044: The Pyramid of Success: Hollywood Power Lawyer, Neville Johnson - Betsy Pake

044: The Pyramid of Success: Hollywood Power Lawyer, Neville Johnson


Neville Johnson is one of the most revered lawyers in Hollywood. As founding partner of the law office Johnson & Johnson, LLP, he is a man who fights tooth and nail for his clients. The Los Angeles Times has called him ‘one of the most feared litigators in Hollywood.’ 

On today’s show, we talk about books, music and success the John Wooden way!



Today’s guest is a founding partner at the law office of Johnson and Johnson and they’re located in Beverly Hills. He’s one of the most feared litigators in Hollywood. And he’s wrinkled more than 300 and $50 million for actors, writers and other clients that he contends were shortchanged their fair share of royalties and profits. So I have to tell you that when I first got on the phone with our guests today, I was a little apprehensive, right? I mean, it’s a little scary, because that’s a lot going on really successful guy. And I had him on the show to talk specifically about some books that he wrote. But what I found was that he is so interesting, not scary at all. And really a wonderful, creative person. And I’m really excited to share this interview with you, where we talk a little bit more about what really success is. So I hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed interviewing. Here we go. Welcome to the art of living big, my name is Betsy Pake, entrepreneur, author and personal success coach. This is the show that brings you stories and small ideas to help you live a big life. I hope this once a week podcast will inspire you, motivate you and encourage you to think differently about what could be possible for your life. Thanks for spending some time with me today. Now let’s go live big. All right, everybody. Welcome to the art of living big I am here with my friend Neville Johnson. Hey, Neville, thanks for being with us.

Thank you for having me.

So tell everybody a little bit about yourself. I’m sort of obsessed with you. I think that you’re really cool. But I want you to tell everybody a little bit about you and what you do and in and kind of how we found each other here.

Well, my daily job is as an attorney, I’m in Beverly Hills, California, and I have nine lawyers at my law firm and we specialize in the entertainment business in the media business. Typically we’re representing talent. And case we just filed a got notoriety or fame was we represent Sylvester Stallone and we sued Warner Brothers pictures for underpayment on one of his movies. So I’ve been doing that for a long time, entertainment, a lot of litigation and also in the music industry. And on the side, I have a book company that I started about 20 years ago, when I wrote the Authorized Biography of the greatest coach in the history of sports. His name is john wooden. And he was also a philosopher and I was very interested in his philosophy. So that became a best seller. And more recently, I put out a book called wooden isms, which is a collection of his sayings and aphorisms. And last year, I put out a book of poetry that 160 or so love bombs to my wife, Cindy, and also, I lead a band, and I am Trevor McShane, the recording artists, and you can see me on YouTube and I write songs and play guitar and sing live.

I love it. So I mostly love this is what I love is that you’re like, you’re very serious. When we first started to talk, when we did like sort of a pre talk before this, like you’re very serious. But then I could see this little glimmer of like a smile, a little glimmer in your eye. And really, you’re superduper creative, like you have this whole, like creative side to you, which, you know, my husband’s an attorney, and we talked about that for a minute. But really, to be successful in that kind of job, you really do have to be creative. So that is something that you’ve probably could, you know, put together and used in all of those careers.

You know, I don’t believe that just because you haven’t do one thing your whole life. And you take a guy like Steve Martin, he became the King of Comedy, and stand up, then he became a very successful actor. He’s written several books, he’s written some plays. He’s a monster, guitar, banjo player, and also collects art and seems to have a happy marriage. And I’m saying great, and I don’t I’m only going around the planet once and I got to get the most out of it. And if I and I find that having a creative diversion is very self satisfying in the sense that it takes you away from the problems of the day and helps you understand the problems and issues of of the day. So I was just looking yesterday at poetry I wrote back in 19 6096 you know, and I had different things bothering me then but I thought to myself, you know, some of these are pretty good.


It’s a good way to pass the time you know, I mean, you can only watch so much television and radio. So many books, it’s fun to sit down and see what you can come up with. Another thing I say is that a lot of people they want to like fix cars, or maybe watch a baseball game. And that’s all wonderful but or play crossword puzzles. I don’t do games. I don’t play crossword puzzles. But I find rhyming words is really a lot of fun. And I find writing prose prose is great, too.

Yeah. And, and really like being that creative side. And, and probably writing those poems and doing those things is exploring a part of yourself, and probably better understanding yourself, in a lot of ways, right? being self aware, it’s so important to really live a full life.

