Hawk Koch became president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences on Tuesday night, following in the footsteps of his father, Howard W. Koch. Hawk Koch’s given name was Howard W. Koch Jr., but as he neared age 50, he decided to make a change.
The younger Koch recalled the story in a 2000 interview with the L.A. Times, a year before his father -- who was a well-known Hollywood producer, director and Motion Picture Academy president -- passed away.
As he approached his big 5-0, the younger Koch had an epiphany. He said he was at lunch with longtime friend and fellow producer Gary Lucchesi at the Beverly Hills restaurant Maple Drive, expressing fears that he might one day wake up and realize he had let his work dominate his life. Lucchesi suggested that his friend have a bar mitzvah on his 50th birthday.
“I told him he needed to find some spirituality in his life,” Lucchesi recalled in the article. “Coming from a non-Jewish person, that was probably a very interesting thing to say, but I think having some spirituality in people’s lives is a very positive thing.”
Koch said in the story he never really had a religious upbringing, but “a tiny light went off.”
“I met with a rabbi, Jonathan Omer-Man, who was in a very little room over on Wilshire Boulevard. He asked me a question, ‘Who are you?’ I just kind of said, ‘I’m a father and I’m a son.’ Then he said, ‘No, who are you?’ ‘Well, I’m a producer and I’ve been married several times and I’ve got three kids.’ ‘No, but who are you?’ Then I said something about being Jewish and he said, ‘Oh, are you Jewish?’
“I looked at him and the hair on the back of my head curled up and I said, ‘Oh . . . I’m a Jewish man.’ ”
With the ceremony approaching, Koch began casting about for a new name to go with his new life. He remembered that growing up he had been called Hawk because of his initials, HWK, but the nickname never stuck.
In Koch’s most recent retelling of the story, during an interview the day after he was named the new president, he said the rabbi reminded him that besides being a bird of prey, a hawk can see from horizon to horizon and also pick out a snake or a mouse from half a mile away.
“He said to me, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if you could see the panorama of your life and the detail.’ I thought, this guy is really good. I went away and thought about it and talked to a few friends and decided I could do it,” Koch said.
But changing his name was hard on his father at first.
“It hurt him deeply, and I think a lot of people were angry that I did this to my father,” Koch recalled in the earlier article. “I tried to say, ‘I didn’t do this to my father; I did this for myself. I needed to do it.’
In his more recent interview he added, “For my whole life I’ve had my father’s name and no matter who I met, wherever I met them, they would say ‘I know your dad, what a wonderful guy,’ or ‘he gave me my first job,’ or ‘he helped my son.’ Once I was Hawk, people started talking to me. I had never had my own name.”
In the 2000 interview, he added that his father got over it, adding, “In fact, my mother’s pet name for me now is Hawk. She introduces me to people as her son, Hawk, which is really very poignant to me.”