Monday, October 10, 2016



It’s an oral history of CAA and author Miller (as opposed to Arthur Miller) managed to speak to practically everyone involved, including Michael Ovitz and Ron Meyer (the two real spearheads of the agency).  Very impressive of Mr. Miller to track all these players down.   Especially in a town where no one takes anyone's calls. 

I found the book fascinating, but I also had the advantage of living through that period and knowing a lot of the profiled young turks personally. Not sure if the average “non-pro” (the Hollywood Reporter’s description of someone not in the entertainment industry. Osama Bin Laden was a “non-pro.”) would enjoy it as much. And it is 752 pages. (I bet no CAA agent has actually read the book. They’ve scanned the coverage.)

But maybe you would like it. It’s a Shakespearean tale of blind ambition, greed, betrayal, politics, business savvy, inflated ego, and gift baskets. It’s also a look back at an industry that has changed radically since those days when one high-powered agent could control all of Hollywood. Now it’s Marvel Comics.

My partner and I were with CAA for one year. It was not a pleasant experience although we do like many of the agents who work there. What became very clear to us, and the book confirmed countless times, was that the agency always placed their needs over yours. Your career was to best serve them. So if you wanted to get more into the feature world, but they saw you as a TV showrunner who would allow them to put together a rich package deal, that is where they steered you whether it was your preference or not.

And look, the truth about ALL agencies is that if you’re hot they love you and send you gifts and treat you like LeBron James. If you’re not hot, good luck getting one of them to call you back before Haley’s Comet next returns.

My favorite CAA story is this:

Remember when you were a kid in school you would hold a book open but have a comic book inside? The teacher thought you were reading OF MICE AND MEN when you were really reading Wonder Woman? I was on vacation in 1982 at the Kahala Hilton in Hawaii. Michael Eisner, then of Disney, was there with his family. Several CAA agents were staying at the Kahala as well.

One afternoon I went to the pool and three CAA agents were reading scripts; all with the standard red covers and CAA lettered in white. But inside their scripts they were reading books. God forbid a CAA agent would be caught reading actual literature! Better the world should think he’s using his precious time to read SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT 3.

So you can read 752 pages, but that one story pretty much tells you all you need to know about CAA.


Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Ken, have you seen WESTWORLD yet? Saw the first two episodes, and so far I'm impressed by how much they were able to differentiate themselves from the 1973 movie. Looking forward to reading your take on the show, if you have one.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

A friend of mine, about 10 years older than you are, says in *his* school days he had a textbook on the outside for the teachers, a comic book inside for the other kids, and hidden inside *that* was the sf novel he was actually reading.


Stephen Marks said...

I'll read it, thanks for the review. I'm guessing this book isn't kind to Mike, it's his "Ovitzuary", he's dead to us now. 800 pages holy shit, so let me understand this Ken, you post on this blog every day, write and produce a play (Going, Going Gone now playing at the Hudson Guild Theater thru to Nov. 6, great reviews) and read a book longer than War & Peace. I gotta get my shit together man.

Happy Thanksgiving to all you Canadians who come here and, get this folks, the Toronto Blue Jays are only 216 outs away from winning the World Series. Jim Rome is burning.

Anonymous said...

752 pages?
What is this War and Peace? The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich? (well, in a manner of speaking, maybe)
Wheres the editor, man?
(BTW- noticed a lot of acclaimed books these days are at least 150 pages longer than they should be, with duplicated passages and long tangential digressions. What are book editors getting paid for?)

Loosehead said...

Were the agents at the Kahala Hilton there on business, or vacation? I wonder if they each thought one of the others was checking up on them, so they were "working" by the pool by reading scripts. I've known people in my business (absolutely NOT entertainment) who have felt sufficient pressure to pretend, or sometimes not pretend, to work on holiday. Very sad, but its a greasy pole that won't climb itself.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was common knowledge that OBL was represented by CAA's parent COMPANY, starting with his role in Operation Cyclone in 1979 and continuing through the Bush 43 administration. His AGENCY even got him big interviews with CNN, ABC, and Time Magazine in the late 1990s.

BA said...

I remember the hidden book gag from a Mad Magazine article (early 60s?) where the offending student was razzed for reading a real book inside his Playboy. Then, a SIMPSONS joke that had Martin Prince doing the same. I can't imagine how it will endure into this century, what with our e-book phones and funny ways.

Paul Duca said...

Nothing new about that...I read an article about MCA in FORTUNE from the 1950's--they noted how agents would prefer to set up a TV deal via their Revue Productions for their client, even if other offers would be better for that person.

Peter said...

This would actually be my kinda thing to read. I'm fascinated by insider stories about Hollywood.

