Stories From the Road

Working with colorful characters taught John Mathis ’87 an important lesson: All roads lead back to Bradley.

While a student at Bradley in the mid ’80s, my FIJI fraternity brothers and I watched “Caddyshack” endlessly. If someone would have told me back then that one day I would direct Chevy Chase in a television commercial, I would have said, “No way. Not me. Not a kid from Oklahoma who grew up in Peoria. Not possible.”

As the director, producer and owner of Rocketmail Productions, I love what I do, because every job is different. Over my career, I have had the opportunity to work with a lot of celebrities, including John Madden, Magic Johnson, Hulk Hogan, Troy Aikman, Dana Carvey and many more. Each one of them was a unique experience.

John Madden was famously afraid of confined spaces. After he declined to climb up a narrow set of metal stairs at a studio in New York City, I had to convince him to ride up one floor in a freight elevator to the set. That took some negotiation. All the while, my union film crew sat, expensively idling. He finally rode the huge elevator with just me and his agent aboard. Crisis averted.

Each time I worked with Magic Johnson, he would go out of his way to thank the crew. Once, after a long day on set, I watched as he engaged with a little boy who had patiently waited all day for him to come out. Not only did Magic give him an autograph, but he shot hoops with him for 30 minutes.

Often, my job involves being a celebrity’s personal escort or assistant. I once picked up Hulk Hogan at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) where a huge crowd surrounded him as he signed autographs and took photos. He saw me and announced, “Well, this is my producer, John. He’s going to make me leave now. If it was up to me, I’d stay, but he gets bossy.” Approximately 150 angry faces turned toward me with Hulk standing behind them, laughing. We managed a quick escape.

Last fall, I produced and directed a series of commercials featuring Chevy Chase who has a reputation for being a bit persnickety. At one point he said, “John, do you mind if I call you Tom? I think you should be Tom.” I replied, “You can call me whatever you like. By the way, is Cornelius (Chevy’s real first name) here today?” He smiled, and said “For you, Tom, he just might be.”

For this job, I enlisted the help of three other Bradley grads: Emilio Albertini ’85, Marie-Joelle Rizk ’92 and my daughter, Taylor Mathis Cornell ’18. Each of them contributed to the successful outcome.

I have been very fortunate to have a career I love, and I owe it all to my Bradley experience. Professors like Gary Dreibelbis, who taught me about television production, Howard Goldbaum, who taught me about composition and many others who gave me a broad set of skills. Each of them had a hand in putting me on the road to my career.


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