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Agent's Reputation Is Built on Fair Play : 'Luckiest Guy in the World' Has Little League Field Named After Him

June 15, 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. Jack Gilardi of Beverly Hills is probably the only agent who has had a Little League field named after him.

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

Gilardi is 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. 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," said Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda, who has been friends for years with Gilardi. For 26 years, Gilardi and producer Joe Siegman--Gilardi gets the celebrities, Siegman writes the gags--has run the annual Hollywood Stars Night at Dodger Stadium, which benefits the Motion Picture Relief Fund.

There's a black-and-white photo of Lasorda and Gilardi in Gilardi's cozy office on the seventh floor of the ICM building in West Los Angeles. Overlooking the Hollywood Hills, the office is filled with antique furniture, but the dominant feature is a collection of National Football League helmets. 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.

Gilardi, who's about 50 (he won't give his exact age), has thick brown hair swept straight back 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-American, Gilardi wanted to be a doctor when he was growing up in Chicago. So instead of taking a baseball scholarship to Notre Dame or Illinois, he attended Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, a small Catholic school that didn't even have a baseball team. But his medical career ended when he "ran into organic chemistry--or it ran into me." He graduated with a degree in business and was drafted into the Army for two years.

Stationed at Ft. Knox, Ky., he got the break of a lifetime. As a private, he was assigned to book entertainment--Duke Ellington, Ray Anthony--on the base, giving him a show business education and innumerable connections. Discharged 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 it would hire him as an agent.

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

He learned fast. In 1958, GAC--the forerunner of ICM--transferred him to Los Angeles and put him in charge of the "cocktail department," meaning that he represented talent that performed in local nightclubs such as 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 hours at P.J.s, a West Hollywood club. Gilardi hung out with teen idol Frankie Avalon and Harvey Lembeck, the comic actor who played Cpl. Rocco Barbella alongside Phil Silvers' Sgt. Ernie Bilko on television's "The Phil Silvers 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 a major part 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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