Connecticut College Magazine · Winter 2014

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Katherine Bergeron, Connecticut College's 11th president. Photo by Harold Shapiro

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You can thank her for putting Dangerfield, Murray in 'Caddyshack'

A new documentary gives long-overdue credit to Wallis Nicita '67 and other great casting directors

Over more than 40 years in the film business, Wallis Nicita '67 has done it all — from casting to producing to screenwriting. Thanks to a new documentary, casting directors like her are finally getting some recognition for the important role they play in the filmmaking process.

The central figure in “Casting By,” a documentary that aired on HBO (and as of December was still available on the HBO Go online streaming service), is Marion Dougherty, who was Nicita's mentor and first boss in the film industry. As the Hollywood studio system, with its rosters of contracted actors, collapsed in the 1960s and '70s, Dougherty, who died in 2011 at age 88, paved the way for a new model in which independent casting directors kept tabs on young talent and recommended them for auditions.

“The casting director is the first person a director calls when they get a script,” Nicita explains. “If you have a script with lots of juicy parts in it, you want to talk to the person who really knows the labor pool. It's not the director's job to stay au courant with the latest list of actors.”

Over the years, Nicita worked her way up from answering Dougherty's phones to casting some of the biggest movies of the 1980s, including “Caddyshack,” “The Big Chill” and “Silverado.” Along the way she helped launch the careers of such stars as Kevin Costner, William Hurt and Kathleen Turner. Later she produced several of her own films, including the well-known Cher vehicle “Mermaids.” She recently sold an original screenplay to horror director Eli Roth.

Nicita credits the critical-thinking skills she learned at the College for helping her succeed in different roles in Hollywood. “Everyone (today) wants a technical education,” she says, “but critical thinking is something you need to learn how to do to live your life. That's what liberal arts gives you.”

Many of Nicita's favorite film industry memories are of rough-and-tumble New York in the 1970s, when filmmakers were seen as artists and given a wide berth to pursue their vision. She fondly recalls working on the casting of Sidney Lumet's “Network” for Dougherty associate Juliet Taylor (now best-known as Woody Allen's longtime casting director).

“Everyone knew it was a brilliant script,” Nicita says. “Everyone was pounding on the door to get in, and I was the one answering the door. One aspiring actor pushed in the door and knocked me out. I fell to the floor. He was intent on barging into a casting session.”

The police arrived, and a revived Nicita had to help explain that Dougherty's office — full of young, beautiful women — was not a brothel, as they had first suspected. “One of the officers turned to me before he left and asked me if he could come back and read later.”

“Casting By” sheds light on the unsung role of casting in a movie's success. There's no Academy Award for it, and Nicita believes there should be. If Dougherty hadn't recommended then-unknown Jon Voight for “Midnight Cowboy,” for instance, would that movie have won as many Oscars (three) as it did? Nicita believes Director John Schlesinger still would have won but that the actors selected to star in the film (Voight and Dustin Hoffman) were critical to its success.

“At least 80 percent of the success of the film is whether you believe that everything the actor says is true,” she says. “And that's not easy to do.”

— Michael Agresta


Still in fashion, and in charge, at 85

People have called Dorothy Roberts '50 “Dot” since she was a young girl; these days, “Dynamo” would serve as an equally apt nickname.
The charismatic matriarch of New York City's Echo Design Group — the company her parents, Theresa and Edgar C. Hyman, founded 90 years ago — is still actively involved in the family business, which started with scarves and has since diversified into such areas as handbags and gloves along with china and bedding. Echo has estimated retail sales of $250 million annually and is behind licensed products for Ralph Lauren and several museums, including Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.

When Roberts formally joined Echo in July 1950, it was three weeks to the day after she graduated from Connecticut College. She had transferred from Carleton College for a simple but substantial reason: love.

“I had met my husband.”

Paul Roberts, who joined Echo in 1949, was a student at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., just a car ride away, when Dot Roberts transferred to the College. He would become president of the company in the early '70s but died in 1978.

Romance aside, there were other reasons she is glad she transferred to the College, including lifelong friendships. She's among a group of Connecticut College alumnae who periodically reunite at Manhattan's Yale Club.

She also fondly remembers her studies. Roberts majored in sociology with a minor in psychology, but another department left the most significant impression.

