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Company Town : The History Of The Super-agent

August 18, 1995|KAREN KAPLAN

Michael Ovitz wasn't the first and he certainly won't be the last. Before him were agents who made it to the top of their game with innovative deals or sheer force of personality.

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1900-20s

* William Morris: The original super-agent was the first to recognize that the future was in representing talent, not the vaudeville houses in which they appeared. *

1920s and '30s

* Myron Selznick: The brother of film producer David O. Selznick was the first prominent motion picture agent in the 1920s and represented stars including Myrna Loy. In 1938, he formed a film production company in which stars, writers and directors all shared in the profits, contributing to the rise of independent production companies.

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1930s through '60s

* Abe Lastfogel: As president and chairman of William Morris Agency, he was a great believer in the back-end deal, in which stars receive a percentage of a film's gross. He also sought out rock musicians and sports figures to represent.

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1940s through early '60s

* Lew Wasserman: Considered the patriarch of the industry, he was a super-agent in the radio and Big Band era and an early believer in the importance of television. He got into the TV production business when most programs were still broadcast live from New York, making the MCA agency the biggest seller and buyer of talent. He also represented studio executives, making deals on their behalf without taking a commission. Antitrust concerns led MCA to divest its talent agency business in 1962.

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1940s and '50s

* Irving (Swifty) Lazar: He earned his nickname after making five movie deals for Humphrey Bogart in a single day. Lazar was known for brokering record-breaking deals for his clients in the 1940s and hosting glitzy Oscar night parties.

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1960s

* Freddie Fields and David Begelman: After building Creative Management Associates out of MCA's abandoned agency, the pair pushed "package deals," in which one firm represents a film's stars, director and writers.

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1970's

* Sue Mengers: She became a force in Hollywood by representing so many top directors and stars--including Burt Reynolds, Barbra Streisand, Gene Hackman and Diana Ross--that she couldn't be ignored. A great entertainer and the first woman to rise to the top of the business, Mengers hosted lavish parties to cement relationships with studio executives.

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1950's through mid-80s

* Stan Kamen: The longtime executive vice president of William Morris Agency is credited with making a leading man out of TV star Steve McQueen. Kamen began his career at William Morris as a lawyer and became the agency's preeminent motion picture agent. He had a rare friendly style among Hollywood executives: Although he was powerful, he was not feared.

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Mid-1980s to present

* Michael Ovitz: He built Creative Artists Agency by perfecting the art of packaging talent for movies and TV projects. Ovitz moved into the limelight by negotiating mega-deals between Japanese conglomerates (Sony and Matsushita) and Hollywood studios (Columbia/TriStar and MCA). He also took CAA into the uncharted waters of advertising and telecommunications.

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