Born and raised in Los Angeles, Californian Irena Medavoy grew up between two very distinct worlds. The daughter of two highly educated Russian immigrants and WWII survivors, her life consisted of “sitting between two chairs” – the world and language of Russia with her traditional Russian Orthodox upbringing and international cultural influence (her parents also spent time living in Morocco, where her father designed and planned buildings for the King) and the world of Hollywood and the entertainment industry, where she attended Hollywood High while her mother worked for 25 years as Head Surgical Nurse at the Jules Stein Institute at UCLA while her father was employed as an architect at Disney.
It’s fair to say that this dual cultural perspective gave Irena an insight into truly feeling grateful for what she has, as well as developing a lifelong purpose of asking what can she bring to others. Her parents were always opening their home to other immigrants, and as a first generation American, Irena seems deeply aware of both the fragility of life as well as the true gift of opportunity.
While at Hollywood High Irena got her first job as assistant to Editor-in-Chief of the Hollywood Reporter, Tichi Wilkerson Miles. Graduating Hollywood High with honors, she then received a full scholarship to the Cinema School at USC. It was during her time at USC, that she then received spokeswoman contracts for Diet Pepsi, Sanyo, and Dodge, and was in Sports Illustrated’s famed swimsuit issue.
After two years at USC, Irena left to work for Sunn Classic Pictures as Vice President of Publicity and Public Relations. Also in 1991, she launched the first all female direct response television company, Phoenix Enterprises, where she invented, manufactured, and produced original products for QVC. Her Rapp-it sold out on Election night in only 15 minutes, out grossing every item in that 24-hour period. Her company followed up that success with the Style File, My Favorite Cook Book, and Moujan. She also then made a deal in 1995 with American Telecast where she developed a hair care line and produced spots for Christophe, a Hollywood hair designer to the stars, and launched and produced a skin care line with skin care specialist, Ole Henrikson. In 1998, Irena worked with Kingworld Direct, packaging and producing an infomercial with Michael Douglas on golf technique called The Cricket.
It is a desire for social change however that motivates Irena in her charity work which is the arena where her energy is currently taking her. Following in her Russian mother’s footsteps of generosity and intense social/political awareness, Irena concentrated on saving a program to provide a mobile medical unit in Los Angeles County that provides free primary health care services for low-income children and their families.
The program, called C.O.A.C.H. (Community Outreach Assistance for Children’s Health for Kids), is essentially a clinic on wheels staffed by a dedicated team of health professionals from Cedar –Sinai Medical Center. Irena became Executive Vice Chair of C.O.A.C.H. and helped put together a group of executive board members.
She is also on the Founders Circle of Team Safe-T, an emergency preparedness program for the public school system in California, started with her friend Hillary Mendelson. Team Safe-T is a California Partnership for Safety and Preparedness is an alliance of public and private organizations dedicated to integrating safety and preparedness in schools throughout California. She is committed to helping this and future generations of California’s children grow into adults who naturally integrate preparedness into their homes, workplaces, and communities. The website is www.teamsafe-t.org , and has materials that will be accessible and downloadable for 9,000 public schools in the first year of the program. “In this post 9/ll and hurricane Katrina world, we must make emergency preparedness available in every home in America” Irena has said.
Irena has funded the Margaret Gerasimenko Fund for Cancer Research at the Jonsson Cancer Research Center at UCLA as well, in honor of her mother and brother who both died of the disease. She also supports The International Crisis Group (www.crisisgroup.org) an organization that works to provide an accurate source of information relating to hot spots in international politics, social issues and news. Her friend Christopher Patten, formerly Governor of Hong Kong; Chancellor of Oxford, chairs the organization.
Irena is also developing a new series with her partner Stuart Krasnow at Freemantle Media and hopes to get passed a new law in the State of California which will deal with full disclosure of doctor/drug company liaisons that take away patient rights, and fight for better FDA protection in America.
Irena is married to Mike Medavoy, a film producer, and has a son Nicolas.