Yeah. I mean,

we’re, we’re emotional beings. And it’s interesting, you know, what’s interesting is they can put down a sentence or a phrase, and what follows thereafter, it’s, you know, you can go on whole policies of your intellect and, and creativity overall. And, for example, I’m fact I’ve got an editor working on it. Now I have about 55, secret agent homes I’ve written in which I envisioned myself as a secret agent, or I’m writing about secret agents and making stuff up, or I’m taking stuff from the current news of the day. And and

writing about that overall. And that’s just like,

the kick.

Yeah, that’s so cool. So have you been like this Your whole life?

Not really, I mean, I, I was not encouraged to play a musical instrument instrument as a child, my parents were, you know, intellectuals and think, see the value in it?

Yeah. So I picked up guitar when I was about

  1. And I wasn’t very good. And I just played in my room till in my 20s, and 30s. And, and then in my 40s, somebody took me into the recording studio. And I started to record and I said, this is really cool. And then I found that I’d written a few songs in law school back in the 70s. And that, you know, they were okay, but I didn’t feel I had real talent. And then I played a coffeehouse that a client put me in and she said, definitely, you have to do original stuff. So I started to write and I found it was, like, I described as a fire hydrant opening, and I was just gushing out. I could I can do this. And so I’ve been doing that since about 93. And then around. Starting in 93, I started to work on the wooden biography. I didn’t put it out till Actually, I started the wind biography in the early 80s. When and I worked on it sporadically. It was very difficult to do because he’s such a great man and daunting challenge. And I say, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

And I’m most proud of it,

of all that I’ve done, and

finally put that out about 2000. And,

you know, so I, that’s when I started writing, really, and, and I’m doing it still.

So, you know, based on your career, you work with successful people, like extremely successful people every single day. And so when you started to explore the john wooden stuff, how did that seem different to you? Like what was so outstanding about that?

Well, I grew up in Southern California and you had to be blind and deaf. Not to understand how great Coach Wooden was, I was followed basketball to a degree, but I wasn’t really an affliction on him. But he won the national championship in basketball every single year, from 1963 to 1975, except for two years, and he won seven years in a row, the national championship and he had three undefeated seasons. And these are all records that are not just, you know, unique, they’re unapproachable. They’re they’re metal. On top of that. What had happened was in 19, in the early 80s, I was representing Yoko Ono, and I saw his pyramid of success on the wall and I said to my friend who did that and he said that john wooden I said the basketball coach, so I’m just a girl aggressive, I guess. I’ve have a bit of a newspaper background and I, I called him up and got to know him. And I loved his philosophy, which is that success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self satisfaction and knowing you’ve made the effort to become your best. The key ingredients are enthusiasm and hard work, and going after a great and difficult challenge. And it’s nonsectarian, and it makes sense. And he’s got all these other elements that are really cool. And that’s what struck me was that that’s what success is is self satisfaction. You know, a feeling you’ve done your best every day. Mental, moral, physical, spiritual. One of his phrases that he says is the most important word. Imagine this coming from a coach. The most powerful toward toward the English language is love followed by balance.

Oh, I love that love followed by balance.

You know? So a couple things that you just said. So I love that. First of all, I know one thing I do know about john wooden was that he actually look at. I have my own pyramid that is that I keep in my desk. Yeah. So. So I am a fan of john wooden and the things that he has shared. And really I always found it so phenomenal as a coach to because he wasn’t focused on. It wasn’t the winning. It was the becoming for him. Right. It was that he wanted his players to become certain types of people.

He never said, ever. We won the game. He said, We outscored the opponent. Yeah, it was never about winning. He said, You’re like you’re here for an education first. And after that basketball.

Yeah. Yeah.

So he kept it in perspective. A story that I like about him, told to me by his daughter was that unless you had been with the game, you would not know who had


Because his life was going on just fine for him overall. Yes. And he was the incredibly, and there was never a word on a place with him. He was so well spoken. He was fundamentally a very nice person who treated everyone with respect. And hips. In other words, he was a kind male, I think that’s the most important ingredient of a human being. Yeah. Yeah. I like to no fool. He didn’t suffer fools gladly. I mean, he expected you to do your job and do it well, and, and he was there to him.

So when you decided you want because I actually really love that, like, you just decided you wanted to meet him. You saw that were inspired and decided you wanted to meet him. So you just like gave him a call? Did you know somebody that knew him? Or was he that accessible?

