Never Give Up. I have been in this business for more than 40 years, and I am just now having the success I have always dreamed of. Sure, I’ve kept working over the years, but the BIG success is just now hitting. If I had given up, it never would have happened. As the saying goes, “Some people stop ten minutes before the miracle.”

As a part of our series about creating a successful career in theater, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Luke Yankee.

Luke is a critically acclaimed author and playwright. His memoir, Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing up with Eileen Heckart has been called “One of the most compassionate, illuminating showbiz books ever written” and was named “One of the Ten Best Celebrity Memoirs of All Time” (Michael Musto — Village Voice & PaperMag). It is published by Random House with a foreword by Mary Tyler Moore. His play, The Last Lifeboat is published by Dramatists Play Service and has received more than 50 productions in the U.S. and Canada. Luke’s play, The Man Who Killed The Cure was a semifinalist for the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Festival and is published by Amazon. It has had several regional productions. Confessions of a Star Maker won Best Play at the Moondance Writers Contest and was chosen for the Last Frontier Theatre Festival. His award-winning comedy, The Jesus Hickey premiered in Los Angeles starring Harry Hamlin. He has also adapted each of these plays into film scripts. His television specs and pilots have all won or been finalists in major contests: The Lavender Mafia (finalist, Sundance Episodic Lab), Nurse Jackie: Anita Vicodin (winner, Scriptwriter’s Network Television Outreach Project), Royal Pains: Little Miss Conception (finalist, Warner Bros. TV Writer’s Workshop), The Lavender Mafia (finalist, NexTV Pilot competition) and Brothers & Sisters: Alabaster Shards. (winner, Best Drama, Scriptapalooza). His screenplay version of The Last Lifeboat was one of ten scripts chosen internationally for the DreamAgo Screenwriting Workshop in The Swiss Alps. As a professional director, Mr. Yankee has worked on and off Broadway at venues ranging from Radio City Music Hall to the ms Crystal Symphony, assistant directed six Broadway shows and has served as artistic director of two regional theaters. He was mentored by the legendary directors Harold Prince, Ellis Rabb and Gerald Freedman. His latest book, The Art of Writing for The Theatre: An Introduction to Script Analysis, Criticism & Playwriting, is published by Bloomsbury Press and includes interviews with David Henry Hwang, Marsha Norman, David Zippel, Ben Brantley, Octavio Solis, David Lindsay-Abaire and a dozen other award-winning playwrights, lyricists, and critics. He is an adjunct professor at Chapman University and the Head of Playwriting at the University of California, Fullerton.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

My upbringing was a bit unusual, but I didn’t realize it at the time. My mother was the Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe-winning actress, Eileen Heckart. Her career as a character actress spanned more than 50 years and she worked with many of the greatest actors, directors and designers of our time. In my memoir, Just Outside the Spotlight, I talk about my childhood and how Ethel Merman taught me how to make a martini at age twelve, how Paul Newman gave me acting lessons in the living room, and fielding calls from reporters as a thirteen-year-old boy the night my mother won the Oscar. I was around eight years old before I realized the other kids in school didn’t sit around on Saturday night watching their mothers on Gunsmoke or The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

From the time I was a little boy, I said, “Mommy, when I grow up, I want to do what you do.” At first she said, “No you don’t, sweetheart”, because she knew how hard it was. When she saw that I was serious, both of my parents were very supportive. I did lots of children’s theater in the basement of the YMCA and ultimately got some professional gigs. I was in all the actors unions by the time I was fifteen. A few years later, I studied acting at Juilliard. But once I started writing and directing, I felt like I was really wearing the shoes that fit me best.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

One of my mentors was the legendary director (and the winner of 21 Tony Awards), Harold Prince. I was his coffee boy and assistant on a musical called Grind starring Ben Vereen. The show was a flop, but I learned so much from Hal. He created this aura around the production where we all felt we were working on the next Oklahoma! He was incredibly kind and generous to me, and I kept in touch with him over the years. Ten years later, when I was a finalist to run the Long Beach Civic Light Opera (one of the biggest musical theaters in America at the time), he said, “Hire him!” That was a major catalyst in my getting the job where I met my husband of 28 years, Don Hill. Shortly before Hal died, I wrote him and said, “I don’t know if I ever told you this, but I owe my marriage to you.” He was an amazing man.

You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

There are so many, it is hard to pick just one. I have done my one man show, Diva Dish!, on 25 cruises all over the world. It’s been a real gift to see the world by telling showbiz stories about the celebrities I have met! I also created a similar program for Barbara Eden and interviewed her about her career on a cruise to India, Egypt and Israel. Dick Van patten was lecturing onboard as well. We all had an incredible time together and remained friends.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I directed my mother in a production of Driving Miss Daisy at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami. Eileen Heckart was tough on ANY director, let alone her own son. I had directed the show before with a friend of hers in the title role, a lovely character actress named Frances Helm. Since they were friends, I figured it was okay to say, “You know, on that cross downstage, Frances did this bit of stage business with a hatpin that really punctuated the line.” After about the third time I mentioned it, she said, “In the first place, I’m not a hatpin kind of actress. And in the second place, if you think Frances was so wonnnnnderful in the part, why don’t you fire me and call her!” As a director, I should have known better than to ever compare one actress to another. It was an important — if painful — lesson!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now

I am about to direct the world premiere of a play I have written called Marilyn, Mom & Me at International City Theatre in Long Beach. It is a highly autobiographical piece about my mother’s intense friendship with Marilyn Monroe during the shooting of the film Bus Stop in 1956, how deeply it impacted her, and ultimately how it impacted me as her son. The two women developed an enduring bond during the filming of Bus Stop — perhaps the most important film of Monroe’s career. Forty-five years later, I try to unravel my mother’s relationship with Monroe in order to better understand my own path with this highly critical, yet loving woman.

