Wiatt left the co-chief executive position at International Creative Management in 1999 to become co-chief executive at William Morris under conditions oddly similar to today. Hollywood then was undergoing one of its periodic cycles of economic contraction, with studios cutting back on the number of films they made, leaving fewer jobs for actors, directors, writers and producers. William Morris, once the most powerful agency in the world, had slipped behind rivals CAA and ICM. Charged with bolstering William Morris' sluggish movie business and luring more marquee names to its talent roster, Wiatt became an unrelenting change agent, easing out several senior partners and hiring a cohort of younger executives. With a reputation as affable and gregarious, he stunned many with a tough approach to reviving the agency, overhauling the New York staff and trimming the London unit without compunction.
Several agents headed for the exits and William Morris lost some key clients, mostly to CAA. But under Wiatt's tenure, the agency's publishing unit has thrived, its music business has grown sharply and its reality television group -- helping to create such shows as "Dancing With the Stars," "Hell's Kitchen" and "Project Runway" -- is one of the biggest in Hollywood.
William Morris ventured into nontraditional businesses, joining with Silicon Valley venture capital firms Accel Partners and Venrock and telecommunications company AT&T Inc. in establishing the Mail Room Fund, to invest in digital media start-up companies in Southern California. The agency also created a $100-million film-financing company with Screen Capital International to fund independent films.
Although Wiatt has never been known as a big talent schmoozer in Hollywood, he has established close relationships with many of the industry's top executives, who credit him for peacekeeping during the frequent clashes and flare-ups of egos at play.
Film producer Harvey Weinstein said Wiatt played a pivotal part in helping sever his relationship with Walt Disney Co., which in 1993 had acquired Miramax Films, the independent film studio he started with brother Bob. The 12-year relationship had deteriorated into an acrimonious war of art versus commerce. Wiatt played the role of behind-the-scenes diplomat, helping defuse tensions between the Weinsteins and Michael D. Eisner, who at the time was Disney's chief executive.
"Until Jim got there, it was a war zone," Weinstein said. "By the time Jim left, we were all going out to dinner."
Google Inc. Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt said Wiatt helped reach out to wary entertainment industry executives, who a few years ago viewed the Silicon Valley technology giant with trepidation. He said Wiatt offered personal introductions to the media elite, invited Schmidt to dinners with other entertainment figures at his Pacific Palisades home and encouraged business discussions.
"These are two very different business structures, the Hollywood structure and the technology structure," Schmidt said. "He is the foremost person trying to bridge the two."
Wiatt last week appeared to be transitioning into a post-William Morris life several days ahead of the formalization of the merger. On Wednesday night, he was seated courtside at a Lakers playoff game with Whitesell and actor Tim Allen, a longtime client.
But a few miles away, Ari Emanuel, the new power at William Morris Endeavor, was hobnobbing with a star-studded crowd at the Beverly Hilton at a Democratic Party fundraiser. Among the Hollywood glitterati crowding into the ballroom were Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, Seth Rogen and Kiefer Sutherland. The honored guest: President Obama.
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William Morris Endeavor Entertainment
Combined revenue: $350 million to $400 million*
Number of employees: 800 to 900**
Actors: Russell Crowe, Denzel Washington, Adam Sandler, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Robert Pattinson, Amy Adams, Keira Knightley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Tyler Perry
Directors: Martin Scorsese, Michael Bay, Ridley Scott, Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, J.J. Abrams
Music: Eagles, Kanye West, Pearl Jam, Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Brooks & Dunn, Rascal Flatts, The Killers, Amy Winehouse, Pussycat Dolls, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Eminem, 50 Cent
Corporate: American Express, Revlon, Hasbro, MySpace, General Motors, Coke Zero
Source: Times research