Hollywood's Big Daddies: Sidney Poitier, Ron Meyer, Irving Azoff (Photos)
Director John Landis and film academy president Hawk Koch also join their children for The Hollywood Reporter's power portrait package.
This story first appeared in the June 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Hollywood may be known for its dynasties, but even a major studio head or a music powerhouse (we're talking about you, Ron Meyer and Irving Azoff) is just plain old dad to someone. In honor of Father's Day, these show-business paterfamilias talk of the everyday joys and terrors of parenting, from soccer coaching to daily phone check-ins to letting your daughters put lipstick on you. Their kids got an up-close-and-personal look at the biz -- and still joined it. "The benefit of my dad and my grandfather being a part of the business has been creating opportunities -- it's definitely a door opener," says Robby Koch, attorney son of Hawk, himself the son of producer Howard Koch. "But what I think each member of our family has done really well is once we've had that initial opportunity, we seized it on our own rather than rely on the family name."
SIDNEY POITIER WITH HIS GRANDDAUGHTER PALOMA AND DAUGHTERS ANIKA AND SYDNEY TAMIIA
Sidney Poitier sits between the two youngest of his six daughters, Sydney Tamiia and Anika, enduring the mortifying reminiscences only close family can conjure. "We used to dress him up," says Sydney, 39, an actress seen recently on Hawaii Five-0, speaking of their childhood antics. "He'd be on location and we'd put barrettes in his hair." Adds Anika, 41, a film director: "We'd make him call room service. And he'd have to open the door with pink barrettes and lipstick on." At this, their father draws his elegant glen plaid jacket over his head in mock horror.
The iconic actor, director and author seems as regal as ever at 86, his voice still rich with the lilting cadences from his Bahamian youth but also the authority heard in indelible roles in such classics as Lilies of the Field -- for which Poitier won the first best actor Oscar awarded an African-American -- and his two L.A.-based daughters' favorites, In the Heat of the Night and To Sir, With Love. "He played this empowering teacher, and I just remember feeling super proud that he was my dad," says Sydney.
Poitier's own parents, poor tomato farmers who emigrated to Miami, "were terribly important in my life," he says. "They passed on to me everything that they had learned and hoped that I would carry it with me into my adulthood." Says Sydney: "I think the values he was raised with are the values he passed on to us -- the things that were important to his parents are important to us." Adds Anika, who last year gave birth to Paloma, the youngest of Poitier's five grandchildren (he also has three great-grandchildren). "And they're important to me for my daughter, too."
In a household where Poitier's wife of 37 years, Joanna Shimkus, Sydney's and Anika's mother, also refers to Poitier as "Dad," Father's Day usually includes brunch and the same annual gift. "We only ever give him pajamas," says Anika. Adds Sydney, "He was in pajamas until about five minutes ago before he put a suit on." Says Anika, "And he'll be back in pajamas in about five minutes." (Poitier's other daughters Beverly, Pamela, Sherri and Gina are from a previous marriage to Juanita Hardy.)
"The world knows him as this iconic, legendary, historical figure. But he's also just a really, really good dad," says Sydney. As fathers are wont, Poitier, beaming between his daughters, gets the last word. "I want you," he declares, "to put all of that in writing."
ACADEMY OF MOTION PICTURE ARTS AND SCIENCES PRESIDENT HAWK KOCH AND HIS SON ROBBY
Having grown up in the film business -- his father, Howard, was a producer and past president of the Academy -- Hawk Koch, 67, didn't look to steer his own kids into it. "I don't know if my dad said it to me, but I always said to my kids, 'Do what you love,' " he says of the advice he offered.
Still, there was no way his son, Robby, 34, could have avoided early exposure to show business. As a young teen, he remembers, he visited the set of Wayne's World and actually suggested a Terminator joke for Robert Patrick that made it into the final movie.
Still, he initially flirted with journalism before eventually focusing on entertainment law, graduating from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, and ultimately joining the firm of Jackoway Tyerman Wertheimer Austen Mandelbaum Morris & Klein, where he is now a partner. "I think one of my proudest days as a father was when Robby became partner," Hawk says.
