Bonnie Low-Kramen is the former celebrity PA to Oscar-winning actress Olympia Dukakis. With 25 years of experience working at Olympia’s side, I thought it would be helpful to pick her brain.
With 25 years of experience working as an assistant to an Oscar-winner, how would you say the business of celebrity assisting has changed over the years?
When I first started working with Olympia Dukakis in 1986, we had no computers or cell phones or fax machines. The technology is certainly the biggest change in the landscape of working as a celebrity assistant. The deadlines were pretty intense then and now they are even more so. Some assistants carry one, two, or even three cell phones and sleep with them by their side.
Celebrity assistants always needed to be “on call” 24/7 but now it is literally about instant access. Assistants need to make a concerted effort to create boundaries that work for everyone. It simply isn’t possible to sustain a lifestyle where you are always “on.” It’s draining physically and emotionally and is a formula for failure. The best assistant/celebrity relationships are based on mutual respect where boundaries exist and are honored.
More celebrities than ever before are utilizing recruiters to help them find assistants. In addition, salaries have never been higher.
What are the most important qualities for being successful as a personal assistant to a celebrity or high net worth family?
Given the delicate nature of working with celebrities and high-net worth families, it is vital to exhibit discretion and confidentiality. It is important to have a thick skin and an even temper in order to handle a multitude of varied personalities. A sense of humor comes in very handy too.
How is being a personal assistant different from an executive assistant?
One of the main differences is in location. A Personal Assistant typically works out of an employer’s home, and an Executive Assistant typically works out of an office or corporate environment, but even these general guidelines don’t always hold true anymore.
What is true is that there are FEWER differences than there used to be. Executive Assistants weren’t always on call 24/7 but now many are. Both positions are a do-whatever-it-takes kind of job and this most definitely applies to working as a Personal Assistant.
Both positions require personal responsibilities such as gift-buying, travel planning, and handling personal matters for an employer’s family. That said, there are still many companies that do not permit Executive Assistants to be involved in personal matters for their employers.
What is the most misunderstood concept about being a celebrity PA?
People outside the business believe that working as a celebrity PA is glamorous all the time and that an assistant hangs out with famous people as friends. On average, these things are true 10% of the time. Being a celebrity PA is hard work with long hours and requires advanced skills to keep things running smoothly.
You must have seen some amazing things during your career. Any stand-out situations you can share?
Standing on a glacier in Alaska with Olympia. Having a private jet pilot turn around to us and say, “Ladies, can we leave now?” Talking politics with Michael Dukakis. Meeting and talking with Meryl Streep at the People’s Choice Awards. Seeing Jack Nicholson puzzling out who the heck I was! Having Olympia introduce me at my son’s Bar Mitzvah before I sang “The Secret of Life.”
What services do you offer assistants who are looking to update their skills or advance their careers?
My passion and commitment is about empowering the world’s assistants through education. To that end, tech expert Vickie Evans and I offer a two-day “Be the Ultimate Assistant” workshop in different US cities plus Toronto and London. Coming up are Los Angeles (Sept 20-21) and London (Nov 17-18.) Vickie and I also offer customized corporate training inside companies and we have done this at Starbucks, MasterCard, and Campbell Soup to name a few. I also offer one-on-one coaching/mentoring in all areas of an assistant’s career including finding new work, preparing for an annual review, and handling difficult people and situations. For more information: www.bonnielowkramen.com