13 East Coast Camps Where Hollywood Stars Spent Their Summers

7:00 AM 8/23/2016

by Carson Griffith

Is your kid just back for the summer? Maybe he or she will end up like top industry types, from director Darren  Aronofsky to Viacom's Doug Herzog, who attribute their success to skills gleaned from those weeks of hiking, archery and even future networking.

Courtesy of Subject

Here's a little secret Ivy League schools don't want you to know, lest the influence of their alumni networks be diminished: In Hollywood, it's not just who you know, it's where you went to summer camp. Industry people who attended elite East Coast summer camps — many of them Jewish camps, where Shabbat service is as common as Capture the Flag — believe they've been invaluable when it comes to networking.

Lorne Michaels (Ontario's Camp Timberlane), Ben Affleck (Massachusetts' Crossroads for Kids), Clive Davis (Pennsylvania's Camp Equinunk), Larry David (New York's All-American Basketball Camp), Joel and Ethan Coen (Wisconsin's Camp Herzl, also attended by Bob Dylan and Seth Rogen), Felicity Huffman (Interlochen, where Josh Groban also went), Andy Cohen (Wisconsin's Camp Nebagamon), Lena Dunham (Maine's Fernwood Cove) as well as Judd Apatow and Jeff Zucker: They're all among the heavy-hitters who have spent their childhood summers at ritzy camps, where they developed skills they use today.

"I'll tell anyone who will listen that I learned everything I needed to know at camp," says Doug Herzog, president of Viacom Music and Entertainment Group, who attended Camp Scatico, a non-religious camp in the Upper Hudson Valley, as a camper for eight years and a counselor for three. "When young people say, 'I would love to be an executive,' I say being a camp counselor helps." The following East Coast camps have hosted future Hollywood denizens:

  • Lake Bryn Mawr Camp

    This all-girls, nearly 300-acre camp founded in 1921 in Honesdale, Pa., is "as much about networking for parents as it is for children," says one New York mom with a daughter there ($11,650 for a full session, or seven weeks). Situated on Lake Ellis, Bryn Mawr enforces an "Angel Code" that focuses on four values (loyalty, beauty, merit and comradeship) and uniforms (polo shirts and athletic wear, which camper Rachel Zoe likely was not a fan of). The traditional Jewish camp, which boasts a 15,000-square-foot gym, an equestrian center with 40 horses, 15 tennis courts and a state-of-the-art soccer stadium, vets campers like college admissions: Camp directors visit homes — including that of Howard Stern, who sent two of his now-adult daughters — in the fall.

  • Buck's Rock Performing and Creative Arts Camp

    A hipster camp in New Milford, Conn., that has hosted Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig, Key and Peele writer-producer Rebecca Drysdale, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them actor Ezra Miller and singer Elle King, it has counselors who are "professional theater directors, lighting designers, singing coaches and dance instructors," says executive director Noah Salzman. He lists glass blowing, metal weaving, silk screening, stand-up comedy workshops and a puppetry program (the latter developed by the Jim Henson family) among the activities ($10,070 for a full session).

  • French Woods

    Everyone I met at camp is still surrounded by the arts," says founder of bass/casting Lauren Bass, who overlapped at the Catskills' French Woods in Hancock, N.Y., with Adam Levine and was in a production with Zooey Deschanel. Jon Favreau and David Blaine also attended. "The bonds created when you were 7, 8 and 9 are stronger than the bonds you make now," says Bass of the 170-acre camp with full-scale musical productions every three weeks, a circus program, skateboarding, fly-fishing and arts and crafts ($4,950 for a three-week session, with up to four sessions per summer).

  • Camp Mah-Kee-Nac

    This sports-oriented camp in Lenox, Mass., features Olympic pool facilities, a high-end sports complex, whitewater rafting and trips to Six Flags and the baseball and basketball halls of fame ($11,100 for seven weeks). Ben Silverman, Propagate Content chair and producer of Hands of Stone (out Aug. 26), tells THR: "I loved summer camp! It was so idyllic and fun. I remember being in the [camp production of] The Hobbit, and the kid who played the hobbit ran off the stage, and I had to riff the rest of the show and got a standing 'O.' "

  • Camp Modin

    Childrens Hospital actor/exec producer David Wain went to the same small sleepaway camp as his parents in Belgrade, Maine, the oldest Jewish camp in New England, which opened as an all-boys camp in 1922 and became the choice for prominent traditional Jewish families. Arrival producer Shawn Levy and Robert Smigel, the voice of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, attended the kosher camp that keeps traditional group Shabbat on Fridays as well as tournament ski boats and flyboards ($12,500 for a full session, or $7,500 for a one-month session).

  • Camp Kenwood

    Rob Sharenow, executive vp and GM of A&E and Lifetime, says of the 21 summers he spent at the camp owned by his parents (which a childhood friend of Sharenow's has since purchased): "Camp probably had the most profound effect on my adult life. I was a counselor for many years. There are few jobs that let you lead when you are 19. I was in charge of a group of kids and budgeting, things you use as a producer and executive." Known for a robust staffer-to-camper ratio (200 staffers, 330 campers), the Wilmot, N.H., all-boys camp (Evergreen is the sister camp) sits on 230 acres, with a private lake and two private beaches. It also features 11 clay tennis courts, three soccer fields, five art studios, a climbing wall and a 3D experience that lets campers take aim at foam rubber dinosaurs ($9,100 for four weeks, $13,100 for seven weeks). "Mike Wallace from 60 Minutes was a drama counselor, and Joe Roth, the studio boss, was a camper and counselor in the '60s," says Sharenow. "We've always had people who ended up in show business even though we were primarily a sports camp."


