A Letter A Day

One year, 365 letters. A letter a day. My resolution for 2006. I’ve always enjoyed writing letters and I want to get back in the habit. I'm not limiting myself to a letter a day. 365 is just the minimum. My goal is to get a 20% response rate. This is the official chronicle of my “year of writing letters.” Thanks for reading! - Chris Lucas

Location: Meadowlands, New Jersey, United States

Saturday, March 08, 2008

A prolific writer/producer responds

Stephen J. Cannell

Reference Date:

OK, my procrastination comes into play again. This is a post I should have written a long time ago.

Back in May of 2007, Stephen J. Canell answered my letter in a most unique way. He posted his reply via video journal on his website to be viewed by the general public. I've added a link to the reply at the end of this post.

In his 40 year career in show business, Mr. Cannell has created and produced such television classics as "the Rockford Files" "The A Team" "21 Jump Street" and "The Greatest American Hero." He has also written 11 novels. Quite an amazing man, and a true inspiration.

This is an abbreviated version of what he had to say:

His simple lessons in life:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Sounds cliched, but they are truly words to live by.

All of his shows have been positive experiences and he's cared about the people he's worked with. This has made things easier.

His daily habit for success: Getting up everyday at 4AM (weekends included), and writing for six hours straight.

You'd be surprised at how much this "forward motion" produces.

I sent him a thank you email immediately.

Here is the link to his video journal: http://www.cannell.com/videoQA.php?s=579&k=7a889ec06339b62f870cd44de88d3336#

Friday, February 29, 2008

A "High Flying" Reply

Gary C. Kelly

Reference Date: May 21st

I don't fly very often, but when I do, I try to stick with airlines that have a good reputation and record. One of the best is Southwest Airlines.

I wrote to the CEO of Southwest to compliment him on his company, as well as to ask for advice. This was the reply I got. While it wasn't from Mr. Kelly himself, I'm not going to classify it as a non-reply because it was two pages and personally written by the "Writing Representative of Labor and Employee Relations." This is what it said:

Dear Mr. Lucas,

Although I certainly respect that you may have hoped to hear from Gary directly, I hope you can appreciate that his busy schedule prevents him from being able to personally respond in a timely manner. Thus, he asked that I do so on his behalf-I hope you're not too disappointed. Gary is humbled by your kind comments and for your request for his guidance on your journey to success.

Although we don't know much about the entertainment industry, I'll let you in on some of the things we look for in a Southwest Employee. Honesty, hard work, and treating others with respect are important values for Employees at our Company, and I believe important in any career endeavor. The best way to discover success is to find a job you love and "throw yourself' into it. It's not about the title or the money; it's about doing what you love and about which you are passionate. Then, it just doesn't feel like work and you will find that success is easily attained because you are completely committed to what you're doing.

Like any business, some days are challenging, especially in light of higher fuel costs and when our Frontline folks and valued Customers are subjected to travel difficulties (such as adverse weather conditions which inherently cause disruptions to our schedules). Some adversities (like weather) are just simply out of our control, but every decision that Gary and our Leaders make have our Employees and Customers' best interests at heart. Being the CEO of a Company like Southwest is extremely rewarding to Gary, because there are 33,000+ Employees who make him so proud to be a part of democratizing the skies and giving our Customers more Freedom to travel-we are committed to offering the most friendly, efficient service, on frequent, ontime flights, at an affordable price to the best destinations.

Southwest Airlines has always been staunchly conservative in our business practices, while still being incredibly generous with our low fares. The fact is, everything about our Company is structured to maintain low costs in order to deliver low fares, while supporting the interests and investments of our Employees and Shareholders. Our utmost hope is a long and prosperous reign of consistently being the low-fare Leader. Nothing would please us more than to continue making airline travel, simple, efficient, and affordable for anyone who wishes to fly.

We wish you nothing but the best on your life's journey. Thanks again for asking for Gary's advice and for letting him know how much you admire him as a Leader. You are very special to us, and we look forward to welcoming your family onboard soon.


Laura B.

Writing Representative
Labor & Employee Relations

I sent them a thank you the next day

A well respected actor replies

Norman Lloyd

Reference date: September 10th

One of my life goals is to be listed among the notable people born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey. The list is a good one, including people like Nathan Lane, Martha Stewart and Flip Wilson. One of the more interesting members of this club is a man who has spent more than seven decades in show business as an actor, director and producer.

Norman Lloyd is probably best known as Dr. Auschlander on the classic 1980's medical drama "St. Elsewhere." In his early career, he was part of the original Mercury Theater Company run by Orson Welles. He also starred in Alfred Hitchcock's film "Saboteur" where he had a famous scene hanging from the crown of the Statue of Liberty.

