something he saw and for the next few months he continued to call me up front every Friday night.
“Play strangers sharing a unisex dressing room.” “Play space aliens from two different planets meeting for the first time.” I loved the challenge, and most importantly the audience response. Little did I know that this incidental turn of fate would result in Norman Lear inadvertently giving me my start in the entertainment business.
Soon I was elevated to publicist for L.A.’s Metromedia Channel 11, a local station. This would turn out to be my next great milestone step. After all, one thing I have always done well, and a lot, is to talk.
And yammer on I certainly did. I blah-blah-blah’d my way into convincing the station’s News Director to give me a chance at on-air field news reporting. For the next few months I gained the experience I was looking for, espousing such gripping diatribe as “…and here we are at the County Faire with Bernard the Bull…”
This led to several feature assignment reports and eventually to an on-set anchor position. During a five-part series on plastic and reconstructive surgery I became the first news journalist to show an actual mastectomy scar to her audience.
Alas, as so often happens when station management turns over, my turn at the station was also over when a new group arrived.
Amazingly though, and giving real credence to “all things happen for the best” I was out of work for just one week when I received a call from a very established Hollywood public relations firm. They offered me an associate publicist job that included handling PR for the entire Aaron Spelling television account which included projects like “Dynasty”, “Hart To Hart,” ”The Love Boat” and branched on to “Magnum P.I.”, and the exciting campaign for a new series called “Miami Vice.”
This was a crazy whirlwind ride.
A fantastic ride that came to an abrupt and premature end late one night when I received a call from Steven Spielberg. At this point I was no stranger to midnight calls or being around Hollywood “muscle,” but even so–this was THE Steven Spielberg. As it turned out he was looking for a knowledgeable television publicist to join his Amblin Entertainment team and I had been highly recommended by Brandon Tartikoff, President of NBC.
Of course, Steven wanted my answer right away. Happy as I was in my current job I knew this was an opportunity I had to go for.
My job was to coordinate all aspects of marketing for Steven’s new NBC anthology series “Amazing Stories.” It was indeed a great opportunity, but after a year or so just working on a single project I started to get bored. I found relief from the monotony by moonlighting for several other Universal television projects. This kept me busy and they gave me my own golf cart so I could speed all over the lot.
Then one day I got a call from the new President of Marketing for Universal Pictures who asked if I was interested in moving away from television and on to movies.
Hell yes I was!
He hired me on as Vice President of West Coast Publicity, which quickly morphed into the the position of Vice President of National Publicity. It wasn’t long before my card read “Sally Van Slyke, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Publicity and Promotion for Universal Pictures.”
From my little golf cart it was a speedy ride up for sure.
This once uniformed page was now traveling the globe, dining with famous faces in world-class restaurants and meeting with royalty and world leaders. I was invited behind the scenes that the tabloids were never privy to. The view was often spellbinding and I was grateful every day for the experiences.
Nevertheless, it was also hard, difficult work. The job was 24/7 and those hours were stressful. A great deal of money and egos relied on how successful my team was. Most of all the personalities involved were demanding, rough and all too often fairly reprehensible. They say in Hollywood, “It isn’t personal when they don’t like you and it isn’t personal when they do.” But yes. It often felt very personal.
Finally it became “enough already.” Time to reinvent myself. Walk on a beach or two. Take some time to think.
So I retired.
I relocated to Northern California, met my partner and spent the summer in Carmel learning about him and to a large extent about myself as well.
Then one day he reminded me “Hey, you’re really not the retiring type.”
I agreed. This time around, however, if I was going to work hard again it was not going to be for someone else. This time around if I argued, it would be with myself. If I had to answer to anyone, it would be to me. Still, what might that look like?
I love parties. Well, coordinating them, not necessarily going to them. So I decided to purchase a small local catering company called Wild Thyme. This impulsive move made perfect sense to me.
Simple enough. I’d just run an ad for a chef and away we’d go.
And away we did, indeed, go. Hanging on by the seat of our pants.
Our very first job was to feed five hundred people a night for four straight months without the benefit of an on-site kitchen. I must have been out of my mind to take on this gig right out of the gate. It was one long, hot Summer, exhilarating, exhausting and oh so very educational.
The very first employee I hired that summer is still with me today, fifteen years later! I now have a great and loyal team of maniacs who have my back daily. My life is as unpredictable, amusing and still full of colorful challenging characters, just as it was in Hollywood.
Together, my staff and I have built an award-winning very successful and valued Catering and Event Management company. We collectively realize that we are on the ultimate E -Ticket ride for adventure, creativity, frustration and so much fun.