Dan O'Keefe '90 (Writer and Producer, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,
The Drew Carey Show, Seinfeld, The League, Silicon Valley)
by Nicole Torres
Originally from New York City, Dan O’Keefe grew up in a writing family. Both his parents were writers; his mother was an English teacher and his father an editor for Reader’s Digest. He was not allowed to watch television growing up, but he humorously recalls, “I was allowed to swear as long as it was grammatical.” His two younger brothers are writers as well, and all three of the O’Keefe brothers have enjoyed successful careers writing for either Hollywood or Broadway.
While he has enjoyed substantial success as both a writer and producer, his path toward a writing career was not always so clear. “For a long time I wanted to be an actor. I actually trained for years and years, and they didn’t have a major at Harvard, and I was thinking, ‘No one in this place is ever going to make it as an actor.’ And then, of course, Mira Sorvino, Donal Logue, and Matt Damon [did].”
Kurt Crowley '06 (Associate Conductor, Hamilton)
by Kristen Strezo
Kurt Crowley AB ’06 remembers one of the first times he felt the life of Leonard Bernstein collided with his. Crowley was an undergrad cleaning Eliot House on dorm crew when he discovered a small staircase and a sign that read ‘to tower and music room’.
Crowley’s interest piqued. He was studying music and comparative religion at Harvard. So, he did what any music student would do. He dropped his broom and climbed the small staircase.
Upstairs, he discovered a demure room with gratuitous sunlight, a baby grand piano and a picturesque view. Crowley walked to the piano. He hovered over it. He played the first tune that popped into his head. It was “Mambo” from West Side Story. Then, he headed back down the stairs.
Karen Olsson '95 (Journalist & Novelist, All the Houses)
by Dayna Wilkinson
Helen isn't getting anywhere in L.A. She's trying to write screenplays, but her ideas aren't great (even in her own opinion), and no one is interested in her work.
That’s how one reviewer described Helen Atherton, the protagonist of Karen Olsson’s new novel, All the Houses.
“I started with a 16 year old character named Nina, but Helen’s voice became more important,” says Karen. “Part of what keeps fiction writing alive for me is its unpredictability. Once I found Helen’s voice and decided on the backdrop of a political scandal, the story fell into place.”
Jack Riccobono '03 (Writer & Director, The Seventh Fire)
by Sara Lynne Wright
Filmmaker Jack Riccobono’s first piece of advice to anyone who wants to make independent film is to find collaborators you can trust. His longstanding industry relationships, many of which go back more than thirteen years to his time at Harvard, show he’s followed his own advice.
THE SEVENTH FIRE, a feature documentary he directed/shot/produced that is slated for a May 2016 theatrical release, follows Native American gang members embroiled in the drug trade on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota. While this nuanced portrait of a rarely seen part of America feels very far from the hallowed halls of the Ivy League, the film’s list of credits has Harvard all over it.
Johnny Lee '01 (Violinist, Los Angeles Philharmonic)
by D. Dona Le
At the age of 5, Cleveland native Johnny Lee AB ’01 jumped at the chance to begin playing the violin so he could emulate his older twin brothers (photo to the right by Craig Mathew/Mathew Imaging, courtesy of the LA Philharmonic).
“I wanted to play violin from the onset. My brothers didn’t. They do other things now,” Lee laughs, “and I stuck with it—but it was kind of a convoluted journey to it.”
That journey included the Cleveland Institute of Music (the pre-college and graduate-level programs), Harvard College in between, several orchestras and numerous music festivals, and then—since 2005—a coveted job with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Couper Samuelson '02 (President of Feature Production, Blumhouse Productions)
by Terence O'Toole Murnin
A TALL MAN RISES IN STATURE: The “Harvard Mafia” is alive and well in Hollywood with Couper Samuelson producing a new paradigm for art and commerce to coexist on the silver (really any) screen
William Couper Samuelson is a human dynamo, and with all respects to the late, great James Brown, the very tall (6’6”) producer may have just snatched the title as the “hardest working man in show business” and claimed it for himself. Known for such hits as the Academy Award-nominated WHIPLASH, WE OWN THE NIGHT, and THE GIFT, the lanky livewire has no less than five films already set for release in 2016, including HUSH, AMITYVILLE: THE WAKENING, DELIRIUM, 6 MIRANDA DRIVE, and THE PURGE 3.