  • Camp Ramah

    A network of 100 percent Jewish sleepaway summer camps — with locations in the Berkshires, Northern California, the Poconos, the Rockies, Canada and elsewhere — run by the camping arm of the Conservative Jewish movement, Ramah begins each day with prayer, suffuses the camp vernacular with Hebrew and sprinkles nearly every activity with lessons of religious ethics. Campers, or "Ramahniks," include B.J. Novak, Wolf Blitzer and Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman; they all attended the Massachusetts location ($8,925 for a full session).

  • Camp Rising Sun

    This four-week program, an international full-scholarship camp for kids ages 14 to 16, is operated from a boys' facility in Red Hook, N.Y., and has a separate girls' facility in Clinton, N.Y., in the Hudson River Valley. Campers are chosen by merit and are asked to "pass along" what they've learned to their communities instead of paying tuition. Although Camp Rising Sun is not a Jewish camp (the late Pete Seeger, an attendee, wasn't Jewish), it has a network of Jewish alums, including writer-producers Eli Attie (The West Wing, House; also Bill Clinton's former speechwriter) and Norberto Barba (Law & Order, Grimm) and Darren Aronofsky, who tells THR: "Camp Rising Sun unleashed and encouraged the wannabe poet inside me." Adds Helene Mattera, executive director of the Louis August Jonas Foundation which operates Camp Rising Sun: "Camp provides an opportunity for young people to be independent. That can translate into freedom of expression and creativity."

    (Pictured: Pete Seeger (left, at Rising Sun circa 1974) was a neighbor of Surprise Lake who liked to drop in and perform. He influenced campers like Neil Diamond, says Dale.)

  • Camp Scatico

    Ranging from $9,900 to $10,300 (depending on age) for a full session, the 275-acre sleepaway camp in Elizaville, N.Y., in the Hudson Valley was the summer hub, with its gamut of activities like hiking, color wars and archery, of Difficult People's Julie Klausner, A&M/Octone Records (which signed Maroon 5) founder James Diener and Ready Player One screenwriter Zak Penn. "You run into camp people everywhere you go," says Herzog. "If you see someone from camp, you call it an 'RSS: A Random Scatico Sighting.' "

  • Stagedoor Manor

    Konnie Kittrell

    (Pictured: Natalie Portman (left) with Bryce Dallas Howard at Stagedoor. Agent Jeremy Leiner, who starred opposite Portman in Cabaret there, says: "Natalie had already done The Professional and Beautiful Girls, but we all got to be normal kids.")

    So many people from Stagedoor have ended up in the business, you'll go into a meeting or audition and there's a look between you — it's like veterans who went through battle," says former camper Jon Cryer, who notes that in the '70s, "a lot of people who did not know what else to do with their kids sent them there — it was a lot of misfits." Zach Braff, Mandy Moore, Natalie Portman, Robert Downey Jr. and Josh Charles were part of the "Stagedoor Mafia," says Konnie Kittrell, a director at the sleepaway camp that offers three three-week sessions at $6,045 each. Competition for parts in productions is fierce (Todd Graff's 2003 movie Camp is loosely based on Stagedoor). During Cryer's tenure, Martin Charnin, the lyricist on the musical Annie, paid a visit: "The poor man could not walk 10 feet; it was like the Beatles had arrived!" Reps must know a Stagedoor alum to scout the kids, says Kittrell, as power talent manager Emily Gerson Saines did when she discovered Captain America: Civil War's Sebastian Stan.

  • Surprise Lake Camp

    Courtesy of Subject

    The self-proclaimed "best in Jewish camping" (95 percent of its campers are Jewish) in Cold Spring, N.Y., counts as alumni Jerry Stiller, Gene Simmons, Neil Simon, American Idol season 14 contestant Jax Miskanic and Eddie Cantor. Perhaps the biggest influence on the camp wasn't a past camper, but a neighbor: Seeger. The folk singer, who lived "over the hill," says Jordan Dale, executive director of the coed camp, would perform for the campers on a whim: "Neil Diamond always refers to how he saw Pete Seeger perform at Surprise Lake Camp, and that's when he knew he wanted to be a musician" ($7,700 for a full session; $7,900 for teens).

    (Pictured: Surprise Lake alum Jerry Stiller with campers in 2001.)

  • Camp Towanda

    Courtesy of Subject

    (Pictured: Bad language, flip-flops and late-night raids are prohibited at Towanda, which sits on 235 acres of land by a 200-acre lake.)

    Located on 235 acres of land with a 200-acre lake in the Poconos at Honesdale, Pa., Towanda served as the location for Wain's 2001 indie flick Wet Hot American Summer, during which castmembers such as Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper were asked to adhere to the sleepaway camp's rules, including no gum chewing. Towanda's campers observe a Friday evening service and a traditional prayer before each meal with kosher options. "Hank Azaria remembers getting his start on our stage, and he still comes up every year," says longtime director Mitch Reiter (whose eponymous character gets killed off in the film's recent Netflix spinoff). Towanda prides itself on being a traditional sleepaway camp, unplugged and "very retro or old-school," says Reiter of the hiking, camping in the woods, water skiing, indoor hockey and night volleyball ($11,825 for an eight-week session).

  • Camp Winnebago

    One of Maine's most prestigious summer outposts (alums include Eliot Spitzer and Chris Berman), the 400-acre camp in Fayette along the shores of Echo Lake offers windsurfing, water skiing, a radio station and a 12,000-square-foot field house ($13,175 for a full summer). Says Sunset Tower Hotel owner Jeff Klein of his experiences there: "I was a city kid and wasn't interested in sports, and sports taught me about teamwork and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. Plus, great memories of friendship, corny stuff like that."

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