How I Got Rob Lowe to Play Me on TV

Rob LoweHave you ever heard anyone say this? When they make a movie about my life, I want to be played by Brad Pitt. Or George Clooney. Or Rob Lowe.

In my case, that actually happened.

Here?s the story. Many years ago, when I was working at the White House, a friend who I had worked with in Hollywood called me up.

She knew a guy who was working on a new TV pilot about the staff at the White House. Would I mind talking to him about what it was like working at the White House?

I said sure.

It turned out the guy was Aaron Sorkin, and the TV pilot was for The West Wing.

Sorkin had a couple movies called The American President and A Few Good Men under his belt so I knew exactly who he was.

I told him what it was like working at 1600 Pennsylvania, which, from my perspective, could be pretty mundane. I wasn?t all that high on the food chain so it?s not like I was negotiating with the President of Russia on a daily basis.

John CorcoranBut I told him what I knew and I answered his questions.

(By the way, in case the Secret Service is reading this: it?s not like I was giving away state secrets. I didn?t have that high a security clearance.)

Of course, The West Wing debuted that fall and it was a huge hit right off the bat.

Pretty soon, Sorkin had a whole host of advisors with serious high-level White House experience on staff to give him story ideas. He didn?t have as many questions for me anymore.

Later that fall, I wrote the 1999 Thanksgiving Proclamation.

The Thanksgiving Proclamation is a largely ceremonial essay issued by the President each year.

(Here’s what the LA Times had to say about the 1999 Thanksgiving Proclamation a few years back.)

Back in the ?pony express? days before TV and radio and the interwebs, the Thanksgiving Proclamation used to have more historical significance.

It had been first issued by President George Washington and the Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War had been credited with helping to heal the rift between the north and the south.

Back then, Presidents didn?t have a huge staff, and so they didn?t have young staffers like me to delegate their writing to.

I remember sitting down to write the Proclamation in my office in the basement of the Old Executive Office Building, picturing Presidents Washington and Lincoln sitting in the White House with a quill pen under candle light writing out their Proclamations.

Talk about some serious pressure.

Anyways, I was pretty proud of the end result so I mailed Sorkin a copy.

I kind of forgot about it.

The next fall, I turned on the Thanksgiving episode of The West Wing. To my amazement, the writing of the Thanksgiving proclamation was a key storyline.

Throughout the episode, the speechwriters are running around the West Wing, talking about how they have to write the Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Then, in the climatic scene, President Bartlett (played by Martin Sheen) turns to read a line from the Thanksgiving Proclamation, right before walking out into the Rose Garden to ?proclaim? Thanksgiving.

And he reads the exact first line from my 1999 Thanksgiving Proclamation. Word for word.

I nearly swallowed my drink. How did it feel? In a word: cool.

So who was playing the role of the writer who produced the Thanksgiving proclamation? Rob Lowe.

So that?s how I got to be played by Rob Lowe on TV.

Now what does this have to do with business? The message here is about opportunities and helpfulness.

When my friend asked me if I would talk to Sorkin about what it was like working at the White House, I could have said no.

I could have said I?m too busy. I could have gotten in hot water, even if what I told Sorkin was not all that earth-shattering.

But I didn?t. I decided to be helpful.

I didn?t know where it would lead but that didn?t matter. I could help someone else out. That was what mattered.

It?s kind of like that in business. If someone asks you for help – even if it?s unrelated to the product or service you are selling – just do it.

Be helpful. Be useful. It will pay off in the long run.

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