“There was a fabulous art history teacher, Edgar Mayhew. In the two years I was at the school, I took four of his courses, from the Renaissance through the Impressionists and modern art. He taught me so well I could go in any museum and tell you who the painter was.”
That knowledge proved key at Echo, where colorful, artistic prints play a central role in the brand's success. Roberts became president of the business with her husband's death in 1978 and since 1993 has served as chairman. Her children, Steven and Lynn, carry on the Hyman ?legacy as Echo's CEO and vice president, respectively. A fourth generation — Steven's son Charlie — has joined the company, and his mother, Meg, designs home furnishings and handbags.

The past year marked another milestone besides Echo's 90th anniversary — Roberts' 85th birthday in December. She chuckles when people ask her if she founded the company, which happens quite often. “My God,” she says, “I'd be 120.”

But this octogenarian has no plans to slow down anytime soon.

“As long as I have something to offer the business,” she says, “I will be here.”

—Marc Karimzadeh


Rowing legend recalls uniform shortage that launched her career

The rowing world and other worlds are apparently running out of awards to give to Anita L. DeFrantz '74. They've started doubling up.
Last fall the 2010 inductee into the National Rowing Hall of Fall was formally recognized by the International Rowing Federation for a lifetime of distinguished service to the sport. That came on the heels of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators presenting her with the organization's Honor Award — for the second time.

The women administrators' award recognizes individuals and entities that have exemplified outstanding support of women in athletics. Previous winners include sports journalists Christine Brennan and Robin Roberts, tennis great Billie Jean King, the Sara Lee Corporation and Nike. But none of them has won it twice. DeFrantz received the award for the first time in 1991.

An emerita trustee of the College and recipient of the College's highest honor, the College Medal, DeFrantz is well known for having captained the U.S. Rowing team that won a bronze medal at the 1976 summer Olympic Games in Montreal. Less well known is that the games served as her springboard into sports administration.

“The U.S. Olympic team did not have enough uniforms for the women's rowing team,” she says. “I spent much of my time in the U.S. Olympic Committee offices demanding our uniforms.”

She must have impressed the USOC because she was soon elected to its Athletes' Advisory Council. By 1977 she was a member of the group's executive board.

Her work at the USOC and her opposition to the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Olympics brought her to the attention of the International Olympic Committee and in 1986 she became the first woman and first African American to represent the United States on the IOC. She was elected the group's first female vice president in 1997 and remains an IOC member today. She was re-elected to a four-year term on the executive board last September.

She currently serves as president of the LA84 Foundation, which was established to manage Southern California's share of the budget surplus from the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The nonprofit invests in sports programs serving more than 3 million youth in eight Southern California counties.

Of all her honors, she says she's especially proud that the U.S. Rowing Association has created an award in her name that goes to the rowing program that has done the most to include children of different races and expand rowing beyond its traditional participant base.

— Ed Cohen


Here's what Capitol Hill, Myspace and NFL vet Berman is up to now

In 25 years, Jeff Berman '93 has gone from college newspaper publisher to public defender to chief legal counsel for a U.S. senator to Myspace and the NFL. At the start of last year he became president of an independent cross-platform media company.

Berman is president of BermanBraun, an L.A.-based company that provides entertainment and advertising services across three platforms: television, digital and feature films. The company is co-owned by and named for Gail Berman (no relation) — the only female executive ever to have run both a major film studio (Paramount Pictures) and TV network (Fox) — and Lloyd Braun, former head of Yahoo! Media Group and ABC Entertainment Television Group.

Jeff Berman got his law degree from Yale in 1996 and then spent the better part of five years as a public defender in Washington D.C., helping underprivileged minors charged as adults. Next came Capitol Hill, where he served as New York Senator Charles E. Schumer's chief counsel.

He began his media career in Los Angeles in 2006 when the social media site Myspace hired him, eventually rising to serve as president of sales and marketing. Then in 2010 he joined the NFL as GM of the league's digital media business.

In his latest job, he says, he wears many hats. One minute he's working on digital content strategy, the next he's developing a marketing partnership. At other times he may be drumming up business for the company and overseeing startup projects.

He says the greatest lesson he learned at the College was that “opportunity is everywhere, but you have to reach out and grab it to take advantage of it.” For instance, during his freshmen year he served as managing editor of The College Voice. The next year he was the paper's publisher.