One of the most enjoyable is High Concept, a biography of Don Simpson. Ken, I highly recommend it if you haven't read it. It's a fascinating insight into not just the non-stop 24 hours a day party that was his life, but also how Hollywood operated in the 80s. Among the more bizarre anecdotes is that Paramount tried to get Scorsese to direct Beverly Hills Cop.

A recurring theme in Hollywood books is the number of careers and lives destroyed by cocaine addiction. I'm assuming this CAA book covers the tragic story of Jay Moloney. I read a magazine feature a number of years back which detailed how a young hotshot agent succumbed to cocaine addiction and ended up committing suicide.

This is the feature for anyone who's interested.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Thanks to Ken for the heads up on this mammoth tome. I'd to throw in some surface observation that I hope will complement your review.

The cover (shown at boasts photos various film-industry "A-listers", plus LeBron, Prince, and Letterman.

Within the five "reviews" on Amazon, that were greater than 50 words, are assertions that the book is "sugar coated", 'hagiographic', "back-patting" - yet as you pointed out, they also claimed that CAA agents were self-serving.

One comment pleaded "confusion" in that "outsiders/non-pros" would have a hard time keeping track of the various players and their relationships (an opporuntity for an "annotated" second edition?).

So far, nice coroboration with this review.

And WTH, I'll throw in my own book-hiding-comic story.

8th grade math class - for me a repeat of the 7th grade class - very boring for a "math kid". Sat in the back with another kid quietly playing chess.

One day, reading "Summer of '42", hidden within the math book. Teacher came back to see what I was reading. I said:

"How did you know?"

His reply:

"Math isn't funny."

Thanks for the review!

Cap'n Bob said...

Mad Magazine once did a cover that was a reproduction of a black-and-white composition book. Parents and teachers were up in arms.

Ben K. said...

Some years ago, I was a professional entertainment writer (back when movie magazines published celebrity interviews and profiles, rather than just spy photos of Kim Kardashian). I also did freelance script coverage for the major talent agencies. And I will say this: I never met a movie star as beautiful as the receptionists at CAA.

Dhruv said...

Hi Mr. Levine,

Catching up with the blog.

Congratulations on the success and great reviews of "Going Going Gone".

Like Mr. Peter who commented above I like reading stuff about Hollywood insiders.

But what amazes me is how very very few people control the entire entertainment industry and thereby control the output product which not just entertains but also influences millions across the gullible world.

I always looked at USA and especially Hollywood as a place where people are truly free and creative to achieve whatever they want. But reading how agents, who obviously have no talent of their own, restrict your creativity and growth for their own ends is depressing.

P.S. to Mr. Peter.

Thanks for the article.

One more article which I found interesting is about Michael Ovitz in Vanity Fair Aug 2002 issue. Back stabbing - paid news - politics.... God...Hats off to those who have made it in Hollywood.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Pretty sure the book is required reading for Los Angeles residents. I met Michael Ovitz when he was a very young agent at William Morris. His personalized business cards had not yet been printed, so he gave me a generic WM version and printed his name on the back. I still have it. Wonder how much on eBay?

By the way, if you're within theater distance, or can be by Southwest Air, please go to Going Going Gone. I did, and it's a great great night at the theater.

MikeK.Pa. said...

When was I in college, reading the National Lampoon magazine was supposed to show that you got edgy humor. I didn't, but I still bought it but had a MAD magazine tucked inside for my commute.

In high school, it wasn't hiding a book as much as hiding a transistor radio in your desk for the later period classes back in the late 60s, when all the World Series games were played in the early afternoon. Leaning on one arm and hiding the ear plug and wire while pretending to listen to the teacher was an acquired art, and a high-risk activity. You got caught, you got detention.

Toby the Wonder Horse said...

Being the insufferable yenta that I am, I must point out that Michael Eisner didn't join Disney until 1984. (You can imagine how much fun I am at parties.)

Doug Thompson said...

Finished "Powerhouse CAA" a few weeks back. I loved every page. Fascinating history. I have a lot of actor nd writer friends who are/were represented by CAA. Plus, I've also read several bios on Mike Ovitz. Did not realize how much he was universal-ly (pun intended) despised. From everything I've ever read and heard from friends in the industry, Ron Meyer is truly a stand up guy and someone that talent loves to work with.

Liggie said...

This brings up a question: Is the Los Angeles economy *that* dependent on the entertainment industry? I've heard LA described as a "company town", but I know a number of financial services giabts are based there, as well as some major manufacturing and aerospace firms. I can't imagine the area going belly-up if the studios picked up stakes and moved to another state.