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THE JACK OF DIAMONDS : Benevolent Hollywood Agent's Involvement in Sports Brings Him the Adulation of Stars and a Place of Honor at Encino Little League Field

May 25, 1989|JEFF MEYERS | Times Staff Writer

Why don't sharks eat Hollywood agents?

Professional courtesy.

That's an old joke in Hollywood, where agents are perceived as only slightly more sensitive and moral than producers.

Fortunately, not every agent fits the profile. There is one out there who actually gives agents a good name. Meet Jack Gilardi, probably the only agent in history who is high enough on the evolutionary ladder to have a Little League field named after him.

"He's not your average Hollywood agent," says O. J. Simpson, who has been represented by Gilardi for some 17 years on nothing but a handshake. "He's almost like a camp counselor."

Gilardi, a senior agent at International Creative Management with a client list that ranges from Joan Collins and Faye Dunaway to the Fat Boys and Don Rickles, would not last long in shark-infested waters. He goes to church. He raises thousands of dollars for charity. He loves kids. He returns phone calls.

"Jack is a class guy, a man well-loved in his profession," says Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda, who has been "friends for years" with Gilardi, meeting him because of the annual Hollywood Stars Night at Dodger Stadium. For 26 years, Gilardi, along with producer Joe Siegman--Gilardi gets the celebrities, Siegman writes the gags--has run the game, which benefits the Motion Picture Relief Fund.

There is a black-and-white photo of Lasorda and Gilardi in Gilardi's cozy office on the seventh floor of the ICM building in West L. A. The office, which overlooks the Hollywood Hills, is filled with antique furniture, but the dominant feature is a collection of National Football League helmets, including one worn by Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson. There is also enough sports memorabilia to start a museum. Boxing gloves. Baseball caps. Score cards. An engraved bat given to him by the Dodgers.

About 50 (he won't give his exact age), Gilardi still has thick brown hair swept straight back, a movie-star complexion and a wiry, athletic build. He is a man with a reputation for fair play and honesty in a cutthroat profession. He hangs out with sports legends and Hollywood icons. He was married "for 18 wonderful years" to Annette Funicello, one of the original Mouseketeers who is still his client, and they have three children.

No wonder Gilardi says, "I'm the luckiest guy in the world."

A second-generation Italian, Gilardi wanted to be a doctor, not an agent, when he was growing up in Chicago. So instead of accepting a baseball scholarship from Notre Dame or Illinois, he says, he went to a small Catholic school, Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, which didn't even have a baseball team. But his medical career ended when "I ran into organic chemistry--or it ran into me," he says. He graduated with a degree in business and was drafted into the Army for two years.

Stationed at Fort Knox, Ky., he got the break of a lifetime. A private, he was assigned to book entertainment--Duke Ellington, Ray Anthony--on the base, giving him a show-business education and innumerable valuable connections. Released from the service, he was offered jobs with three big entertainment agencies in the Midwest. But William Morris wanted him to start as a typist and the Music Corp. of America wanted him to wrap band posters in the publicity department. Only General Artists Corp. said that it would hire him as an agent.

"But I didn't even know what an agent did," Gilardi said.

He learned quickly. In 1958, GAC--the forerunner of ICM--transferred him to L. A. and put him in charge of the "cocktail department," meaning that he represented talent that performed in local nightclubs like the Melody Room on Sunset Strip. In two years, he was running the agency's entire West Coast nightclub department, a territory that included Las Vegas and Tahoe.

At the time, Gilardi was spending a lot of leisure time at P. J.s, a West Hollywood club that was owned by a Chicagoan. Gilardi hung out with teen idol Frankie Avalon and Harvey Lembeck, the comic actor who played Cpl. Barbella on television's "Sgt. Bilko Show." They began playing pickup softball games at Roxbury Park against a team that included comedians Buddy Hackett and Shecky Greene.

"All of a sudden I got calls from other people in the business who wanted to play games against us," Gilardi recalls. Before Gilardi knew it, he was commissioner of the Hollywood Entertainment League, which became the center of the industry's social whirl.

A lot of the major stars of the early '60s had teams. There were Jerry Lewis' Clowns and Dean Martin's Dinos, James Garner's Gems and Pat Boone's Boones. Producers Aaron Spelling and David Wolper played. So did Jack Nicholson, Bobby Darin, Burt Reynolds and the Nelson boys, David and Ricky. Gilardi played on the United Jewish Italians, which was sponsored by a Union 76 station.

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