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5.2.14 Issue

by Annette van de Kamp-Wright, Editor of the Jewish Press

Can you tell me a little bit about where you were born, grew up, and what it was like going to Central?

I was born in Omaha, raised in the Dundee area and, of course, attended Central High. I was the second child in a family of four children so I knew that Central was an academic powerhouse as well as having a national reputation in sports.  I loved attending Central. The expanded community gave us the opportunity to learn about many other backgrounds than we had seen at Dundee Grade School. There were no limits to what could be discovered there. Regardless of what one brought to the table, there were few boundaries in the chase for personal growth.

J. Arthur Nelson was the principal at the time and bringing him donuts from Forbes Bakery a couple times a week earned me some freedoms that otherwise might not have been available. I had a plethora of fun at Central, but I also got the basic college prep education that has served me well throughout my life. Learning grammar and the use of the English language is something that I discovered in my career is not done in most schools. I am forever grateful for having the ability to construct a sentence, a paragraph and an entire document.

What did you do after graduation?

I did not think much about what was after high school when I was there, so I defaulted to Omaha University. I was an average student with a penchant for all types of political activism. This included campus politics, County, State, Civil Rights and Viet Nam politics. I became a very active Young Democrat which gave me the opportunity to be in Lt. Governor Phil Sorenson’s inner circle, when he ran for Governor and Frank Morrison’s when he ran for the Senate. I think my Central and OU years were more about those politics than about academics.

My political activity and my evening job at a movie theater got me an introduction to the world of Hollywood. This is a long story; but if you want to hear it, I will tell it to you. The short version is that I got an interview with MGM in New York, and it turned out that the executive with whom I met was connected to the Kennedy clan, thus my interview was about people that we both knew in campaign circles. I got a job in marketing and headed to NY, followed by travel throughout the country because, in those days, the business was somewhat decentralized. Two years into the job I was moved to Hollywood, more accurately, Culver City, and began a career at the studio.

Two years into studio life, I started what would become the home video division of the company.

I left MGM for an opportunity at Twentieth Century Fox. At Fox I held several positions in both marketing and corporate strategy. I left to work for Ray Stark, a movie producer and major shareholder at Columbia Pictures. Here I was a part of everything at the movie level and the corporate level.

Eager to start my own company I left to represent George Lucas in the marketing and distribution for the third movie in the Star Wars trilogy. That led to a client base of Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Warren Beatty, Taylor Hackford, Bill Murray and others.

Several years of The David Forbes Company then brought a new offer from MGM/UA to return as President of MGM/UA Distribution Company. I moved from MGM/UA to Orion Pictures as President of Marketing and Distribution and Executive Vice President of the Corporation.

After Orion, there were a couple years of volunteering with some non-profits and then a return to the industry at IMAX where I was part of the senior management team. I left to partner in an animation company based in the Philippines. We did work for various companies around the world, mostly from Manila, and from Los Angeles. We were a lead provider of visual effects on Matrix 2 and Matrix 3.

Since that time, I have worked on my own film and television projects and I am a partner in a fund that invests in the marketing of movies.

How often do you come back to Omaha?

I return to Omaha less than I would like. I am a partner in an active farm near Elkhorn, which I visit occasionally. I have also come back to ride RAGBRAI many times and I usually spend some time in Omaha around that trip. Since my siblings and many other relatives have moved away or died, I don’t make it as often as I once did. I remain connected to Omaha, especially the Jewish community, since that is how I grew up and that is what my parents and grandparents represented.

How did the accidental wine come into the picture?

The Accidental Wine Company was exactly that, an accident. I have a friend who owned both a chocolate factory and a wine distribution company. I often visited the candy factory to load up on chocolate to keep in the house. He stored all the wines that had blemished labels at the candy factory and my son, Micah, and I would rummage through those wines for interesting things. One day we visited and the place was under new ownership. My friend sold on the previous Friday and left. At lunch with him one day, Micah asked what would happen to those wines and shortly after that lunch, we had a license and a plan for an internet wine sales company. My partners are my daughter, Kelly, and Micah. We work part time at this and have some fun finding excellent wines at great prices. Our premise is to give people great deals on these wines.

What do you like about Omaha, and what do you not miss at all?

I love the community that Omaha has, especially the close Jewish community. We are more scattered in LA and the connections are different. Things in Omaha are well paced and less stressful than Los Angeles. The traffic is easy, the city is quite beautiful compared to what I saw as a child. Omaha is much more friendly than many other big cities.

Weather is a drawback after living in California. I live in a place where humidity and cold are not a factor in my life.  Yes; the seasons are great, but I have learned to live without them.

You graduated with Marty Ricks, right? What was he like in high school? We’d all like to know.

Marty was in my older brother’s class at Central, but as they were friends, I had a lot of contact with him. He came from a class where nearly every one was exceptionally bright and an overachiever. Marty hung out with my brother Harold; so I saw a lot of him, and he was a genuinely decent guy even then.

What would you say is the biggest difference between who you were then and who you are now?

When I lived in Omaha, I had big dreams, but I was average at everything. I did not understand yet that perseverance, hard work and focus could make a difference. I pushed the edges in different ways from most kids and learned from being active in the civil rights movement that we can all make things happen. My interest in politics gave me a base for my choices in college. While still in Omaha and still an average student, I became more of an activist and reconfirmed that we can all encourage change in the world and in ourselves, and therefore continually reinvent ourselves.

The difference now is in confidence, wisdom and being comfortable with who I have become. During the years in Omaha, I did not know who I was and did not know how to find out. Along the way I became more introspective and curious. That is the normal path of life, and over time I think we try harder to know who we are and to embrace that.

Are you Jewishly active these days?

Los Angeles is very different than Omaha. Jews in the “industry” are definitely more cohesive than in other areas; but being actively Jewish or, for that matter Christian, is not the kind of community this is or at least as I perceive it. I belonged to a synagogue when my children were growing up and was moderately active; but it was an industry synagogue and the people there were friends and acquaintances from the industry.

What would you like to share about your family?

I have two children, two grandchildren. All Californians, which is different from my sibling Forbes’ who went east and south. As I said, both kids are in the wine business and each has their own business separately.