July 25, 2023

The Business of Meetings – Episode 176 – Representing the Celebrities of the Show Business with Bruce Merrin

We are thrilled to converse with the legendary Bruce Merrin today!

Bruce is the mastermind behind the renowned Celebrity Speakers Bureau and has been a driving force in shaping the entertainment industry for over fifty years! With an unparalleled ability to spot talent and bring together remarkable individuals, he has curated a legacy that has left an indelible mark on Hollywood. From the quick-witted banter of Johnny Carson to the heartfelt charm exuded by Michael Landon, and from the unmatched charisma of Muhammad Ali to his mesmerizing encounter with the iconic Elvis Presley, Bruce has had the privilege of experiencing captivating stories from the forefront of the industry.

Join us as we embark on an unforgettable journey through the glitz, glamor, and untold secrets of the stars through the eyes of the man who made it his mission to bring their voice to the world!

Where it all started for Bruce

It all began fifty years ago with his first celebrity client, the iconic Michael Landon! In a lunch meeting, Michael shared his excitement about a new show he was working on called Little House on the Prairie. Bruce immediately took Michael to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, who happened to adore him! After the show, Johnny invited Bruce and Michael to his lavish Malibu home for dinner and proposed a life-changing idea. He suggested that Bruce start a celebrity speakers bureau, with Johnny as the first client. Bruce agreed, and Michael Landon declared himself the second client! The next day, Ed McMahon reached out to Bruce to express his desire to join the bureau.

The Influence of His Mother 

Bruce credits his beloved mother for the incredible opportunities and successes he experienced throughout his career. From encouraging him to pursue journalism classes in high school to suggesting he apply to UCLA’s prestigious film school, his mother played a pivotal role in shaping his path. Her guidance led him to secure a job at MGM Studios, where he worked in the renowned Thalberg building.

Bruce’s Mother 

As a pioneer in public relations, Bruce’s mother operated a successful Hollywood-based entertainment PR firm. She recognized Bruce’s talents and potential and made him an enticing offer to join her at General Service Movie Studios, where she continued teaching him the intricacies of the PR business. In the three years Bruce worked with his mother, he gained invaluable knowledge and experience, particularly in handling high-profile authors.

Simon and Schuster

Securing the account of Simon and Schuster, the world’s largest publisher, was a remarkable achievement because it allowed Bruce and his mother to handle the monthly PR for all their top authors.

A Remarkable Invitation

Within his first week at MGM, Bruce received a remarkable invitation from the president himself- a lunch meeting with Elvis Presley! That encounter marked the beginning of Bruce’s involvement in handling the publicity for Elvis’s film, Elvis on Tour, which cemented his connection with the legendary performer.

Elvis Presley 

Elvis, known for his humility, treated everyone with kindness and generosity, whether they were part of the film crew or fellow performers. Bruce was privileged to work with Elvis on multiple films and witnessed the star’s genuine thoughtfulness. After completing a movie, Elvis would gift extravagant presents to the entire staff, including directors, producers, grips, and sound technicians!

Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson

Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson left indelible marks on Bruce, not only for their athletic achievements but also for their resilience and powerful messages. Bruce had had meaningful exchanges with both of them about addressing racism and its ugly consequences. Ali and Robinson exemplified strength and integrity in their respective fields and left lasting impressions on Bruce’s life and career.

Scott Carpenter’s Troubled Appearance

Bruce had a notable incident involving Scott Carpenter, one of the original seven astronauts, whom he had booked for a speaking engagement in Orlando. Scott arrived intoxicated, leaving the event organizers in a difficult situation. In spite of the embarrassment, Bruce still considered Scott’s well-being and urged him to seek help for his alcoholism. Scott later addressed his struggles in a book and found a path to recovery.

Custom-Tailoring Celebrity Talks 

When booking celebrities, Bruce connects them with certified meeting planners to discuss the event’s theme, demographics, and audience. That allows the celebrities to craft talks that will resonate with the attendees on a deeper level.

Randy Otto 

Randy Otto has a deep understanding of Churchill’s persona. That, combined with his dedication to studying and embodying the iconic figure, allows him to deliver impactful speeches that provide insights into managing businesses effectively. Bruce emphasizes the power of well-crafted impersonations and personalized talks in captivating audiences and making a lasting impression.

Negotiating Terms 

When negotiating with celebrities, Bruce emphasizes the importance of being clear about the keynote fee and establishing additional activities, such as roundtables or photo sessions, as part of the overall agreement.

Bruce’s Advice for Negotiating Celebrity Bookings 

Bruce highlights the importance of setting clear expectations when booking celebrities and negotiating their terms. By establishing a comprehensive agreement upfront, event planners will ensure a smooth and satisfactory experience for all parties involved.

Bio: Bruce Merrin

I was born in Louisville, KY, and my client Muhammad Ali loved that! We talked about that a lot!

I graduated from Grant High School in San Fernando Valley, CA, and my best friends were Tom Selleck, Mickey Dolenz (The Monkees), Mike Curb (Curb Records Nashville), Mike Post (12 number-one hits to TV series like Hill St. Blues and Law and Order), John Washbrook (TV star of My friend Flicka). My girlfriend at Grant was Cheryl from The Mouseketeers Show, with gorgeous blonde hair and blue eyes.

I graduated from the legendary UCLA Film School.

While I was there, I starred in the Broadway hit play Tea and Sympathy. I had the lead role. Unforgettable experience! My acting teacher recommended only me to audition for Hollywood Squares. I got on the show and won the Secret Square with Paul Lynde, with tens of thousands of dollars in prizes!

My mom suggested after graduating from UCLA that I apply for a job at MGM Studios. I got a gem job working in the Thalberg Building. My first client was Elvis in his film, Elvis on Tour. I had a memorable lunch with Elvis in the commissary and told him “We are going to get along great…we are both MAMA’s BOYS!”

I then joined my beloved mom’s historic entertainment PR Firm at General Service Studios in Hollywood. Mom was one of only two women who had Hollywood PR firms. For three years, she taught me the PR business. I owe everything to my Mom! During the first week working for Mom, I walk into the office and Oscar Academy Award winner Joan Crawford is seated at moms desk! Joan gets up, hugs me, and says, “Your mom is the BEST PR exec that has ever represented me!”.

George Burns was our next-door office member at the movie studio. Many movies and hit TV series were shot there. One day Mom told me that Michael Landon was shooting a film. I got entrance into the stage set, met Michael, and gave him my business card. He became my first PR client.

Working with mom, Simon & Schuster was our client. Every month, we had a number one S&S author. We set national tours for them. It was an invaluable experience! Mom taught me how to handle entertainment PR. Invaluable!

After three years, I launched my own PR Firm. My first two entertainment clients were Michael Landon and Johnny Carson. My first two sports star clients were Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali.

You have heard the Johnny Carson story. After booking Michael Landon on the Carson show, Johnny invited us to dinner at his Malibu home. Johnny toasted us with Cabernet Sauvignon and told me to start a Celebrity Speakers Bureau. Johnny said he would be my first client. Michael then chimed in, and Ed McMahon called me the next day.

So, Bruce Merrin’s Celebrity Speakers & Ent was launched FIFTY YEARS ago!

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About the author 

Eric Rozenberg

For two decades, Eric Rozenberg has consulted with Fortune 500 companies and produced conferences in more than 50 countries across diverse industries. His focus is creating meetings that are not only breathtakingly memorable but which bring corporate strategies to life and amplify team motivation/performance.

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