He was, like many actors, unfairly blacklisted during the Communist witch hunts of the 1950's, so his acting career came to a halt. Alfred Hitchcock helped him by making him a producer/director on "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."

Since St. Elsewhere, Mr. Lloyd has continued working (into his 90's!!) as a guest star in many TV shows and movies. I wrote to ask him for advice, and this was his kind reply:

Dear Mr. Lucas,

You ask if there is any advice I can pass on to an actor. It is this: MEAN EVERY WORD YOU SAY.

This was the advice given to me in 1932 by our greatest actor at the time, Alfred Lunt. I pass it on to you.

Sincerely Yours,

Norman Lloyd

I sent him a thank you note the next day.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Retailers respond (multiple post)

Well, the busy holiday season has just ended and retail stores are taking a deep breath. Though it's a chaotic time for them, I was pleased to recieve letters from the CEO's of three major stores in the midst of the active months. Here are their responses, in no particular order. (I sent a thank you card to all of them.)

Steve Sadove (Saks 5th Avenue CEO)

Reference Date: November 24th

As a New York City tour guide, I am often asked about the best places to shop in the city. My answer is Saks Fifth Avenue. This landmark first opened its doors in 1867. For 140 years, Saks has stood for excellence and has provided a five star shopping experience.

Their holiday windows have always been a "must see" in December, and a few years ago, they added to the sason by adorning the outside of their flagship 5th Avenue store with giant illuminated snowflakes that dance in synch with the "Carol of the Bells." It's a thrill to watch thousands of people stand in awe as the show plays.

For this, and many other reasons, I wrote to the CEO of Saks, Steve Sadove. This was his reply:

Dear Mr. Lucas:

Thank you for your interest and for your kind words in describing me as a role model and inspiration. I want to wish you success in your endeavors, and I sincerely hope that as you pursue and perfect your craft, we will all have the pleasure of seeing your name in lights as you achieve success as an actor.

While your questions are specific, time dictates that my answers must be general and brief I consider it a privilege to be associated with Saks Fifth A venue and the team that comprises this organization; I take great pride in working side by side with this talented group of people every day. Wherever I have worked, I have always embraced the philosophy of allowing my team to pursue excellence, offering some direction, guidance and support, while trying very hard to foster my colleagues' independent thinking and creativity. Needless to say, when people are happy with their work environment, they will work at their best, and all involved in the effort will benefit.

I hope that in some way this addresses your questions. Once again, I want to wish you the best in your own personal pursuit of success, and excellence.


Steve Sadove

Howard Lester (Pottery Barn CEO)

Reference Date: October 3rd

Howard Lester is the CEO of Wlliams-Sonoma, the parent company of Pottery Barn. I live just next door to Paramus, NJ, one of the biggest retail areas in the world. The Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma there are constantly packed. I wrote to Mr. lester to congratulate him on he success of his stores. This is what he had to say in response:

Dear Chris:

Thank you for your letter and your patronage at Williams-Sonoma. I hope that we continue to serve your well.

Advice is difficult to give to another person. I really didn't have a "mentor" early in my career. However, I was fortunate to have a wonderful mother who worked hard and demonstrated great values. They consisted of hard work, big dreams and a strong desire to improve oneself.

I failed several times as a young man but learned from each experience and never stopped believing in myself. The best advice I can give is to never stop dreaming and continue to work hard to achieve your dreams.

We continue to dream about our business and constantly strive to be the best at what we do. It gets harder as we get larger to achieve our larger vision but the same principles apply.

Best of luck to you for your future.

Howard Lester

Robert Ulrich (Target CEO)

Reference Date: November 24th

Out of all the holiday shopping I did in 2007, I'd say 80% of my money was spent at Target. It took a while for Target to come to New Jersey, but when they got here, I became an instant fan. Their stores are clean, and the items are of good quality, easy to find and well priced. I sent a letter to the CEO of Target, Robert Ulrich. I got a letter back from his executive assistant, but it was nice to hear from them nonetheless. This is what the letter said:

Dear Mr. Lucas:

Thanks-for your letter to Target~Corporation asking for motivational advice.

Robert Ulrich has received your letter, and has asked me to respond on his behalf.

As Chairman and CEO of Target, Mr. Ulrich truly appreciates hearing your thoughtful comments and interest in learning more about how our executives have achieved their current positions at Target. I'm sure you can imagine that as one of the nation's best known executives, he receives many requests of this nature. While I know he'd like to share his personal thoughts and 40 years of Target business experience with you, we must decline the vast majority of these opportunities unless they fit in focus areas for our business or community giving.

