In a town where corporate brutality is suavely masked behind a smile, onetime mogul Michael Ovitz has shattered protocol and stunned hard-to-shock Hollywood by lashing out at what he calls the industry's "gay mafia" in a forthcoming Vanity Fair article.
Ovitz told the magazine he was convinced he was the victim of a well-orchestrated strategy led, in part, by DreamWorks SKG founder David Geffen and Ovitz's founding partner at Creative Artists Agency, Ron Meyer, who now runs Universal Studios.
"I know how hard it is for people to see me as a victim," Ovitz is quoted as saying, "but in this case it's pretty close to the truth."
Among others Ovitz blames for his downfall are Barry Diller, chairman of Vivendi Universal Entertainment, as well as L.A.-based New York Times correspondent Bernard Weinraub and Ovitz's former boss, Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner. He also took swipes at other former colleagues at CAA, who now run the agency.
Most of the people Ovitz blames for his demise happen not to be gay.
"If the only people who resented him were gay, it would be a small percentage," said Sue Mengers, a retired talent agent whose clients included Barbra Streisand, Burt Reynolds and Gene Hackman. "Mike didn't make friends, but so what. What destroyed him was his ego."
Mengers said Ovitz's downfall can be traced back to his miscalculation that he could return to representing talent when the Disney gig didn't work out. "Once you show the talent that you really didn't love them that much, and that there was another gig, you can't come back," she said.
As the Vanity Fair piece made the rounds of Hollywood fax machines and e-mail Monday morning, Ovitz could not be reached for comment. Many of the people he cited in the article returned calls to The Times but declined comment.
One person who did comment is Bernie Brillstein, co-founder of Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, one of the most influential management companies in the business. Brillstein said Ovitz was responsible for his own downfall and reveals his long-rumored self-destructive streak in the Vanity Fair piece.
"I think he was out to get himself. He's done it. It's over.... He's on a parade field. They've taken off his epaulets, and now they have to stab him. He shouldn't work in this town again."
Brillstein's remark brings to mind the late producer Julia Phillips, who flamed out after spectacular early success on "The Sting" (1973) then wrote a tell-all book, "You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again" (1990). For all intents and purposes, she didn't.
Several people Ovitz identified who were contacted by The Times said the magazine never gave them the opportunity to react in print. Others, like Geffen, said they were shocked to read Ovitz's perception of his own rise and fall.
"You're not seriously asking me to comment on this insanity," said Geffen.
Almost as unusual as the substance of Ovitz's remarks was the fact they were made at all. For all its behind-the-scenes machinations, Hollywood prefers to do business beneath a smiling veneer, even if it's phony, and discretion is almost as important as looks.
Ovitz was always known as one of the most ruthless and brilliant agents in Hollywood, but this spring and summer, he has tried to recoup some of the financial and image losses he incurred over the past six years, a spiral that began after he departed CAA in the early 1990s for the No. 2 job at Disney. That job lasted 18 months and sent him into retirement with a handsome severance. He reemerged in 1999 with a management firm called Artists Management Group that he sold this year after its television business failed and investors backed out.
Ovitz, 55, appeared on "The Charlie Rose Show" earlier this year, protesting that few people know him as he "really" is, a caring man who was railroaded. This interview in the August issue of Vanity Fair is the first time he's made the "gay mafia" claim.
Ovitz accused New York Times reporter Weinraub of "parroting" the spin that Geffen created, and he says he lost all but one asset in AMG because potential clients heard rumors about him.
Mengers bluntly disputes that.
"What moron puts his own money into something before the deals were closed?" Mengers said. "He assumed the deals were closed before they were legally closed. That was his hubris. There was a time when the perception was that he was the smartest guy in town. But his mistakes show that he wasn't the smartest guy in town."