It’s been 21 years since Hugh Grant’s indiscretion with a Sunset Boulevard streetwalker. In Powerhouse: The Untold History Of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency, James Andrew Miller reveals one of the unanticipated consequences of Grant’s public humiliation. As with his previous books about Saturday Night Live and ESPN, Miller lets the participants’ stories tell the tale.
The book doesn’t come out till May, but Vanity Fair‘s just-released excerpt sheds light on the Grant episode and its impact on Creative Artists Agency top cats Michael Ovitz and Ron Meyer. This observation comes from the new owner of Universal at the time, Seagram’s scion Edgar Bronfman Jr., whose deal with Ovitz to take over the studio had just come undone.
“Ron called me at six A.M.; he was also in New York,” Bronfman recalls. “He said, ‘I’m in my bathroom because I don’t want to wake up my wife.’ Then he says, ‘L.A. is calling me; can I call you right back?’ Fifteen minutes later he said, ‘Please don’t tell anyone, but this is why I have to get out of the agency business.’ I said, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘Hugh Grant just got arrested. We had to bail him out.’
I asked Miller today about that phone call. “It was interesting to me because it does two things,” he said. “First, it offers a window into what Ron was doing at this time in his life. He’s been doing this for 20 years now, under the rubric of servicing clients, and that was one of those tipping points of, well, here you go. But the second reason I put it in there was that this wants to be a book both for people inside Hollywood and outside. It was important to point out that the life of an agent is not just about taking 10 percent of your clients’ money.”
Ovitz and Bronfman hit it off, until Bronfman’s father and uncle made it clear that meeting Ovitz’s ever-expanding list of demands was not feasible.
“When the Universal deal didn’t happen with Mike,” Meyer tells Miller, “I realized that he was never going anywhere. He was in the position he wanted and making the money he wanted.”
Ovitz’s client and friend Earvin “Magic” Johnson says in the book that “I felt Michael’s pain. We had become good friends, as we are today, and I only wanted the best for him. One day I said to him, ‘Why don’t you run a studio?’ He said, ‘Earvin, I don’t have to run a studio. I run them all now anyway.’”
Ovitz would, of course, later go to Disney for an abbreviated term. But not before Meyer, with an assist from David Geffen, accepted the Universal job, in part because his relationship with Ovitz had so soured.
“Ronnie was at the end of the parade with the shovel, and Michael was the elephant,” Bill Haber tells Miller. “After a while, Ronnie got tired of it.”
I asked Miller if any of his testifiers ever had tried to walk back on a quote. He paused, and then answered, “only on an hourly basis. Early and often. That was my life for two and a half years.”
The quotes from Vanity Fair are adapted from Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency, by James Andrew Miller, to be publishedMay 10 by Custom House, an imprint of William Morrow; © 2016 by the author.