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Sinclair Jones was a frustrated New York lawyer with a penchant for the entertainment industry. "I pretty much hated being an attorney," says Jones, who took solace in offering career guidance to his firm’s small clientele of artists and performers. Although he didn’t represent any of the entertainers at the general-practice law firm, the informal counseling was enough to keep him there. Besides, the job had other perks– like tickets to Amateur Night at Harlem’s Apollo Theater–that he gladly accepted.
"One night in 1987 I saw a comedian do a minute of material and said to myself, ‘My God, this guy’s incredible," recalls Jones. He couldn’t get backstage to meet the young talent, but days later caught the wiry comedian’s full act in Washington, D.C. Eager to manage the comic, Jones suggested they check out career prospects in Los Angeles.
After a whirlwind week in Hollywood, culminating in an appearance at the Comedy Store, Jones made his proposition: "This is where you need to be, and I want to be your manager." Two weeks later (time enough to give notice to the firm), the pair embarked on a cross-country road trip with Jones behind the wheel. In the passenger seat, eager to get on the fast track to stardom, was comedian/actor Tommy Davidson.
Personal managers are just some of the behind-the- scenes players in an entertainer’s career. Attorneys, business managers and agents also play supporting roles. They find work, negotiate deals and manage the finances so the stars can concentrate on their craft. These professionals handle everything from signing checks to reading scripts to even appraising real estate. However, not every entertainer retains all these services. Some managers pull double-duty as attorneys and agents but, that is the exception rather than the rule.
Traditionally the domain of whites, these positions are increasingly being filled by African Americans. But it’s slow in coming. For those who do break through, it’s not a life full of glamour and glitz. "This business is also a lifestyle choice because the divisions between your personal and professional life disappear," says one agent. Being on call 24-7 is just part of the job.
BACK TO THE FUTURE?
There’ve always been African Americans on the creative side of music, television and film production. It’s on the business side where representation is scarce. "In general, the first point of contact for an actor is the agent, who is most likely white. That agent would recommend an attorney and a business manager who’re also white, so the chances for black representation are diminished from the start," says Gary Watson, a 15-year veteran of entertainment law and a board member of the Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association (BESLA) in Mitchellville, Maryland. "Very few, if any, of the A-list black actors in Hollywood have black attorneys."
Yet some see a change on the horizon as a new generation of stars enter the scene. "Most young black