In 1956, when Marilyn was cast as the lead Bus Stop, she was the biggest star in the world. She had taken the previous year off to study with Lee Strasberg and had become the poster child for “method” acting, where an actor has to experience every moment truthfully. My mother was cast as her best friend in the movie, and, as a part of her newly discovered style of acting, Marilyn was determined to make my mother her best friend — both on screen and off. Reluctantly, Eileen went along with it for the sake of the film and found herself emotionally entrenched in Marilyn’s life. My mother loved to talk about her career… except when it came to Marilyn Monroe. Whenever she would do so, she would get very quiet and change the subject. If pressed, she would burst into tears. No one else she worked with had this effect on her. Since this play contains many never-before-heard stories about two legendary actresses (one from Hollywood and one from Broadway), there is a lot of interest in it from New York producers. I am very excited, and I have a brilliant cast and design team! More information and tickets are available at

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of rejection, lack of support, or failure?

It may sound cliché, but you have to have a very thick skin to be in any aspect of show business. It is important to have a focus outside of you career, whether that is a relationship, a hobby or both. You also need to be able to pivot and move quickly. If a producer says, “Can you get on a plane tomorrow morning?” you need to be prepared to say “Yes!”

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the live performance industry to help them to thrive and notburn out?

You have to be able to generate your own work to a certain extent. As an actor, I created two one-person shows. As a director, I would find actors and make projects happen. As a writer, I have written many pieces simply so that I could have something to direct and act in. And, as stated previously, you have to cultivate other aspects of your life so that you aren’t devastated when you hit a dry spell. As my mother used to say, “Your career doesn’t keep you warm at night.”

Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in Broadway, Theater or Live Performances and why? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. A strong sense of self. As artists, we are constantly being criticized. You need a strong belief in yourself in order to survive in this business. Back in the day when Luke & Laura on General Hospital were the “It Couple”, I found a large label pin that said, “I (heart) Luke”. I wore it whenever I was having a tough day. When people accused me of being egotistical, I’d say, “If I don’t love Luke, how can anyone else?”
  2. Excellent marketing skills. You have to think of yourself (or your script, or painting, etc.) as a product you are selling. Knowing how to market yourself is a tremendous skill. When acting students ask me, “What is the most important thing I can do for my career?” I always reply, “Take a marketing class.”
  3. Support systems that work for you. In addition to having friends or (better still), a spouse who will always support and encourage you, I thrive on self-help books and career gurus. For the past two years, I have been addicted to Dr. Benjamin Hardy, whose book Be Your Future Self Now was a game-changer for me. The whole concept of envisioning the future Luke exactly as I want him to be has had a tremendous impact. Whether its affirmations, a playlist that inspires you, books or podcasts, staying positive is key.
  4. Staying healthy. Eating right, getting enough sleep and exercising are all vital. While this might not be for everybody, I have been vegetarian (leaning towards vegan) for nearly 20 years. It affects the mind and the spirit as well as the body. You need to keep your tools sharpened!
  5. Never Give Up. I have been in this business for more than 40 years, and I am just now having the success I have always dreamed of. Sure, I’ve kept working over the years, but the BIG success is just now hitting. If I had given up, it never would have happened. As the saying goes, “Some people stop ten minutes before the miracle.”

For the benefit of our readers, could you describe how the skill-sets you need in a theater performance are different than the skill-sets you need for TV or Film?

Working in film takes a lot more physical stamina because you are constantly waiting. You wait for the lighting, the technical aspects, the actors, and so much more. In the theater, you never stop moving. This takes a different type of energy, but I find the waiting around is actually more taxing.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am a huge proponent of the importance of gratitude. Since I am also a college theater professor, I often have my students write gratitude letters to someone who has made a profound impact on their lives. Then I have them write a gratitude letter to themselves. We all need to appreciate the miracles around us…as well as ourselves.

Can you please give us your favorite Life Lesson Quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“What you think of me is none of my business.” Based on my previous comments, I think that says it all.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Meryl Streep. Aside from the fact that she is one of the most brilliant actresses alive today, everyone says she is a wonderful human being. And she’d be brilliant as Eileen in Marilyn, Mom & Me!

How can our readers continue to follow your work online? is my main website. I also have separate ones for my various plays, like Also, you can get tickets for the upcoming production of Marilyn, Mom & Me at We run from February 14-March 3.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Thank you for your time and for asking such insightful questions!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.