Donald Ephraim, '55: Career Anatomy: From Novice Advisor to Dedicated Philanthropist

Donald Ephraim
Donald Ephraim, '55, with long time clients Ebert and Siskel

In 1964, a Bear changed the life of Donald Ephraim, ’55. After service in the army, Ephraim, who is also a CPA, had settled into a successful law practice, principally focused on taxes and estate planning. One of his clients was the Chicago Bears’ star wide receiver Johnny Morris. When a Chicago television station offered Morris a sportscasting job, he asked Ephraim to represent him in the negotiations. “I’ve never done anything like that before,” Ephraim told Morris, “but I’d love to try.”

Morris was pleased with the results, and the rest became broadcast history. Ephraim and the Chicago firm he founded, Ephraim & Associates, went on to represent a very long list of major Chicago celebrities, many of whom enjoyed prominent national careers with Ephraim’s guidance. They included Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel, Bill Kurtis, Jane Byrne, Jack Brickhouse, and Tom Skilling.

“I was young enough and dumb enough not to know the rules of those negotiations, which were mostly that the talent should be grateful to the network for the opportunity and not ask for too much in compensation, perks, and privileges,” Ephraim recalls. “It was very one-sided. I took positions that the broadcasters didn’t always like, but usually we reached an agreement that worked out very well for my clients.”

In his autobiography, Roger Ebert remembered some of Ephraim’s strengths: “Don was legendary for his attention to detail and once sent back a contract to Disney after finding that they had taken two-thirds of a cent and rounded it down instead of up. ‘It’s the principle of the thing,’ he said, with an indignation I sometimes thought was acting. ‘If they go to the trouble of rounding it down, we can go to the trouble of rounding it up again.’”

Retired now from Ephraim & Associates, which is led these days by his two lawyer sons, David and Eliot (his third son, Eric, is a CPA and senior bank executive), Ephraim devotes his time to enjoying life, abundant philanthropy, and community service. His recent philanthropy toward the Law School includes creating the Donald M. Ephraim Prize in Law and Economics, to be awarded annually by the Coase-Sandor Institute for the best treatise in the field from a worldwide competition; and leadership in creating a scholarship fund as a fifty-fifth reunion gift from his class. Among many other things, he also funds a scholarship offered by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) and is the chairman of, and provided the principal endowment for, the Donald M. Ephraim Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival, a cultural highlight that is now in its twenty-sixth year.

He served in local and national leadership positions at NATAS, and was recognized with its top honor, the Governor’s Award. He’s a director or trustee of organizations that include the Mandel Jewish Community Center of Palm Beach and the Palm Beach County Cultural Council, which distributes more than three million dollars annually to individual artists and arts and culture organizations.

“I attended the Law School when many of the most storied professors were there: Llewellyn, Mentschikoff, Meltzer, Katz, Blum, and others,” he says. “They were just as great as legend says they were, and—just as things still are today with the current faculty—they didn’t just teach, they were mentors, and often great raconteurs outside of class. My classmates were very special, too. I stay in touch with many of them. Law school was a great experience that has enhanced my life for more than sixty years.”

Now fully recovered from back ailments that had confined him to a wheelchair not that many years ago, he reports that life is very good: “I wake up every day thankful for my good health. I’m very proud of my children and deeply love my six grandchildren, and I have a wonderful significant other in Maxine Marks. I wish everyone the same good fortune that I have enjoyed.”