Mark Sendroff: Subpoena Envy
Entertainment lawyer extraordinaire Mark Sendroff on his celebrity clients and his 50th birthday bash.
At a relatively young age, Sendroff has become an entertainment attorney extraordinaire; you can't open a Playbill or read a CD liner note and not see him thanked, honored, and venerated. On Saturday, February 3, he turns 50. To mark the occasion, he's throwing himself a birthday bash complete with a theatrical extravaganza featuring more stars than may be found in the parking lot at Spago. I recently spoke with Mark about the impending soiree, his star clients, and jurisprudence in general.
JC: Do I legally have to inform you that I'm recording our conversation for this interview?
MS: If you wanna use it in court, you do!
JC: Give me the back story of Mark D. Sendroff, Esq.
MS: I grew up in Oceanside, Long Island, and was always fascinated by show business. I used to take the train in to see matinees of all the wonderful Broadway musicals like Funny Girl, Sweet Charity, and My Fair Lady. I did some high school shows, then went to Syracuse University. While I was in college, I was in the Syracuse Repertory Theater's production of She Loves Me, and the director was auditioning people for Wagon Wheel Playhouse in Indiana. I auditioned, got cast, and worked there after I graduated college. That's when I heard there was such a thing as entertainment law. My parents wanted me to go to law school, and I wanted to somehow be connected to show business without having to rely on my performing talents, so I combined the two. I went to Temple University Law School and started apprenticing at law firms. Then I went to see the show Raisin and noticed in the back of the program that Alan Bomser was the lawyer for the show; I wrote to him, and he gave me a summer job. When I graduated, he created a permanent position as an associate. That's how I learned entertainment law. I eventually decided that I wanted to represent shows, so I went to another firm, Gottlieb Schiff--which specialized in that--and worked my way up to partner after 16 years. Then I started my own firm, five years ago.
JC: Tell me about your clients.
MS: It's a varied list, to be sure! It ranges from Lypsinka to Rosemary Clooney to porn superstar Ryan Idol to Barbara Cook. I work with Michael Feinstein, Jennifer Holliday, Ann Hampton Callaway, John Pizzarelli, Mark Shaiman, Bob Mackie; shows like Forever Plaid, Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, Parade, and Forbidden Broadway; lots of arrangers, orchestrators, and conductors.
JC: Who was your first celebrity client?
MS: Kaye Ballard. She was great to me, and she introduced me to Rosemary Clooney. Michael Feinstein also came along very early in my career.
JC: How do your clients find you?
MS: I have a friend who says that they follow a trail of baloney down the hall. I don't think that's true! It's personal recommendations, of course, and a lot of people see me out and about every night at the theater or in the clubs. They seem to appreciate the enthusiasm I have for my clients' work. I'm first and foremost a fan, which is why my client list is not sprinkled with Top-40 recording artists; it's heavy with theater performers, legendary singers, and cabaret performers. That's what I love.
JC: Speaking of legendary, your potpourri videos have become quite famous--all of those show business clips and rare TV appearances. Some of the performances are brilliant, and some of them are quite terrifying. How did you first get into making those tapes?
MS: It's really all about separation anxiety. I have trouble letting things go--and I mean that on every level. I would find video clips that I wanted to show people, and I didn't want to lose them, so I made a reel to collect them all and keep them in one place. The idea blossomed, and they became popular. Now I find myself meeting people who tell stories of being on the road and watching my potpourri tapes after the show every night! Barry Manilow was an early supporter; he encouraged me to make tapes as often as I could.
JC: What about the hilarious photo Christmas cards you send every year?
MS: Well, I have to admit that my friend Jack did the very first one. He sent out a card with a picture of himself along with someone we all used to make fun of. I thought it was hilarious. The next year, I sent one of me with Pia Zadora and signed it "Oh Come Let Us Zadora." It became a yearly thing. The Vanna White card said "May All Your Christmases Be Vanna White!" The Sondheim card said "Merrily Christmas." The Jennifer Holliday card said "From The Happy Hollidays."
JC: The Mostly Mercer album you produced, starring many of your clients, is one of my all-time favorite recordings. And it's being re-released!
MS: Yes, it comes out next month on Harbinger Records. It will be repackaged with many photos from the recording sessions. The LP was originally released in the fall of 1986, five minutes before CDs came out. I wanted to produce something to showcase the talents of my singing clients who weren't recording much, so I put my vocalist clients together with my conductor/arranger clients and made some interesting matches. Nancy LaMott sang "You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby" with Kenny Werner on piano. It was her very first recording. Through that session, she met Peter Matz, who continued to work with her. Bob Mackie, who did the cover art, reacquainted himself with Rosie Clooney and has been doing her dresses since then.
JC: Everyone in town is talking about your birthday party. I'm thrilled to be part of the show, but I have absolutely no idea what Linda Lavin and I will be doing together. Help me! Give me all the details!
MS: As you know, I have the most fascinating people in my life, and they live all over the map. I've never been able to put them all in one place and entertain them. For my 50th birthday, I decided to throw a party and produce a show called "Night of 1000 Star Clients." I asked as many of them as I could to perform exactly what I want them to perform. I'm ego-tripping into my 50th birthday, and loving every minute of it! Can you believe I had the nerve to ask Rosemary Clooney and her husband to fly to NYC in the dead of winter so she can sing two songs for me? I'm so honored that she's doing it! The opening medley features Kaye Ballard, Mimi Hines, Jaye P. Morgan, Nancy Dussault, Julie Wilson, Margaret Whiting, Lesley Gore, Lainie Kazan, Simply Barbra, and Lypsinka. That's just the opener! We also have Sam Harris with Peter Matz, Karen Mason doing "Beautiful Baby" in tribute to Nancy LaMott, and Randy Graff singing "Mama, A Rainbow" in tribute to my late friend Danny Fortus. Marcia Lewis is recreating a number from my best friend Jack Feldman's musical Miami. Jeff Calhoun is staging it with Marcia, along with the Walton Brothers. The finale can best be described as "Forever Plaid Meets Broadway Bares!"
JC: You are an attorney to celebrities, but you're also a celebrity attorney. Is that an asset in your business dealings?
MS: Because I've gotten to know so many people on the entertainment scene, the business ends up feeling rather small. Quite often, I end up negotiating opposite people that I'm very friendly with. They know that we have to negotiate on many different matters over a period of time, so I'm able to get the best results possible by having these personal relationships. I also feel that, because of my enthusiasm for my clients' work, I bring to the negotiations a wealth of knowledge about their talent and background, as well as their colleagues'. I know how to compare what I'm asking for with what the person I'm negotiating with thinks is a reasonable range.
JC: It sounds like you've created the perfect career for yourself.
MS: I'm a happy guy because I get up every morning, go to work and spend my days involved in the lives of people whom I love and respect. And I make a nice living, to boot. What could be better?