Charismatic volunteer operates at the intersection of style and substance
Anyone who’s encountered Howie Weinberg in a social environment doesn’t have to ask why he’s called Hollywood Howie. Maybe it’s the flowered print, wide-collared shirt he’s wearing. Maybe it’s the Dolce and Gabana glasses with colored lenses that match the hues of the shirt. Maybe it’s his charisma, that spark of energy and mischievousness that make people gravitate toward him. Or maybe it’s the story he’s telling—and he’s got plenty—of the celebrity friends he made during his three decades working in the television studios of New York.
Since moving to Myrtle Beach in 2005, Weinberg has made a name for himself as both a unique character with an intriguing background and a philanthropist who casts a wide net in his giving of time and energy to the Grand Strand community. Oddly, the same characteristics that put him on a first name basis with Adam Sandler and Al Pacino have made him a top fundraiser and organizer for Grand Strand charity groups. His magnetism and generosity come from the same place whether he’s in New York or South Carolina, yet in the Grand Strand community they create meaning of a different kind.
Stepping into Weinberg’s home is taking a stroll down an old-timey Hollywood Boulevard. Photos and paraphernalia line the walls and shelves, the majority of the frames featuring signed snapshots of a smiling Weinberg alongside world-famous actors, musicians, athletes and comedians: OJ Simpson, Jimmy Fallon, Guy Fieri, Chevy Chase, Shaquille O’Neill, Rudy Guliani, Alex Trebek and Will Ferrell hang side by side in a dizzying display of fame and familiarity.
Weinberg’s career in backstage television began in the early 1970s when he joined a union and began working for NBC. As a prop man and lighting technician, he worked for shows on all the major networks ranging from soap operas such as Ryan’s Hope and As the World Turns to late-night classics Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with David Letterman.
“I worked on Saturday Night Live over 700 times,” Weinberg said. “That’s 700 hosts and 700 musical guests. I met every single one of them. When the hosts and the guests are backstage, they know everyone who’s there is working together—it’s like a family. There’s a trust there.” Of the celebrities, he’s learned, “They’re just regular people.”
As Weinberg became a seasoned member of the crew, he frequently offered encouragement to new actors and comedians before they hit the stage. One such newbie was named Adam Sandler; Weinberg pulled him aside before his first appearance on Saturday Night Live and whispered, “You’re going to be a big star some day.”
“Several years later, he was back as a host,” Weinberg recalled, “and I working, and he calls out, ‘Howie!’ He pulled me aside and whispered, ‘You were right.’”
After a tragic chapter in his life in which he lost his wife after a six-year battle with cancer, Weinberg moved to Myrtle Beach to retire in 2005. Immediately he began looking for an outlet for his time and energy in a charitable organization, and, almost as quickly, he met the woman who would become Donna Weinberg. The couple married in 2008.
“Everybody’s got a path,” Weinberg believes. “Sometimes you can’t see it when you’re in the middle of it, but it took that dark time in my life for me to come down here and find my next chapter, my next passion.”
Weinberg jumped full force into the volunteer community, earning The Sun News’ Volunteer of the Year award in 2006 and breaking records with his fundraising efforts as chairman with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in 2007. “It’s all about who you know,” Weinberg says of his ability to bring people together for a cause. “It’s about being in the right place at the right time and making people feel comfortable. Why should anybody say ‘no’ for a good cause?”
However, it was the Grand Strand Miracle League that captured Weinberg’s heart. His tenure with the organization spans more than a decade, and he and Donna each coach a team that plays Saturday mornings two seasons a year. “These kids—they don’t have a problem,” Weinberg says. “It makes you humble. You get a sense of pride just being around them—they’re my passion.”
Much like an ever-widening social circle, Weinberg’s altruistic reach is continually expanding. He works year-round with Miracle League-affiliated organizations such as 2 Live Beyond celebrity golf tournament, the Grand Strand Optimist Club and Jason’s House, a non-profit organization that brings terminally ill children to the area for a vacation with their families.
“He’s just such a positive person, always upbeat,” said Tom Wesley, president of the Grand Strand Optimist Club.
Though his appearance and demeanor may draw attention in a crowd, it’s Hollywood Howie’s altruism that makes him a celebrity in the Grand Strand community.