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Producing success

By Marilou Carlin

Amid the flood of activities, visitors and excitement of Homecoming weekend, two superstars of the entertainment world managed to sneak into town and hold an question-and-answer session with U-M students.

U-M alumnus Richard Perry, recognized as one of the most successful record producers of all time, returned to Ann Arbor with his partner, Academy Award-winning actress Jane Fonda, to answer questions about their careers and offer advice to students interested in breaking into their respective fields.  The event took place at Rackham Auditorium on Friday, October 28.

Prior to the Q&A session, Perry and Fonda were taken on a tour of U-M’s North Campus, which didn’t exist when Perry attended U-M.  He said that he was “blown away” by facilities of the current School of Music, Theatre & Dance – specifically mentioning the Walgreen Drama Center and the extensive recording and technology studios — and said that if he were a student at U-M today he “would never leave the North Campus.”

Perry, who received his BM in Music Education in 1964, has produced top-selling albums and singles with some of the biggest names in music including Barbra Streisand, Rod Stewart, Ray Charles, the Pointer Sisters, Carly Simon, Ringo Starr and Tina Turner to name just a few.  Perry was honored by U-M in 1975 with an Outstanding Achievement Award and that same year established the “Richard Perry Scholarship,” given each year to a deserving musical theatre major.

In discussing his career, he stated that his U-M music education was invaluable to his later success, providing him with a broad knowledge of music.  He claimed that he found many of his classes boring when taking them, but in later years, in the production studio, he was constantly utilizing the lessons learned from his music courses.

Perry urged students to learn as much as they can as it will inevitably come into play later and will prove to prospective employers or clients that they know what they’re doing.

Fonda, who has won two Academy Awards and received five additional Oscar nominations, talked candidly about her life and career, including regrets (about not being a more available mother when her kids were young).   When asked how she prepares for a role, Fonda said that she doesn’t.  She compared the days leading up to the start of a new film like “a women in peri-menopause: you suddenly don’t know who you are anymore.”  Once work commences, however, she said that she slowly starts feeling her way into a role until she becomes fully enmeshed with the character.

Asked which of her roles were her favorites she said there were two: Bree Daniels, from “Klute” (her first Oscar) and Gertie Nevels from the TV movie “The Dollmaker,” for which she won an Emmy Award.

When asked what other career he would have enjoyed, Perry, a passionate Wolverines fan, said “an advisor to U-M’s football management.”  The couple were eagerly anticipating Saturday’s game.

Marilou Carlin is a development writer at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.