Four days after the firing, under the code name "MikeRust," Eisner vented his anger in an e-mail to the head of public relations, John Dreyer, in which he described Ovitz as a "psychopath" who "cannot tell the truth."
"I was as mad as I've ever been," Eisner testified. "I was furious. I had spent a year trying to educate him. I thought I showed enormous patience.... I'm not saying he did anything illegal. I'm saying he did something despicable. He abused me as he had been abusing the position. It just drove me nuts."
Eisner said he was powerless to deprive Ovitz of the cash and stock severance package at the heart of the lawsuit.
The company's chief lawyer, Sanford Litvack, had concluded Disney could not legally deny Ovitz his severance. Eisner said he asked Litvack to consult with outside lawyers, who agreed.
In the end, Eisner said, firing Ovitz, whose arrival at the company was trumpeted as a major coup, was tough but necessary to protect the company.
"People think because you make fuzzy, cute little cartoons that you are fuzzy and cute, and they try to take advantage of you," the chief executive said.
As the relationship between the two men neared the breaking point in 1996, Eisner said, he sent a memo to two company directors with a clear message: If he died, don't let Ovitz talk his way into the job.
Eisner, who had earlier undergone quadruple bypass surgery, said he feared that Disney directors might be vulnerable to the former talent agent's charms in his absence. This was, he noted, the same master salesman who talked liquor scion Edgar Bronfman Jr. into buying Universal Studios and who coaxed top stars Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise into starring in "Rain Man."
"You know, he is extremely facile," Eisner said. "Everybody is brilliant. Everybody is wonderful. Everybody is fantastic. He uses these kind of superlatives. He weaves a very attractive picture."
Eisner is scheduled to continue his testimony today.