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Fresh from Mississippi, Larry A. Thompson arrived in Los Angeles on Aug. 23, 1968, driving a black Oldsmobile with maroon interior, $700 in his wallet, a rack of clothes in the backseat and a law degree from the University of Mississippi.
Not only had he never been to California, Thompson had never met anyone who had, so he went to the only place he knew — the corner of Hollywood and Vine. He pulled up close to 10 p.m., parked and got out of the car to experience a movie-worthy moment right in the heart of Hollywood.
“It was pouring down rain and I looked up and started to cry. Well, actually I wept because I knew I was home,” Thompson tells THR. “I had arrived.”
In the decades that followed, Thompson, now 71, made sure the town knew he was here. He’s been a lawyer, manager, producer, writer, speaker and the list goes on. And he’s been successful and, as a manger and head of the Larry A. Thompson Organization — a Los Angeles-based management and production firm — he’s worked alongside clients including William Shatner, Drew Barrymore, Joan Rivers, Cicely Tyson, Barry White, David Hasselhoff, Linda Evans, Richard Pryor, Sonny and Cher, and dozens more. (He’s repped Shatner for nearly 40 years — clearly something of a Hollywood record.)
After receiving word that he’ll be inducted into the Personal Managers Hall of Fame at the upcoming National Conference of Personal Managers, Thompson tells THR that he’s grateful for the recognition but he has no intention of slowing down. He’s still in the office seven days a week, he admits.
“I still have the ‘aww’ of Hollywood and the ‘aww’ of talent. For me, it’s still about talent and it’s still about stars,” he says. “God shines through them and it’s very powerful.
Just as those words come, so do the tears, again.
“To have been associated with so many gifted people,” he says, looking for the words while his voice gets quiet. “It’s been an honor.”
Congratulations on the being named to the Hall of Fame. What does it mean to you?
I always say that you can’t get hit by lightning if you’re not standing out in the rain. Having stood in the rain for quite a long time thinking nobody was paying attention, it’s a wonderful, validating honor and I’m thrilled about it.
How many times have you been hit by lightning?
I’m hit by lightning everyday, actually. I really embrace change, and of course, so much of that is in our business. Each morning, she recalibrates the world and sets an equal playing field of opportunity for each of us. It’s our responsibility to go and get our share.
In this town, you hear the following compliment a lot: “This person can do it all.” You really can and have. You’ve been a lawyer, producer — of film, TV and Broadway — manager, author, speaker, etc. What has been your favorite?
What I’ve enjoyed the most is doing all those different things. I believe I would’ve gotten bored if I had just done one. The ability of entertainment to reach so many people through so many different mediums and platforms is what makes it exciting and fun for me. I never set out to do motion pictures or TV or Broadway or music; there were times when I needed to say something or my clients needed to say something in a certain medium, and that dictated where we went.
Larry Thompson and his family attend the 12th Annual Heller Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills on Sept. 19, 2013. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/WireImage)
You’ve worked with some of the greats. Do you have a client or client accomplishment you’re most proud of?
William Shatner has been a client for 36 years — that’s a long time. I’m proud of my contributions to Bill’s constantly reinvented career over the near four decades we’ve worked together. We’re hard working buddies. The duration of our working relationship is probably a Hollywood record, or even a record by dog years or space travel years, for that matter. Definitely something to enter into the captains’ log on in his stellar journey.
What was the biggest challenge in maintaining career longevity?
As I said earlier, I think that being able to welcome and embrace change in this business is really crucial. A lot of people are afraid of it and find themselves outdated and missing the beat. I try to stay very very close to the pulse of the marketplace with talent. Use change to create an even playing field. This has been one of the most interesting times of changes. Social media has now democratized celebrity — everyone is a star today. The constellation of stardom has expanded to include just about everyone on Earth, from George Clooney and the Pope to PewDiePie and ‘Hitchhiker’ to even my kids who go on YouTube and sing ‘Spicy Tuna’ to the tune of ‘My Sharona.’ Everybody can get up and do their thing and get out there. Early man drew on cave walls, teenagers wrote graffiti on buildings and now we all post on digital walls. We’ve always been saying the same thing, which is, ‘I exist. I’m here. Validate me. I’m a star.’ Today in representing talent and stardom you are challenged to promote their talent through the clutter of everything out there.