I called up UCLA, the sports department and said I want to interview? Or I

want to say Yeah,

yes, thank you. They gave me his number. What happened was I went out and met with him. And this fellow turned me on to the pyramid and, and then and we just talked. And then I called him up and said, I want to interview you. He said, okay, and when I interviewed him, then I then I called him up said I want to write a book about this. And he says, No, my wife is ill can’t do it. So I started writing the first few chapters, and then I sent it to him about two months later, it came back redlined. And then I, you know, I really, as a lawyer, I try and be as thorough as possible. And I wanted to make it something special. So I interviewed probably 200 people, ranging from the stars of the team, to sports casters to historians, to people he knew in high school, his children, his brothers.

Yeah, it took a long time.

And it was very, very, very interesting to do and

and then I, as a lawyer, I’m trained to find the deficiencies in the people. And I could find virtually nothing on the man I think he’s a saint, and probably the most important person in my life after my parents, you know, last, a really enhance such an incredible influence positively on all to cross paths going back to people they taught in my school getting

65 year old men crying.

Yeah. And so he led a well balanced life. He didn’t drink. He didn’t party, but he was he said they lacked. He wrote a lot of poetry and a degree a master’s in poetry.

Oh, he did. I didn’t realize that. Yeah.

Yeah. So he was.

He is he’s looked they give away the Wooden Award and basketball college basketball every year. It’s named by him.

Right, right.

Back in like 1931 I think it was he was the Player of the Year.

Yeah, yeah. Oh,

yeah. So one of the things I really love is that well, first of all, that he defines success for himself, because I think is most people if you just ask them what success they wouldn’t really know. And it’s, it’s really like different for everybody. Right?

It is, and that’s why it was a touchstone for me. When I you know, I had periods since then when I guess, you know, times were tough and, yeah, or another and I’ve and it was inspiring. You know, I just figured, I’ll get through this if I if I just buckle down and follow his precepts as best as I can. I’m not On any model, it was very inspiring me in my business to be thinking about his code of ethics overall.

So So somebody that’s listening that has maybe heard of john wooden because I believe it’s a name that that you would have heard you know that it sounds sort of familiar, although maybe some people just can’t figure out why. But john wooden created this pyramid of success. Can you just give us a overview of what that is? And then let’s dive into I’d like to know what your favorite pieces of that are the things that have guided you the most out of that pyramid?

All right, well, first of all, the reason he created it was in the 30s, while he was teaching it, at Indiana at South Bend Central High. He taught he taught high school for, I think, 11 or 12 years, of course, the basketball team. He said, parents would come up and say, why isn’t Johnny getting better grades? And he said, I started thinking about it and and based on something I’d seen before called the ladder of success that somebody he knew, he started working on this pyramid, and it took him about, I don’t know, 12 years or so until he came to the final conclusion. I’ve already stated you what the overall arching theme of it is, but he says these these he says, industrious is you got to work hard. This is the cornerstone at the bottom left, you got to work hard, be industrious, then he says enthusiasm.

And that means you got to enjoy what you’re doing.

And I asked him, Well, what do you think about somebody who’s working on a job they don’t like, and he says, as expeditiously as possible, you know, move on. And that’s what I tell people, you know, you don’t have to be stuck in a rut. And if you have dreams, you can achieve those dreams, just as I have to represent some of the biggest talents in the world. And you know,

when I’ve been able to do it, yeah, I wanted to write a book

about the greatest coach in the history of sports. And I did it. And I wanted to make music and love making music with professional musicians. Some of them are quite well known, and I’m having a gas at it. And I want to find a good woman to marry. And the other elements are friendship, loyalty, cooperation. intensiveness mean, meaning having a realistic goal, initiative, a be a go getter, alertness, self control, of course, condition, mental, moral, physical condition, moderation must be practiced. He says, skill, you gotta know what you’re doing. Team spirit. We’re all teammates, poise, confidence. And then he says, competitive greatness, which is, be at your best when your best is needed enjoyment of a difficult challenge. So that’s what we all you know, we’re all gonna fail, he says at times, but you’re not a human being unless you’re failing and learning from it. And then he has what he calls the mortar. up the sides, which are ambition, adaptability, resourcefulness, fight, faith, patience, integrity, reliability, honesty, and sincerity. So boy, if you can meet, meet all those, you know, work with all those qualities and succeed, and you’re going to have a really great and happy life. And you were asking before about, you know, how other people would measure success? Well, I think a lot of for a lot of people it has to do with, you know, money. And we’re all, you know, keeping up with the Joneses. And it’s not about that at all. Yeah, yeah. And I think that, you know, if you’re not doing well, financially, they can’t take away the big blue sky. You’re free to think and do what you want. And that’s the time that people should get, get going and do what they want. You know, very few people are born with a silver spoon in their in their mouth, Raj, everyone has to earn it one way or the other. It’s never too late to find that goal, as long as it’s realistic, and try and achieve it.

