Hollywood’s czar: Tom Sherak’s deputy pays tribute

L.A. film czar Tom Sherak
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

After the death Tuesday of L.A. film czar Tom Sherak, his deputy, Rajiv Dalal, the last executive to work with him, shared his thoughts on his passing:

We grew very close in his waning months, and I feel that there is one story still to be told -- how Tom dedicated the last three months of his life to help the people of Los Angeles.

When first we met, Tom was in the early stages of recuperating from what was hoped to be his last chemotherapy treatment. And while he likely needed more time for recovery, Tom recognized the urgency of being the mayor’s newly appointed film czar and charged forth to begin stemming runaway production.


Having gained so much himself from our industry, Tom could not stand by as he watched colleagues take their families to Louisiana and Georgia in search of work. It was just too devastating. He appealed to my better judgment to decline other opportunities and join him -- which, needless to say, I did. I remember thinking to myself, “How could anyone turn down Tom?”

PHOTOS: Tom Sherak | 1945 - 2014

In the following weeks, Tom pushed himself to meet with almost every stakeholder in the industry while balancing his declining health -- taking meetings in the waiting rooms of doctors’ offices and doing media interviews moments after additional chemotherapy treatments. He insisted on making certain that everyone had input.

One moment in particular where Tom’s resolve was never greater was when he traveled downtown to advocate to the governor’s staff after his disease had spread -- and he could barely breathe (let alone speak). Shortly thereafter, Tom was readmitted to the hospital but assured me that “it was worth it.”

Tom would always take the opportunity to teach me life lessons -- most of which centered upon “family” and “loyalty” as portrayed in his favorite films, “The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II.” He never once failed to overtly express his love for his wife, Madeleine, who meant the world to him, and would expect me to follow suit with my wife, Divya. I do not think he ever took kindly to me laughing and rolling my eyes at him.

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Fast forward to last Thursday, when Tom received the devastating news that his disease had progressed yet again -- not leaving him much time. In perhaps the greatest profile of courage I have ever witnessed, Tom sectioned off an hour of his remaining life (where most others would have balked and taken care of personal affairs) to call the mayor and explain the strategic plan for California to stem runaway production and save our industry.

I am not sure how much of our last conversation Tom heard on Tuesday morning before he passed away, but I told him that when our efforts succeed, I would remind everyone that it began with him. And then I walked away, holding the “Godfather” photo of Marlon Brando and Al Pacino in my hand.


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