Who came to dinner with entertainment tycoon and Amory native Sam Haskell Friday night at the Holmes Community College’s Grenada Center Corey Forum?
Why a big crowd, of course!
Haskell, an author and former executive vice president and worldwide head of television for the William Morris Agency in Los Angeles, was speaker for the first Arts and Letters event sponsored by the English and Modern Foreign Language Departments and the HCC Development Foundation Inc., to help raise money for the college.
According to Haskell, all the money made from the sale of his book, “Promises to My Mother,” during the event were donated to Holmes Community College.
“Whenever I speak at an event for an organization, especially if it’s about my book, everything that is made from that event goes back to that organization,” he said.
According to Dr. Glenn Boyce, president of Holmes Community College, the event was a wonderful fundraiser for the college.
“At this time, we don’t know exactly how much money was raised, but it is a good amount,” he said. “Without question our first Speaker’s Night was an enormous success.”
Boyce said that as a fundraiser for the Development Foundation, it achieved two specific goals.
“First certainly was to raise money for our classrooms and secondly was to bring an event to the college that everyone would embrace and enjoy,” he said. “With over 300 people in attendance from all over our college district, both our goals were met beyond even our expectations.
Haskell spoke about his childhood in Amory and of the autobiographical memoir about life lessons and what he learned from his mother.
“My mother was the most influential person in my life, and she taught me faith, family, kindness, character and to live my dreams,” he said. “Growing up, I was always fascinated with the old Hollywood of the 1930s and ’40s. I loved Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh, and all the old stars.”
Haskell said that his mother fostered his dreams of being a part of Hollywood.
“I remember growing up and being about 10 or 11 years old, and that was the year the Cheer washing powder company came out with the Cheer Man,” he said. “During that commercial, the Cheer Man said that he would come to every town, and anybody who had a Cheer box top would get $10.”
He said he went to the nearest hobby shop and bought glitter, stickers, poster board and anything needed to make the biggest and brightest box top he could.
“I couldn’t just go to the laundry room and pull the box top off the box,” Haskell said. “ I had to have the best. Over time, that poster went from in the front yard, to the back yard, to on the wall in my bedroom and finally, rolled up in my closet.”
He said about 16 months later, his friends and he were playing in the yard as his father was cooking on the grill in the backyard.
“That whole time, my dad was thinking why was I doing this, and my mom said to let me do it and believe in it,” he said. “Finally, one summer, my friends and I were playing in the front yard. We heard down the road of the Cheer Man coming.”
Haskell said that his friends ran into the house to get a box top, and he ran to get his sign.
“I ended up getting the $10,” he said. “My dad was like, ‘how could the Cheer Man know about our address in the little town of Amory, Miss?’”
Haskell said that at the time, the Cheer company had a computer, and they put every address of every registered voter in the country into that computer and randomly picked two addresses in each county of the United States.
“We just happened to be one of the addresses picked in Monroe County,” he said. “If it wasn’t for my mom believing in me, I would have never been able to do what I have done.”
Haskell spent 30 years in Los Angeles before relocating to Oxford with his wife, Mary Donnelly Haskell, the 1977 Miss Mississippi. Haskell’s clients included Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, Dolly Parton and George Clooney.