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CAA Agent Out After Allegedly Seeking Finder Fee on Client Home

Michael Gruber loses his job after trying to get $250,000 from the sellers of a villa that actor George Clooney was buying, sources say.

October 23, 2002|Claudia Eller and Anita M. Busch | Times Staff Writers

As a top Hollywood agent, Michael Gruber has cut deals for some of the industry's biggest names. But on Tuesday he lost his job for allegedly using his longtime relationship with client George Clooney to cut a deal for himself.

Gruber was forced to resign from the powerhouse Creative Artists Agency after Clooney learned that his agent had tried to obtain a "finder's fee" of as much as $250,000 from the sellers of an Italian lakeside villa the actor was buying, according to sources close to both men.

Clooney, a source said, heard about the proposed payment during a discussion of why negotiations for the Lake Como property, which sold for an estimated $10 million, had taken so long to conclude.

One of the parties blamed the delay on Gruber and his finder's fee request, which ultimately was dropped.

Clooney, according to the sources, believed that discussion of any such fee was inappropriate and fired Gruber about two weeks ago.

CAA agreed that the behavior was unacceptable and gave Gruber "the opportunity" to resign, according to one of the sources.

Reached on Tuesday, Gruber declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding his sudden departure from CAA, except to say: "This is just a situation I'm leaving so I can move on to something else."

Clooney, through his spokesman, declined to comment.

CAA issued a brief statement saying that Gruber had resigned from the agency, and wished him "all the best in his future plans."

Gruber had worked at CAA since 1999 and represented Clooney for eight years. His other clients included such celebrities as Cindy Crawford, Ice Cube and "Red Dragon" director Brett Ratner.

CAA representatives said they had confirmation from all of Gruber's former clients that they planned to remain at the agency.

Gruber, a well-known Hollywood player, was previously the head of the talent department at the William Morris Agency until his departure in 1999. Gruber started his career as a trainee in Morris' New York office in 1985.

Gruber's representation of Clooney began during the actor's first season on NBC's "ER." The actor moved to CAA in 1999, with an understanding that Gruber soon would follow when his contract expired at the Morris agency a few months later.

As for his future, Gruber said: "I don't want to be a competitor to CAA. I want to work with CAA."

One possibility is that Gruber might become a talent manager. Such managers often work hand in hand with talent agents. Another possibility is to team up in a production company with Ice Cube, sources said. Gruber received a producer credit on the rapper's 2000 hit movie "Next Friday."

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