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The Original Man in Black

Lew Wasserman's sleek look set the sartorial standard for Hollywood agents

June 07, 2002|VALLI HERMAN-COHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Carroll saw Wasserman nearly every Saturday after the mogul had his customary breakfast with his grandson Casey Wasserman, who is president of his grandfather's foundation and owner of the L.A. Avengers. "He was a very conservative dresser. I never saw him unshaven. There was never a button undone. Seven days a week, he was always very elegant."

Wasserman also understood the ease and power of a signature look. Virtually every fashion icon-- Jacqueline Onassis, Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, designer Halston--dressed from a limited vocabulary of items. Wasserman's black-and-white wardrobe was partly serendipitous; it was the result of his wife, Edie's, attempt to end his mismatched suits, according to author Dennis McDougal, who wrote in his 1998 Wasserman biography, "The Last Mogul," that the executive was colorblind. And like the late fashion journalist Carrie Donovan, the Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray, or uber agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar, the most recognizable element of Wasserman's look was his big, black glasses.

"People would come to us and ask for the Wasserman look," said Victor Duval, owner of Optics by Victor, a Beverly Hills shop near Carroll & Co. Though Wasserman wasn't a customer, the veteran optician identified the famous, solid-black rims as the Goliath style by German manufacturer Cazal. "They were a very powerful look," he said.

The Goliaths, which were similar in their thick blackness to wife Edie's rims, are also symbolic of Wasserman's beginnings and his lifelong commitment to eye research and vision science. In 1936, the Cleveland-born Wasserman joined the Chicago-based MCA. Its founder--and Wasserman's mentor--Jules Stein was a board-certified ophthalmologist who gave up the practice to pursue music and build MCA. At one of Wasserman's last public outings, the retired mogul was honored for his substantial gift to build the $40-million Edie and Lew Wasserman Eye Research Center building that will join the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA.

Though he was noticeably frail at the gala to honor him last October, he remained a commanding figure. Even as his huge glasses dwarfed his face, they magnified his all-seeing eyes. Wasserman was famous for never missing a detail and knowing its long-term significance. He was, after all, a visionary.

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