Yes. I love I am. Listen.

I’m a guy who came out of law school, and I didn’t have any leg up in the entertainment business. And now all these years later, I’m prominent. I’ve just been named for the ninth year in a row, one of the top 100 lawyers and entertainment and I have, everybody knows who I am. And I just ran an ad for Bloomberg and Fortune magazine saying if you see me come and you better run. Really good lawyers here and we’re not kidding around. Yeah. And we have a lot of fun. But anyway, my point was this is that, you know, slowly, slowly but surely a lot of

missteps along the way.

But I’ve now got a thriving business that is financially successful and extremely interesting and cutting edge. I’m doing just what I want to do and on top of that, I have enough time to engage in these other things. tivities I wrote two polls this morning.

See, that’s so awesome. I think that so many times we think, like, I got to know like you were saying, keep up with the Joneses, I got I need more money, I got to do this, I got to do this. But one of my favorite part of this success pyramid, is the be your best when your best is needed enjoyment of a difficult challenge, because I think there’s two kinds of people. One is the people that a challenge is too hard. And so they just stop, or they think a challenge, or work has to be hard. But I think it should be in you should enjoy it. If you’re having fun doing you’re doing something that’s hard, then the meantime doesn’t seem like a long time. You know, the

Yeah. Every job has its has its issues, its adversities, and that’s what you know, that’s what you make the best of, I mean, we’re all in the cup. We’re all in competition in one sense with each other, but we’re also really in competition with ourselves. And can you look yourself in the mirror and say I am, I’m where I want to be. Knowing that where you want to be is a realistic goal. That’s the whole deal is to have a realistic goal overall. But you look at people who are successful

in their field, for example, if you want to be an actor,

and you want to be Tom Hanks,

it’s gonna be very challenging to do that. But Tom Hanks is really, really good and has worked very, very, very hard at it, for example,

and so the people that

I mean, Malcolm Gladwell talks about a 10,000 hours it takes to become successful


something. And I, I hear that, you know, I mean, it’s through repetition, practice learning, being assiduous and motivated and a little bit of luck. I mean, that’s the other point. Wouldn’t says

you have to be

opportunity will come to you. You need to be ready to get that opportunity.

Yeah. Want

to know what to do with it. Branch Rickey, who was the guy who integrated baseball with Jackie Robinson, he said he’s famous for saying luck is the residue of design.

Oh, yeah, yeah. So as you’re taking action, as you’re taking, as I like to say, the little steps towards becoming where you going, where you want to go or becoming who you want to become, that’s when luck starts to enter your life because you’ve done the work necessary to bring that to you. Right? Is that what you would say?

Yeah, yeah. here’s, here’s, I’m just gonna give you a few of the quotes that wouldn’t. Yeah, winning has always been the frosting that made the cake a little taste here.

I like that.

Failure is not fatal. But failure to change may be, don’t give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you. And then he says, In the final analysis, analysis, perhaps the most important thing we need in all walks of life is more mutual trust, faith, and understanding of the problems of others. And then he says, things like happiness begins where selfishness ends. politeness is a small price to pay for the goodwill and affection of others. The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team. It’s all about teamwork. Overall, one of the things he said that I thought thought was interesting was, he said, it’s not necessarily the five best athletes to have a volunteer, it’s the five best to work with each other. And he said to me, also, which I thought was telling, he said, You know, I could have gotten a degree in psychology, I wanted so many classes to try and understand how to how to deal with the team. The team’s overall income word. Yeah. It’s always changing. It was always improving, and improving themselves as well, in as many ways as he could. Yeah. So he retires in 75. And he had a marvelous life. He died about three or four years ago. But 99, but he went on to have a great life as a motivational speaker, meeting other people. And being a, you know, just having a fun life.

