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'Broadway Sam' Cohn Still Holds Court in New York

July 29, 1990|MICHAEL CIEPLY

Above the door hangs a black top hat with glittery letters that read "Broadway Sam."

On the walls are the obligatory posters touting clients--Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Woody Allen, Diane Wiest, Mike Nichols, Robert Benton, Fred Schepisi, Susan Seidelman.

And, in the middle of it all, sits Sam Cohn: co-founder of ICM and, by some accounts, the greatest talent agent in the world. "He is what we should all aspire to be," insisted one ex-protege, who worked closely with Cohn before leaving ICM to join a competitor.

Other colleagues argue that Cohn, while dominating New York's talent business for the past 16 years, also hurt ICM by isolating his domain from the company's large West Coast film operation.

"Things change," Cohn responded to that criticism. During an hourlong interview at ICM's West 57th Street office, the 60-year-old agent said he's not only talking more often with his California counterparts but also eventually expects to join them weekly in coast-to-coast video hook-ups.

Regarding other matters, Cohn had some pointed thoughts to share.

On Michael Ovitz and CAA: "Michael and I have butted heads, oh, sure. . . . (But CAA's presence) in New York is minuscule." (According to others, CAA grabbed Cher, Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg from Cohn's client list but didn't seriously diminish his empire.)

On studio chiefs: "I can tell you exactly what the qualities that make a great movie executive are. And 95% of the guys running things don't have them."

On California: "I haven't been to Los Angeles for a meeting (with Hollywood executives) in 10 years. I don't think I've ever been out to meet with (Universal's) Tom Pollock or the newer crop. They all come here. . . . More talent wants to live in New York now. If they can pull it off, they want to be closer to the serious side of things."

On the dismantling of Josephson International: "The idea is to spread the equity around (among agents). . . . We didn't, as a talent agency, want to end up paying for purchases we didn't want."

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