An elite, groundbreaking mainstay in the entertainment arena for decades after unwittingly making early strides in her previous professions as well, Willette Murphy Klausner is a powerful and beloved leader whose impact in her industry is destined to be felt and referenced far into the future. Since 1981, she has owned and been the theatrical and film producer of the highly successful, eponymic WMK Productions, Inc., in Los Angeles California.
Balancing a constant schedule of producing or co-producing shows for Broadway, London’s West End, and tours while working with countless creatives, Ms. Klausner has brought forth numerous awarding-winning, celebrated, and critically acclaimed titles, a small sampling of which include “Hadestown,” “MJ the Musical,” “The Wiz,” “Purlie Victorious,” “Ain’t Too Proud-The Life and Times of The Temptations,” “Three Mo’ Tenors,” “Sinatra the Musical,” and “Crazy for You,” among others. Further, she is developing a follow-up to “Les Misérables” titled “Cosette.” A member of the Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts and praised for her work, Ms. Klausner received the Lifetime Achievement Award from The Drama League in 2022, and she has been distinguished by Marquis Who’s Who as an Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievers honoree along with being named a Top Professional by the publisher and featured in The Wall Street Journal.
Receiving recognition, making moves, and breaking barriers since college, Ms. Klausner was the first Black senior class president at the University of California, Los Angeles, better known as UCLA, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in economics. As a pioneering, emerging young professional, she was the first Black model to appear in an American fashion magazine, the first Black merchandising executive at Bloomingdales, and later, the first female executive at MCA Universal Studios, where, between 1975 and 1981, she rose to vice president of marketing research.
Along with possessing laser focus, perseverance, and a stellar work ethic, Ms. Klauser gives the credit for her success to “having great parents.” Her father was a caterer in Santa Barbara, California, so her family always had plenty of good food, she fondly recalled, yet they had little money. Thus, she had to pay her own way through UCLA, a responsibility she was able to achieve because her parents taught her early in life the value of hard work. Ms. Klausner remembers many career highlights but cites her best achievement as living life. Always open to new experiences, after college, she attended fashion school and then worked at Bloomingdale’s before moving on for a stint with Madeleine Europe.
Proverbially continuing to push the envelope, often without realizing it, Ms. Klausner experienced significant moments when she served as part of the coveted Fashion Board. The women’s magazine Mademoiselle, she said, would visit various schools and colleges to find models for their issues. Ms. Klausner was asked to try out, and during her audition, one of the judges complimented her legs. Although she never considered her legs beautiful, the judges disagreed, and it became a positive aspect of her modeling career. Disillusioned with the modeling lifestyle, however, she eventually left it and became a statistical analyst for the Carnation Company.
Pondering the next few years, Ms. Klausner looks forward to finishing various production projects that she hopes will open and play on Broadway and main stages elsewhere. In the meantime, to help her slow down and stay focused, she says she must try to avoid starting new works. A self-described foodie, Ms. Klausner, who has been married since 1968 to noted public figure Manuel Klauser, also wants to take time out to travel to and enjoy Europe.