You may wish to visit Target.com, where you can read and download the Target Annual Report, with comments by Mr. Ulrich. Additionally, there is an extensive amount of information and comments in other publications, including a recent article noting Mr. Ulrich's award as CEO of the Year 2007" by Chief Executive Magazine, in August, 2007.

We appreciate your interest, and wish you the best of luck on your future endeavors!

- Mr. Ulrich's office

Monday, December 31, 2007

"Mr. New Year's Eve" replies

Dick Clark

Reference Date:
October 5th

As I write this, it's a quarter to twelve on December 31st, 2007. In fifteen minutes, it will be the first day of 2008, exactly two years from the time that I started on my "Letter A Day" project for 2006.

If you look at my posts for 2007, they are slim. This is not because I was lazy and didn't want to write (OK, there's a little of that in there) but mostly because the flow of replies slowed to a trickle.

Originally, I was going to publish my collection of replies at the end of 2007, but I'm going to push that back for another six months or so. Judging by Geoffrey Rush, who took over a year to get back to me, I know that my letters don't always get to the recipient as soon as I mail them out, so the reply can come much later, through no fault of their own.

Another case in point is the reply I got from "Mr. New Year's Eve", American broadcasting legend Dick Clark. He's been on the air for over sixty years! His biggest success came as host of "American Bandstand" from the early days of rock and roll to the rap/hip-hop era. He also started a successful production company, and is one of the most powerful men in television.

In the 1970's, after Guy Lombardo (the legendary bandleader whose "Auld Lang Syne" would ring in the New year for millions on the radio and TV) passed away, Dick took over hosting duties from Times Square. He has held the New year's mantle since, even after suffering from a stroke in 2004.

I wrote to Mr. Clark on the anniversary of his first "American Bandstand" show. This was his very kind reply:


Please forgive the long delay in responding. I was sick for the past 5 weeks and, unfortunately, didn't get much work done.

In response to your note, here we go...

The best words of encouragement I received early in my career were from an old morning disc jockey and they were to never become discouraged with the outcome... just forge on.

The only pitfalls I have met are ones I built for myself with my over-enthusiasm. One must be careful not to oversell oneself.

The greatest lesson I ever learned was work hard and steadily. Never become discouraged and look forward to your next challenge.

Thank you for your very kind note. Again I apologize for not being able to reply sooner.



I sent him a nice thank you letter

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A very funny man replies

Leslie Nielsen

Reference Date: May 18th

My taste in comedy is all over the map. I appreciate great writing and witty banter (like the Marx Brothers and Abbot & Costello) but also have laughed very hard at the slapstick humor of Laurel & Hardy and the surrealism of Monty Python. It's very rare to find one actor that can employ all those different styles in one role and still make it work. Leslie Nielsen is one of those people.

This Canadian born actor (his father was a Royal Canadian Mountie) began his film career in serious and heroic roles, but in 1980 was redefined with his work in the classic and groundbreaking comedy "Airplane." This led to his most famous and enduring role, that of Lt. Frank Drebin in the "Police Squad/Naked Gun" TV show and movies. He is so associated with comedy now, that I think it would be hard for him to slip back into serious roles.

Mr. Neilsen sent me a postcard with just a few words of advice on the back. This is what he wrote:


My advice: I take a pass on all advice!

Words of Encouragement: Always sit down whenever you can!

Major pitfalls: They're usually closed during the day, so never go out at night.

I never look for "great lessons"

My daily habit for success: a morning bowl of fibre and blue berries.

Much luck and laughter -

Leslie Nielsen

I sent him a thank you card.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Another award winner replies

Geoffrey Rush

Reference Date: February 7th

As an actor, I'm always delighted to hear from other actors, especially ones with award winning pedigree. I was pleasantly surprised then to receive a letter this week from a man who has won an Oscar and an Emmy, Geoffrey Rush.

Probably most famous for his portrayal of Captain Barbossa in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, Rush originally won acclaim for his portrayal of the mentally handicapped piano player David Helfgott in 1996's "Shine." His work in that film made him the first Austrailian actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. Just a few years ago, his seemingly effortless work capturig the life of Peter Sellers for an HBO biopic got Rush an Emmy award to go with the Academy statue.

I wrote to him in February '06, after seeing him in the film "Munich." Mr.Rush sent his reply to me on the back of a postcard depicting him as Capt. Barbossa. On the front of the card he wrote "Hang In there Chris!" (see photo above) and this is what he had to say on the back:

Dear Chris,

I did theater for 25 years before films... state subsidies, repertory, etc. so it was never for money or fame... This helped!

I have always taken big and small roles. Sometimes it's good to lead a company, and sometimes it's good to lurk on the side and allow for quiet experimentation.

Occasionally it's important to take a real risk - to meet a personal challenge and truly be prepared to fail.

