Teddy Zee and the Sundance Kids



Hitch Teddy Zee and the Sundance Kids

     When we initially sought out Teddy Zee for an earlier interview in 2004, we had him confused with the main character in a 1989-90 TV sitcom about a Hollywood agent called The Famous Teddy Z. One of the things we had really wanted to ask was how he had become such a famous agent and how he had made the transition to being a studio executive, then to heading up two production companies. We were also curious how a Cornell grad with a Harvard MBA ended up in Hollywood in the first place, particularly in the mailroom of a talent agency.

     Turns out Teddy Zee had never worked his way up from the mailroom of a famous Hollywood talent agency. He had never been an agent at all. In fact, he had never really been famous, much less a legend. We had been a victim of mass-media hypnosis. The stuff that flickers on the tube while you're thinking about other things has a way of bypassing your critical faculties and seeping into your brain unchallenged to take its place alongside your stores of more factual information.

     Fortunately, the real Teddy Zee's story turned out to be as interesting as the fictional Teddy Z's. More amazingly, it turned out that Zee was the inspiration for the Teddy Z character on TV!

     Teddy Zee, the real one, was born May 15, 1957 in upstate New York to impoverished Chinese immigrants. He was the youngest of four children. A scholarship from his father's labor union gave the young man with the fast last name a full ride through Cornell. Upon graduating in 1979 with a degree in the unglamorous field of labor relations, Zee got hired by the personnel department of NBC. He soon found himself eyeing the more exciting entertainment side. Three years later he returned to school and earned a Harvard MBA in hopes of being hired back as an NBC entertainment exec. He was rejected. In 1985 he landed a dream job as a development executive at Paramount, and made the most of the opportunity. Since then he has been an executive vice-president of production at Columbia, then president of production at Davis Entertainment. In 2001 Zee became president of production at Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment.

Teddy Zee waits on stage with Saving Face co-stars Joan Chen, Lynn Chen and Michelle Krusiec. (Courtesy Teddy Zee)


     Zee married a woman he met at Harvard Business School. They married in 1986 and lived for some time in Hancock Park with their two teen-age daughters. Those were details gleaned from our earlier interview. Being unusually tight-lipped about his personal life for a Hollywood type, Zee refuses to provide updates.

     But during a transitional period of about a year after leaving Overbrook and starting up Ironpond, Teddy Zee did shed his zealously guarded mantle of anonymity to become a talk show host for AZN TV. During that brief incarnation, he served as co-chair of the 2006 Asian Excellence Awards, televised on AZN-TV. When that show prompted radio host Adam Carolla to spew a bizarre anti-Asian on-air tirade, Zee joined with MAANA's Guy Aoki to pressure Carolla's employers to force Carolla to invite them onto his program. Zee and Aoki spent an amusing half-hour verbally cornering Carolla into an apology and a promise of better behavior in the future. That brief interlude showed, in a nutshell, that Teddy Zee is a guy who knows what he wants and figures out how to make it happen.

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“ We were also curious how a Cornell grad with a Harvard MBA ended up in Hollywood in the first place, particularly in the mailroom of a talent agency.”

Teddy Zee (right) in China with Ironpond partner Peter Shiao (center) and Yantan Shi, General Manager of the Shaolin Temple and one of Zee's Ironpond partners. (Courtesy Teddy Zee)


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