You and your company represented so many big names. Let me say the name of a few clients and you said the word or words that first come to mind:
Still going into space.
A star from the very beginning.
There’s only one Hoff.
Her death was as shocking as her humor.
A beauty inside and out.
Sonny and Cher?
The greatest. … and the beat goes on.
I love her. She’s a handful, but a fun handful.
He’s still crazy.
You produced Liz & Dick, so let’s add Elizabeth Taylor?
My mother and Elizabeth Taylor had the same birthday. I remember hearing my mother remind me of that every year when she was alive. So it wasn’t lost on me when I finally made that movie. I’m sure it wasn’t a subtle nudging from her when I made that movie.
Barry White was one of the most gifted clients and friends. He was a true giant. I also loved Cicely Tyson; we’ve remained close. Jim Neighbors was my first my client management ever.
It’s almost been a year and a half since the tragic death of Joan Rivers. What was it like to see her pass in that way? Why did you not speak about it?
I thought no one could better speak for Joan than her daughter, Melissa, who has represented her in a most elegant way. Now, looking back over it, not only did Joan possess impeccable comedic timing but she had perfect legacy timing — she died at the height of her long and lustrous career. I always felt like representing Joan you had to dress fashionably, be very sharp and funny and have plenty of energy just to stay ahead of the curve with her. I think she respected me and I loved her.
Joan Rivers and Larry Thompson attend the 12th Annual Heller Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills on Sept. 19, 2013. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/WireImage)
Do you have any favorite memories of her? Or anything that you experienced working with her that might surprise people?
Joan’s third act looked as if it would never end. Her talent was so huge, and her desire to excel was unparalleled. Her work ethic was phenomenal. She seemed to be 18 years old instead of 81. Her energy was enormous.
You have repped Shatner for nearly 4 decades. What’s the key to your long-term relationship with him?
We laugh together. We recognize that what we’re doing is so important that we don’t take it very seriously.
Have you done opposite?
We’ve gone through marriages, divorces, deaths. Shows picked up to series and shows canceled. In 35 years of Bill’s career in many different forms, its been pretty amazing. I’m real proud of him.
William Shatner presents Larry Thompson with the 2013 Heller Lifetime Achievement award at the 12th Annual Heller Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills on Sept. 19, 2013. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/WireImage)
What advice do you have for a manager who is just starting out?
A couple of things. I’ve always been both a talent representative and a producer and I’ve always said that as a manger or talent rep, you can always make a living but you might not be able to get rich. As a producer, you can get rich but you might not always make a living. By doing both you can achieve both. I had an epiphany once that I also sometimes pass on to young managers. Representatives in general are givers by nature. They think of their clients first as they should, but often times they neglect their own careers. One day, I decided to sign myself and do for me and my company what I did for others. In one day, I psychologically expanded from representing talent to being talent. I put myself on my daily to-do list. By managing myself and growing my business, I unleashed new opportunities for my clients. I didn’t think less of other people — that continues to be my business, taking care of others — but I no longer do it by excluding myself.
Saying the business has changed during your career is a drastic and obvious understatement. Is there something that you wish still stuck around?
Yes. In the world of personal management, there were personal managers, then talent managers, then consultants and now brand managers. I’ve never been a brand manager. I’ve never repped a cereal or running shoes or a soda. I represent talent. I am a curator of iconic personas. I curate talented, iconic people. I represent talent and maximize and monetize and memorialize their unique creative souls, as opposed to a brand manager which is monetizing celebrity. We have to nurture the talent we rep and have it touch people in very meaningful soulful ways, which then allows us to maximize their opportunities and make sure they make as much money as they can. If you approach it as if you manage a brand the impersonal concept of brand manager is inconsistent of what the meaning of a personal manger is.
What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?
My dad would say that if you let a monkey climb a coconut tree high enough, he’ll eventually show his ass. It’s the same with people, if you focus on what others are doing, you will eventually see them climb so high and show their ass eventually. Stay focused on yourself. We live in a town where you always see bigger and better around you, so you have to learn to be grateful of what you do have.
Larry Thompson and Taylor Thompson arrive at the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Sept. 22, 2013. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
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