Our interview is a fit of stops and starts. Calls and deadlines — and details — and a dinner to attend this evening. At last, he’s ready and it’s easy to see why the man has charmed his way into the upper echelons of Hollywood with a combination of brains, luck, pluck and networking savvy extraordinaire.
Alan Yang '02 (Writer & Executive Producer, Master of None, Parks & Recreation)
by Sara Lynne Wright
Master of None, the upcoming Netflix series co-created by Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari, is the most autobiographical show Alan’s ever worked on. “I always wanted to do stories that were universal. So I didn’t want to write a show people could categorize as an Asian show. But I think the lesson you learn over and over again – and I’m not claiming to know anything about writing - is that the universality you’re looking for is in the specificity of your experience.”
Alan’s refusal to claim he knows anything about writing reads like a joke, but he’s serious. He’s that humble. This humility, along with his evident and uncommon talent, must have helped him work his way up from staff writer to co-executive producer on Parks and Recreation over the seven seasons of the show. Before that he wrote for South Park and Last Call With Carson Daly.
Kermit Roosevelt AB '93
(Professor & Author, In the Shadow of the Law, Allegiance)
by Terence O'Toole Murnin
Kermit Roosevelt’s Real-Life Tales of a Government Bent on Repeating History Inform the Historical Fiction of Allegiance, His Latest Novel, while also Sharpening His Vision as a Professor of Law
Kermit Roosevelt has the kind of brilliant, beautiful mind that makes attorneys look cooler than Matthew McConaughey in THE LINCOLN LAWYER. Shifting seamlessly from his role as Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School where he has prolifically published on matters focusing on constitutional law and conflict of laws, in 2005, he also published his first novel, In The Shadow Of The Law (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Paramount quickly snapped up the rights to the entrancing book set in a powerhouse Washington, D. C., law firm, and Carol Mendelsohn of CSI fame served as Executive Producer of a TV Pilot that featured Joshua Jackson, Frank Langella, Kevin Pollak and Alan Tudyk.
Eric d’Arbeloff MBA ‘93 and Howard Cohen AB ‘81
(Co-Founders, Roadside Attractions)
by Cristina Slattery
Eric d’Arbeloff MBA ‘93 and Howard Cohen AB ‘81 are the founders of Roadside Attractions, a specialty film distributor based in L.A.
They are also a married couple and parents of a ten-year-old son. The films they acquire and distribute are designed to appeal to an intellectually curious audience and films have included everything from a documentary about Anna Wintour and VOGUE magazine to a story about Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys.
STONEWALL, a film about the famous Stonewall riots that initiated the gay rights movement in Greenwich Village in New York City in June of 1969, will be released on September 25th.
Alexandra Petri AB '10
(Playwright, Author, Washington Post Columnist/Blogger)
By Dayna Wilkinson
Photo courtesy of Trina Sobotka
“I love being able to communicate with people and tell stories. People ask, ‘why do you spend so much time writing?’ Well, why do you eat cake?”
Writer and humorist Alexandra Petri ‘10 had a happy but slightly unconventional upbringing. From the time she was a child, she traveled from Washington D.C. to Wisconsin to campaign for her father, former Congressman Tom Petri ’62, HLS ’80. “There were parades,” she recalls. “Lots of parades.”
Alexandra was always a voracious reader, but not of the books you’d expect. “When I was really young my mom (Anne Neal ’77, HLS ’80) said she’d either read me her old art history text book or a graphic novel of Othello with the unabridged text. I chose the latter, and just loved it, though as you’d expect a lot of it went over my head. After that, we’d read King Lear and other works out loud.”