Remembering Kathy Fogg (Or My Stark Family Mourns the Loss of Our Matriarch)

My friend Suzie* once said, “Some people are poems. Others are symphonies.” And I absolutely believe it to be true.

Both art forms can bring tears — or elation. Both can move you beyond measure. Both have the power to transform. One may be briefer than the other but that does not diminish its impact. Not in the least.

My grandfather was my symphony, maybe the most influential and inspirational I’ve ever known.

Kathy Fogg was my poem. A poem that changed my life.

Kathy was the Associate Director of the Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California for 23 years, and during that time she launched (and nurtured) innumerable powerful Hollywood careers. She passed away on Friday, and upon learning this news I have been reflecting on all I have in my life because of her.

My grandfather gave me his DNA — and the family that made me the person I am today.

Kathy gave me a chance — and the industry family that has been by my side through the soaring highs and immeasurable lows of my career.

I first met Kathy in 2000 when I was applying to the Peter Stark Program. I still remember what I wore to our meeting that day. I still remember our conversation.

After telling me about the curriculum, we moved on to talking about ourselves. Amidst other small talk, she mentioned she had made a student film with George Lucas as an undergraduate. She smiled, shrugged rather nonchalantly and said, “He’s moved on since then.” Looking at the smiling faces in the family photos lining her bookshelves and her desk, I replied, “So have you.”

Not only did Kathy have her own wonderful family, but she also created the family feeling of the Peter Stark Program. (A program named for the late son of legendary producer, Ray Stark.)

I am sad to say I hadn’t seen Kathy since she retired, but I feel her impact on my life. Daily. She (and prolific producer Larry Turman) gave a girl from Michigan the chance to sit in a room with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. And she gave me the friends who have been by my side in a business not necessarily known for loyalty and integrity. The people who have given me jobs, hugs, support, and big bottles of wine — the people for whom I have done the same. The people who understand the moments of torment and triumph everyone experiences in the crucible of show business.

Kathy saw something in me. She believed in me. She made the call that changed my life that winter day when she told me I had been given one of the 25 coveted spaces in the program.

During the two years the 25 of us spent with Kathy, she made us cookies. She gave us hugs. She made us laugh. She helped us find the jobs and internships that took us to the next level.

The Producing Class of 1994 was so powerful it inspired a New York Times feature in 2002. And that powerful class? Still remembered where they came from. They hired three of us from the class of 2003. Because Family? Takes care of their own.

Some have called the graduates of the program the Stark Mafia. To that I would say, “Isn’t a mafia just a really powerful family, anyway?”

Larry Turman has often told me they select the people who would have been successful without the program, and that may very well be true. But our lives are all much richer for having each other in them.

Kathy Fogg may not have had a Film Produced By credit on any Oscar-winning films. But she has countless Careers Produced By Credits. Lives Changed By Credits.

As I remember Kathy, I am grateful for the chance she gave me, but most of all for the people she brought into my life. Because I can say with absolute certainty that without those true friends and my faith I would have left this business long ago.

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the batting cages to hit something. Hard. Because I need to do something with my sadness. At least today in remembering what Kathy saw in me, remembering the friends she gave me, I feel strong enough to hit balls by myself. Strong enough to hit a home run. Even if it is with tears in my eyes.

*Suzie is one of those true friends I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for Kathy. And Suzie said that when we were at SXSW with Melissa, another true friend and fellow member of the class of 2003. 

Someone Else’s Eyes (Or I Go All Introspective Again)

Sometimes we need to see life through someone else’s eyes. It’s important to remember your situation or perspective isn’t paramount. Our modern culture tells us we’re these amazing, autonomous, infallible beings with some sort of right to happiness and success. As if our masters degrees grant us a life without failure, rejection, or struggle. As if our size 6 jeans mean we won’t be left brokenhearted and sobbing on the bathroom floor.

Guess what?

Nothing protects you from the bumps and bruises of life. Not even a trust fund, a tiny waist, or a perky rack. Nothing. Protects. You.

We’re all going to falter.

We’re all going to fail.

If you haven’t yet, bully for you. Just hang on. You might be betrayed by your boss. You might lose the most important person in your life too soon. You might fall short of your dreams.

And guess what? It’s all going to be OK anyway.

The thing is, life can be painful. It can sting, but it isn’t an excuse to check out. It doesn’t grant you permission to shut down and shut everyone out. Trust me. I’ve done it. And it’s OK if you have too. Life is about forgiving yourself. Forgiving others. And moving on.

It’s about finding joy in the little things when everything is falling apart around you. Maybe it’s even fiddling while Rome burns*.

Whatever it is, life is a long, strange trip. And it’s filled with people who can help you… if you let them. Lately I’ve discovered that life isn’t a random accident. It’s really not. I’ve been having a crazy month where people are coming into my life (and also back into it) with questions for which I have the answers; they’re fighting battles I’ve fought before. Or they have been through some rough times that have helped me immensely on my path. I think that maybe we can be missing pieces in someone else’s puzzle. It doesn’t have to be a forever thing. It can just be a moment in time. Or it can be a great friendship. Either way, I think it’s our mission to help where we can… how we can.

I started this blog to express myself… and to talk about my favorite things: food, dogs, and design. And in the process I’ve found myself again — the me that gets buried when I’m getting paid to write someone else’s story — the me that gets paid to live a life that isn’t really mine.

So thank you for reading. And thank you for joining me on a journey that doesn’t have a destination.

Yet.

Tonight, I leave you with this: a photo me with my Bumpa, Harold Lawrence Russell. A kindred spirit. An inspiration. And one of the most amazing men I will ever know.

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I have my grandpa’s eyes. I only hope I have his strength, his kindness, and his capacity for forgiveness.

When I’m ready, I’ll tell his story. For real.

*Side note: Nero, who is said to have set fire to Rome and then fiddled while it burned, was a crazy bastard who persecuted Christians and was tight with (and also related to) Caligula who was so whacked that he planned to elect his horse Consul. #truestory #youcantmakethisshitup