Father's Day typically sees the Koch clan -- which includes Robby's older siblings Billy and Emily -- gathering at Hawk and current wife Molly's house in Topanga Canyon. "My go-to Father's Day present is anything having to do with a barbecue -- my dad's good around the grill," Robby says.
But that could change next year since Robby and his wife, Annie Meyers-Shyer (daughter of directors Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer), are about a month away from the birth of their first child. "It's Robby's last Father's Day before he's a dad," Hawk says. "Next year, we'll probably have to go to his house."
DIRECTOR JOHN LANDIS AND HIS SON, MAX
John Landis: Max started writing scripts when he was 7. My proudest moment was when Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackerman gave him a big box of books. Three weeks later, I said, "Max, have you read those books?" He said, "I read them all." Now he's a very successful screenwriter [Chronicle] about to direct his first feature, Me, Him, Her.
Max Landis, 27: It was every classic sci-fi book: Star Beast, Door Into Summer, Stainless Steel Rat. When I'd go to bed, I'd turn on The Jack Benny Program. They thought I was sleeping, but I'd turn the light back on and read Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. How old were you when you directed your first movie, Schlock?
John, 62: 21.
Max: [I'll be] 28. F-- me! I let you down!
John: But Schlock is terrible.
Max: Schlock IS terrible.
John: People go, "Well, his dad helped him." And I did, I got him into the Writers Guild [with a writing credit] in Deer Woman. But that was when he was 18. I couldn't get him an agent. He got his own. He bought his own house, he's off the payroll. People say, "Max is so hot, why don't you have Max write you a script?" I can't afford Max.
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS PRESIDENT AND COO RON MEYER AND HIS DAUGHTER SARAH
On a recent Saturday at Ron Meyer's sunny Malibu home, it was impossible to miss his devotion to his four children, whom he phones daily. He's overjoyed that youngest daughter Carson, 19, has returned home from New York University.
"I go to New York every other week, but it's not the same," Meyer, 68, laments. Luckily, his two older daughters by previous wife Ellen, jewelry designer Jennifer, 36, and Sarah, 32, both reside in L.A., while his son, Eli, 15, lives at home. (Meyer's second wife, Kelly, is Carson's and Eli's mom.)
So far, Sarah, a production executive at Joel Silver Pictures, is the only one to work in the film business. "He's always there for advice," says Sarah, whose credits include the Liam Neeson thriller Unknown. "I always had a good time watching my dad. He makes it look easy."
Meyer's favorite Father's Day present every year continues to be an informal photo of his family, which has grown to include two sons-in-law (including Jennifer's husband, Tobey Maguire), three grandchildren (the latest addition being Sarah's 18-month-old son) and four dogs.
"Growing up, he always wanted a picture or something we made," says Sarah. "I'm sure he's got a macaroni necklace somewhere." Meyer's proudest accomplishment as a dad? All of his kids are incredibly close: "I couldn't have wished for more."
RECORDING-ARTIST MANAGER IRVING AZOFF, SON JEFFREY AND DAUGHTER ALLISON
The name Azoff is synonymous with power, but to Jeffrey and Allison, the larger-than-life Irving Azoff -- who lifted MCA Records from bankruptcy in the 1980s, created Front Line Management, merged it with Ticketmaster and later Live Nation, then exited with his longtime clients (The Eagles and Christina Aguilera among them) in tow -- is simply known as a hands-on dad.
"He was present all the time, he coached our soccer team, he always had the right answer," says Allison Statter, 33, who's worked at Azoff Management for 11 years and currently leads the commercial division, which pairs such clients as Jennifer Hudson and Avril Lavigne with endorsements and tour sponsorships.
Her brother, Jeffrey, 27, an agent at CAA (his roster includes Britney Spears and The Voice), takes after his father, too. The spitting image of the mogul in his younger days, Jeffrey gives his dad props for strategic brilliance.
"I've seen so much controlled chaos come together in an amazing way," says Jeffrey, "then I learn that he had a plan the whole time."
You could say the same of Irving's parenting philosophy. "My take is, you have to give kids space and let them follow their choices," says the 64-year-old father of four with wife Shelli (Jeffrey and Allison's siblings Jaye and Cameron) and grandfather of two. "And I get advice from them on the way things are now."