Most of us would consider ourselves lucky if we could look back after a long career and say we worked for one of our heroes. I’ve been blessed to work for half a dozen of them, including Norman Lear.
To be honest, I didn’t work with him directly, but for a few years I was an editor in the business-to-business media division of Act III Communications, which is best remembered as the company that produced iconic films like “Princess Bride” and “Stand By Me,” and probably not trade magazines like Marketing & Media Decisions or Channels.
But I did get to have one face-to-face encounter with Lear while he was touring our New York City offices on Park Avenue South. He stopped by my cubicle and quickly noticed a distinctive piece of art I had pinned to the wall: A photo of “The Three Stooges’” Curly Howard captioned, “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!”
We spoke about our mutual admiration of the Stooges, and Curly in particular.
I gushed to him about what a hero of mine he was for pioneering not just TV and movies, but societal norms by helping America overcome racism, sexism and political division, not by proselytizing, but by entertaining us -- and especially, by making us laugh.
Even though I was a business reporter, I didn’t ask him much about the media business, but I did ask him one question about our company.
“Why did you name it Act III Communications?," I asked.
“Because it’s my third professional act,” he replied.
Never mind that from a playwriting perspective, “act threes” are supposed to be about the resolution of a story, because Lear went on to live many more acts as a storyteller, activist and inspiration until he died Tuesday at the age of 101.
Our encounter took place in the late 1980s, when he was still in his 60s and I was in my 20s, but the conversation inspired me to think that we can all have multiple acts if we look at our lives that way.