He was a government major but in classic liberal arts style took several classes with Weller Professor of English and Writer-in-Residence Blanche Boyd. The creative skills he learned in those writing classes translate to the business world, he says.

“There is creativity in parts of business that aren't often described as creative: structuring deals, working with partners, addressing team member issues,” he says. “An awful lot of creative energy goes into working out issues with no clear solution.”

— Peter Banos '14


The guy connecting the dots on terror plots

The first job John D. Cohen '83 P'17 held after graduation was as an agent for the federal Naval Investigative Service in Los Angeles. His work brought him into regular contact with local police, and he soon discovered he was good at chasing violent criminals and drug traffickers and working undercover, he told students on campus in November.

“I wouldn't draw any conclusions from that, by the way, about my time spent at Conn,” he added dryly. “I just was good at it for some reason.”

Cohen turned out to be so good at sniffing out criminals and threats to public safety that he's made a far-ranging career out of it. A much-sought-after expert on terror and other security issues since the 9/11 attacks, he's advised presidents, governors, cabinet secretaries and other officials from both political parties. He currently serves as principal deputy undersecretary for intelligence and analysis and counterterrorism coordinator at the Department of Homeland Security. He leads the office because the undersecretary position is vacant.

Cohen was on campus last November as part of the Sundays with Alumni series of panel discussions. Sponsored by the Office of Alumni Relations, they're designed to provide students career advice and opportunities to network with professionals in particular fields.

As Cohen explained, his current responsibilities include leading a team of approximately a thousand security analysts and other professionals. Their job: blend together mountains of information from law enforcement, the private sector, several federal agencies and other sources to create useful intelligence for Homeland Security operations at home and abroad.

The alumnus, who majored in history and minored in classical literature, said his liberal arts education proved to be a great preparation for his career, and he gave a recent example.

Prior to a meeting with a senior government official from Turkey, he said, he was given the standard blue binder of briefing materials provided by other government agencies. He felt he needed more to understand the psychology of the person he would be meeting with, however. So he went back and reread the history of Turkey's predecessor, the Ottoman Empire.

The extra backgrounding often proves more useful than anything in the binder, he said.

“That comes from my experience at Conn,” he said. “It helps me understand the historical perspective that representatives from there may place on current events. It helps me understand the world from their perspective. That enables more effective dialogue.”

— Ed Cohen


Empowering women at home and abroad through feminine health

Government major Molly Hayward '10 never imagined that feminine products would become an integral part of her life's work, but a class trip to Southeast Asia her first year in college set her on a unique path.

Hayward traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia on a funded two-week trip as part of an economics class focused on economic development in the Mekong River Delta. At the time, she planned to major in economics and hoped to enter a career in management or consulting. But witnessing what she describes as “the beauty and spirit of human beings amid intense poverty and psychosocial pain,” led her in a different direction.

The experience resulted in her founding Cora, a service that provides safe and healthy organic feminine products to women monthly by mail. Profits from each sale fund a month's supply of sanitary pads for a girl in India who would otherwise miss school during her menstruation. The approach is similar to the online retailer TOMS Shoes, which gives a pair of shoes to an impoverished child for every pair purchased. Cora also educates the girls on reproductive health and the use of these products.

“Menstruation is one of the only experiences all women across the world share,” said Hayward. “In some cultures, it is shamed and it can be oppressive for women who lack access to safe and healthy ways to manage their menstrual cycle.”

Hayward said the initiative benefits both ordinary consumers and the recipients in developing countries. Only 12 percent of women in India have access to and can afford sanitary pads or tampons, and 23 percent of girls drop out of school when they reach puberty because of the embarrassment associated with menstruation, she said. In the United States, women are sometimes exposed to chemical toxins and dangerous synthetics in conventional feminine products, which can cause major reproductive issues, she said. They also lack convenient access to organic options, she said.

Through the Cora website, http://www.corawomen.com, women can order up to 30 products per month for $28. The products come in a box that also includes natural health and beauty products. When the box is shipped, a month's supply of sustainable sanitary pads is sent to a girl in India. The company works with Village Volunteers, a Seattle-based nonprofit that supports the country's rural villages.

Hayward said Cora is also looking to expand into Kenya. As of last fall, the company, based in Philadelphia, consisted of herself and two employees.

—Josh Anusewicz


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