A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
UCLA’S Hammer Museum is gaining a familiar Hollywood face.
Producer Marcy Carsey, responsible for many of TV’s biggest comedy hits (The Cosby Show, Roseanne), will become its board chair in January, taking over from former U.S. Sen. John Tunney, who is retiring. “If I can just extend the work [Hammer director] Annie [Philbin] and John Tunney have done, I will be thrilled,” Carsey tells THR. “They’ve established the museum not only in the art it curates but also in the things it does for the community.”
Carsey and Philbin, both University of New Hampshire graduates, first met a couple of years ago at an alumni event held at the Hammer. Carsey, a longtime fan of the museum’s variety of community programs, joined its board shortly thereafter. However, she was hesitant when Philbin first approached her about assuming the chairmanship. Although Carsey co-owns a folk- and outsider-art shop, Just Folk, in Summerland, Calif., she doesn’t consider herself an art collector. “What I put in my house is lots of weathered old American furniture from the 1800s, velocipedes, pull toys, old whimsical things,” she says. “Collectors keep doing it and change their wonderful collections, I really just needed to furnish my house with stuff that made me smile. There are so many people who are avid students [of art] and have been for decades, and collectors that are deeply knowledgeable in ways I am not.”
But Philbin was confident that Carsey was the right person for the position. “She’s a fearless leader, and I will benefit from her years of being a major producer and the knowledge she has gained from that,” the director tells THR. “My measure of a great leader is that they are a great citizen of this city and have an impulse to enrich the life of the people in Los Angeles.”
At the Hammer, which is currently featuring exhibitions by photographer James Welling and painter Forrest Bess, Carsey will work closely with board president Michael Rubel, a managing partner at CAA. “Michael and Marcy are thoughtful and brilliant people for us,” Philbin says. Although she adds that it’s “who they are as leaders,” not their Hollywood connections, that make them fit to lead. Carsey and Rubel headline a board with plenty of ties to the entertainment industry, including UTA’s Peter Benedek and Jeremy Zimmer, WME’s George Freeman, Gersh’s Bob Gersh, producer David Hoberman and media investor Dean Valentine, as well as actress Susan Bay Nimoy (wife of Leonard) and auctioneer Viveca Paulin-Ferrell (wife of Will).
Carsey is unsurprised but pleased with Hollywood’s embrace of the L.A. art world. “When I came here in the ’60s, it felt like the gold rush days. Nothing had taken root and everything felt new and transient,” she says. “But something has changed. Now the movie and television industry has traditions and longstanding citizens, and I think they have a deeper pride in Los Angeles as a city that in many ways is great and in many ways aspires to be great. And a strong arts community and a strong awareness and support of the arts always make a city better and greater.”
As for her own involvement in the industry, Carsey has been inactive since That ’70s Show went off the air in 2006 and she and producing partner Tom Werner decided to shutter their hugely successful independent production company. “The business had shifted so that it was almost impossible to stay independent,” she says. “Now, oddly enough, it’s probably possible again, with all these extra ways to distribute product.”
So would Carsey consider a return to Hollywood, then?
“Sure, anybody who has taken great joy in any creative field never loses the love for it,” she says. “The joy of making something out of nothing that maybe gets people thinking or laughing, it’s a thrill. You never stop loving that.”