Yeah, yeah. It’s interesting, because so many times with successful people, when I talk to them, they always deflect back to others. Right. And so it sounds like that’s really a theme with him, too. It’s all about the team. It’s all about the group. It’s not about an individual or it’s not about him, which that’s really powerful, especially like as we bring that into our own lives. Like, you know, I talk to women every day that you know, they feel a comparison to other people or they feel like they’re not moving fast enough for doing the right things. And if you take it like if you switch it and start to think like john really It’s, it’s, it’s about how can you help other people and when you’re focused on that, all that other stuff just kind of goes away, right? That then you’re not looking at that stuff and you can move towards your goals, because you’re enjoying and enjoying the meantime, focusing on others seems to be the key.


He says,

consideration for others brings many things. And this is something that I think is very profound. It’s not what other than somebody you think you are, but what you think and and when I wrote that first draft to him, which was in part of transcription of the talk that he would give, he wrote his last line. That never, it doesn’t matter what other people think of you. Because that’s your reputation. The only thing that matters is your character, because that’s who you truly are. Oh, yeah. And, and that’s who he truly was. And he says that true happiness comes from the things that cannot be taken away from you. Learn as if you were to live forever, live as if you were to die tomorrow. And that’s my point is to make the most of every day. So I had an opposing counsel in the case a couple years ago, and I got to know him a little bit when we were stuck in the middle of Michigan on a case during a deposition and he was telling me about his she’s 50 years old, his 14 year old twins, they were going to go down the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon was all cool. He was fighting me as hard as he could, in this matter. And then the day before the biggest hearing in the case, I got a phone call saying he died in the hotel. And I ended up writing a song called masterpiece that the theme of witches making you stay your masterpiece, which is one of wooden sayings make each day your masterpiece. Yeah. And you know that, that hit home to me overall.

Yeah, that’s powerful stuff. Yeah.

You know, you never know people get hit by the bus all the time. Yeah.

Yeah, you know, Neville. I’ve talked about this on my show many times, and I talk about it in my book. But when I was 16, my mom, my mom and my sister took off, we lived in Vermont, and they took off to go to Ohio to see a hockey game. And on the way there, they got in an accident, and my mom died. And I was 16. And I I feel like I’ve always had this. People always say to me, like Betsy will try anything. Like you’re always trying something new. But I really think it comes from that of not just thinking like every day, it could be your last but really knowing any day could be your last you know, she was 41. And so like, you know, I’m 40 I’m about to turn 46. So I always think like, look at all this extra awesome time I have, like that’s a that’s a miracle every day is something like really cool to be celebrated. So I totally feel that.

Yeah, well, you’re doing this podcast, so and having a lot of fun and making a difference.

Yeah, yeah, I hope so. I have loved having you on. Thank you so, so much. I know you’re a busy guy. And I just I think you’re super cool. And I am so inspired. I do want you to give me one more. One more piece of information. Are you ready? I want you I’m inspired by your love for your wife. And the fact that you wrote her those poems. What do you think is a key? What would you think is a key to living a wonderful life with in a relationship like that? Having a great love.

You know, I didn’t get married till I was 56. And I wish you know, it happened earlier. Yeah. But once that happened, my life changed for the better. It’s all about, you know, sort of she has great values. But she’s, you know, she’s a lawyer so she can talk about law she’s witty.

She’s so kind to people.

So I’m the key to it is just don’t blow it

and be big. I try

to be as considerate as as possible. Yeah. Yeah, the other and be forgiven, because nobody’s perfect.

Right. Yeah. I like that. Be considerate. That’s, that’s really great. Yeah. Because I think sometimes we get in our routines and our life and we take things for granted. But yeah, be considerate.

It really you have to be. You don’t have to. I very much enjoy your company. I mean, that’s the bottom. Yeah, yeah. She’s my best friend and we have a gas.

That’s awesome. Cool. Well, thanks again for being on the art of living big. I have loved meeting you. And I’m so grateful for your time.


Thanks for having me on your journey today. I want to invite you to jump inside our free Facebook group. You can find that at SS lB community.com that stands for start small, live big community.com and we can just continue the conversation in there. And as always, here’s a little message from my husband

Transcribed by https://otter.ai


Meet Betsy!

I'm Betsy Pake!

*Ocean obsessed

*Probably hanging out with my dogs


*Deep thinker

Hey There!

About Betsy

Hi I’m Betsy and I’m a subconscious change expert.
By day you can find me digging deep into the unconscious beliefs and identity of my clients so they can move past self-sabotage and lack of confidence and gain traction in their career and life.