Manager Leonard Hirshan, who represented Clint Eastwood from his days in television to his turn as a multi-Academy Award-winning filmmaker, died on January 31 at his home in Beverly Hills. The cause of death for the longtime former William Morris agent was Merkel cell carcinoma. He was 86. Hirshan was a longtime William Morris agent — he spent 50 years at the agency and at one point was head of the agency’s motion picture group. He represented Elvis with Colonel Tom Parker, Walter Matthau, Sophia Loren, Eva Marie Saint, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Edward G. Robinson. He passed away with his two daughters, Karen Hirshan and Sarah Dey Hirshan, by his side. He and Eastwood were close and have what is likely the longest business relationship in Hollywood; they celebrated birthdays together; they were there for each others’ marriages; and Hirshan celebrated Eastwood’s triumphs such as when the filmmaker won Best Picture and Best Director for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby and even traveled overseas to visit the set of Eastwood’s Flags Of Our Fathers. He was fiercely loyal to his clients and an extremely private person — except to speak proudly about the daughters and granddaughters he loved.
A native of New York City, Hirshan began in the mailroom of William Morris Agency’s NYC offices in April 1951 and quickly moved up the ranks to agent when be began representing then-unknown Saint. Hirshan pushed to land her a role in On The Waterfront which was her first film and earned her an Academy Award for supporting actress. In 1955, he moved to Hollywood, where he began very long-term relationships with Jack Lemmon and Matthau. Hirshan negotiated Presley’s deal for his very first feature film, Love Me Tender. In 2001, Hirshan left William Morris to form Leonard Hirshan Management where he continued to be the exclusive agent and manager of Eastwood. In meetings at William Morris, he would often say to the younger agents: “Get a piece of paper and a pencil and write this down.” He taught many agents about the business and negotiation skills. “He was a good mentor to me and the best negotiator I ever met and a true friend. Recently, we had lunch at the Soho House with (former agents) John Ptak, Bob Shapiro, Steve Kenis, Rick Nicita, and Fred Specktor,” said longtime friend Fred Westheimer, who worked with him for about 45 years at WMA. “This is a shock.”
I also knew Lenny well and he also taught me the agency business. He never once complained about his health and, although we knew he was battling carcinoma, he kept the direness of it quiet. He answered the phone himself, in a pleasant, almost sing-song, “Mmm-hello?” He was always calm and put his clients before himself. He was the consummate agent whose loyalty was ever present for every client his represented. “He was old-school at its very best,” said Ptak, who worked with him at WMA. In fact, Hirshan’s gentlemanly nature, commitment to clients, as well as his sharp business skills earned him a reputation for loyalty, longevity and the highest respect from his peers. He was very proud of negotiating the first package deal for William Morris. It had not been done before he did it. Hirshan repped Eastwood from the 1960s from his days on Rawhide through the 1970s on films like High Plains Drifter, Dirty Harry, Magnum Force to the aforementioned Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby and through many other films either starring or directed and produced by Eastwood like Gran Torino, and Bridges Of Madison County. Over the years, Hirshan was also involved in the representation of clients Lemmon, Angela Lansbury and Greer Garson, to name a few. In 2012, Hirshan was honored by the Talent Managers Association with the Seymour Heller Award for lifetime achievement.