Generally, I approach most things with pure gut instinct - more often than I end up following my initial reaction.

Always keep at it - better to be working than not.

Hope all goes well.

Best, Geoffrey Rush

P.S I only received your letter of February '06 in August '07. Sorry.

I sent him a thank you card.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Another non-reply

John C. McGinley

Reference Date: September 10th

One of the most underrated shows on TV is the medical sitcom "Scrubs." One of the things thatgives the show it's comic core is the portrayal of caustic Dr. Perry Cox by veteran character actor John C. McGinley.

I sent him a letter commending him on his work, and asking him a few questions about his life as an actor. I got back a very nice personally autographed photo from him, but no letter.

As I've said before, I am very happy to get any response, rather than an unanswered missive. I sent him a thank you as soon as the photo came.

A legendary cartoonist replies

Mort Walker

Reference Date: November 11th

I've been reading the "funny pages" all my life. One of the first comics I turn to is "Beetle Bailey" which has been around for over 50 years.

The creative mind behind Beetle, sarge, General Halftrack, Miss Buxley and the gang is Mort Walker, the current Dean of American cartoonists. In addition to working tirelessly on his own strip for half a century, Mr. Walker has written several books on the subject of cartoons and even opened the American Comic Art Museum. He has been honored by hundreds of organizations for his work and philanthropy, including the USO and the Defense Department.

Despite having so much on his plate, Mr. walker was kind enough to take the time to send me an email in response to my letter. This is what he had to say:

Dear Chris,

Thanks for the nice words about my work.

The only advice I can think of is to keep trying. If something isn't working, try something else.

Never give up.

Keep a positive attitude.

Make friends and enjoy what you're doing.

Good luck!

Mort Walker

I sent him a thank you the next day.

A respected theologian replies

Father Ted Hesburgh

Reference Date: November 27th

The University of Notre Dame has always held a special place in my heart. I did not attend the school, but their team name is "the Fighting Irish" and their long storied history of academics and sports is matched by few others.

For many years, the public face of Notre Dame has been Father Theodore (Ted) Hesburgh, who was President of the University from 1952-1987 and was awarded the prestigious US Presidential Medal of Freedom. The University's library is named for him. (I actually sent the letter to Father Hesburgh c/o the Father Hesburgh Library. How often is someone's name the same as their mailing address?)

This is what Father Hesburgh had to say in his reply to me:

Dear Chris,

Thank you for that wonderful letter. I have just the advice you need.

All of my life I have realized that we need special inspiration from God to do what He wants us to do - to enlighten us about that and give us the strength each day to carry it out. I have found that, after more than sixty years as a priest, the best I can do in beginning each day is to pray a very short prayer: "Come, Holy Spirit". That puts you at the disposal of the Spirit for all the inspiration and strength you need.

I find that through the day when I face a problem which seems to have no answer, I simply pray, "Come, Holy Spirit". The answer becomes apparent and I think I have the right words to say to the person with the problem.

This is also a great prayer for your personal life. There are many options we all have in life and, as we face them, it is important to pray, "Come, Holy Spirit", so that we will know the right things to do and we will have the strength to do it. The Spirit brings us both the inspiration and the strength.

I hope this is helpful to you and I encourage you to keep up the good life you have begun. I know, with the help of the Holy Spirit you will have great fruits. It will also bring you great peace.

With a daily prayer for you and yours, and all blessings from here,

Ever devotedly in Notre Dame,

Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C.
President Emeritus, University of Notre Dame

I sent him a thank you the next day

The Vice President replies

Dick Cheney

Reference date:July 18th

One of the most accomplished men in the history of US Government is Richard "Dick" Cheney. Since beginning his political career in 1969, Mr. Cheney has been White House Chief of Staff to President Ford, five term US Congressman from Wyoming, Secretary of Defense under President George H.W. Bush and currently Vice President under George W. Bush. His term of office as Vice President ends in January 2009, I was happy to get this letter from him just before he closes out his life in politics.

Like the letter from Senator Kennedy before him, it is a stock reply, signed with an auto pen, but it's impressive to get a letter on White House stationery nonetheless.

This is what the Vice President had to say;

Dear Mr. Lucas:

Thank you for taking the time to write and offer your kind words of support. Your correspondence is important to me.

Each day, I feel honored to serve this country as Vice President under the remarkable leadership of President Bush. Both the President and I are grateful for the thoughts and prayers of our fellow citizens, and we strive daily to serve this great nation with dignity and strength.

Thank you again for taking the time to send your thoughtful words. Lynne joins me in sending you our best wishes.


Dick Cheney,

Vice President of the United States of America

I sent him a thank you the next day.