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Ross Johnson

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Dateline: Los Angeles, August 15, 2005

A Nation of Flacks Couldn't Hold Mike Back: Ten Years After

“Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.”... from Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller

Ten years ago today, on August 15, 1995, Michael Ovitz walked into Creative Artists Agency and said he was quitting the agency he co-founded to take a really cool job at the Walt Disney Co. working for Michael Eisner.

The reporters who had been at Ovitz's beck and call for five years, who had cruised through countless Hollywood thumbsucker pieces after brandishing their access to Ovitz high in the copy, were in a quandary.

How were they going to explain to their editors that the man they had proclaimed to be the most powerful in Hollywood had lost the confidence of those beneath him at his own company, and was being forced to jump into a gig working as the number two to someone supposedly beneath him on the showbiz food chain?

The press by and large did what they always do in such situations. They came up with fresh lies to cover their old lies.

Ovitz would later claim that this new cool job, which quickly went to hell, and his subsequent fall as a Murdoch-without-money was all a big misunderstanding between him and the Gay Mafia.

After Michael Caruso had been made editor of Los Angeles magazine, I called him in July of 1996 and screamed something like this: “We are witnessing a transformative moment in the history of Los Angeles! We must document the death of agent chic!!!!!”

“Who is this?” Caruso replied.

“Doesn’t matter,” I shot back. “I’ve got an edgy story about Mike Ovitz, supplicating journos, ruthless Hollywood flacks, and mean agents. In addition, I’m willing to do a shitload of work for very little money just to piss a lot of people off. I also think you’re the next Jann Wenner, and would consider it a high honor to see my byline in anything that has your name on the masthead."

“I know brilliance when I hear it. You get a buck a word, with a buck bump every time you use 'uber'," Caruso said as the line went dead.

Just after I turned my story in, Caruso came up with the brilliant, edgy idea of doing a package on L.A.’s most overpaid executives and listing Eisner as one of them. Eisner was the CEO of the company, Disney, that owned Los Angeles magazine.

After Caruso was fired at the beginning of 1997, a wise L.A. magazine accountant paid me off. He didn’t tell me not to re-sell my Hollywood agent story, but I was then very paranoid on general principles about Ovitz and the black art of Hollywood agenting.

If Ovitz was willing to send foot-soldiers up and down Wilshire Boulevard to blow away Joe Eszterhas, he would surely send one of Steven Seagal’s bodyguards to break my fingers so that I could never type press releases in this town again.

Now, it’s ten years after. Did I needlessly sit on a great work of art? Was my “(Premature )Death of the Cool Hollywood Agent Story” investigation ahead of its time, or a delusional gesture akin to the demand of a certain guitarist/songwriter for Guns 'N Roses?

The Gunner who had a reported relationship with heroin and other party favors demanded to see all his money in 1991, and he didn't want a bean counter's statement. $6 million in cash was delivered to the Hollywood fleabag hotel that the Gunner was living in at the time. He kept the money under his bed for a couple of weeks and invited his friends over to the hotel to see it. When his friends told him he was insane, he told them they didn’t understand why some things in life are necessary.

Eventually, sanity prevailed.

Guns 'N Roses and Ovitz. When they were good, they were very good. When they were bad, there was always a sweat-stained keyboard monkey willing to explain away the obvious.

On the sanity front today, Ovitz and I have both come to realize that men who try to do great things are truly deserving of the attention that Wily Loman never received.

We just can’t count on the Gay Mafia to give it to us.

Here is the last great uber-agent story, with appearances by an all-star cast (Lovett, Berg, Wiatt, Polone, Rifkin, and a couple of dead guys).*

*Note: The story linked above requires a PDF reader. If you don’t have a PDF reader, you don’t know powerful Hollywood people, and you’re not allowed to visit this website or walk on my red carpet again.