The Arty Semite

From IDF Lieutenant to Producing the Golden Globes

By Curt Schleier

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Courtesy Orly Adelson

Orly Adelson’s employees do not salute her when they report for work in the morning.

“I would like that, but they won’t,” she said, laughing at the thought.

Adelson is president of dick clark productions, the company that produces shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Shaq Vs.,” the Academy of Country Music Awards, and the Golden Globe Awards, which will be presented January 16. What prompted the question about the salute was less her current duties than a job she held years ago: lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces.

In some ways, that experience proved a burden. “It’s in every article about me,” Adelson said. “‘She was in the military,‘ [they write]. I’m proud of it. But I’ve done many things since then.” Still, she conceded that “it’s part of what shaped me.”

Though Adelson has been in the U.S. for almost three decades, there are still traces of Israel in her speech. Occasionally, she fumbled for an English word — as when trying to describe her specialized military police unit — and at times fell naturally and unwittingly into her native tongue in mid-conversation.

That’s not surprising, however. She is, after all, a Sabra, and her father’s family has lived in Israel for generations.

“My grandmother was religious, so every Friday night we would go over to her house. We had a kosher house. So I grew up in an environment that had everything in it. I would say that I was a typical Israeli,” Adelson said.

At 18, she did her mandatory military stint, followed by college, earning a degree in sociology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She moved to Los Angeles after marrying an American in the film business, Andrew Adelson, whom she met in Israel.

Ensconced in her new home, Adelson first worked for several advertising agencies. “Everybody in Los Angeles is in the film business, so I pursued that and started making television movies,” she said.

It wasn’t quite that simple, however. Adelson started by taking an unsalaried position in a friend’s new film company. She went there every day and learned the ropes.

At the time, movies of the week based on true events were popular. “I found a couple of true stories and I kept knocking on doors until [a network] found one they were interested in,” she said.

Adelson eventually formed her own company, Orly Adelson Productions, that specialized in TV movies. She joined dick clark productions in the spring of 2008, shortly after Clark sold the company to an investment firm. Adelson currently oversees all aspects of the company’s development and The Hollywood Reporter recently named her one of the 100 most powerful women in the entertainment industry.

Of course, the soldiers that were under her command already knew that. “In my generation women did not go to the front lines. But we all grew up in wars,” she said. “Even going through training to become an officer, the attrition rate was 50%. They break you down and they build you up. If you can go through that process, everything else is easy.”

Adelson doesn’t consciously “think back to the military so much [when I make a decision], but I do emulate certain things.”

“I think of course the ability to stay calm in every crisis is part of it, being keeled,” she said. “You’re only as good as your ability to overcome obstacles.”


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