My latest column, The Iceberg Cometh, is about Jeff Berg and ICM’s purchase of the Broder, Webb, Chervin, Silbermann Agency. Here’s how it starts:
“Those who knew him as an abnormally normal teenager say that Jeff Berg never betrayed any burning ambitions while growing up in wealthy Brentwood. But, one day in 1965, the Uni High senior came home from school and, instead of going up to his room to study, went to the garage and grabbed a rope. He tied one end to the iron grating of the family home’s second-story balcony, wrapped the other end around his waist like a mountain climber, and began to hoist himself upward hand over hand. But halfway to the top, Berg’s knot gave out. He dropped some 15 feet to the ground and fractured both wrists. His parents were stunned that evening to find their son with huge plaster casts on both arms. But they were even more shocked when they heard his explanation: Unbeknownst to anyone, Berg had spent most of the year contemplating joining the CIA, the Green Berets or the Marines in hopes of becoming some sort of Special Forces–like operative, and this had been a training exercise. Ironically, the double injury kept him out of the Vietnam War. Instead, Berg enrolled at Berkeley. He talked about going on to graduate school, getting a doctorate, perhaps living the academic life. And then he did something completely unexpected again: He became a Hollywood agent.
“By the late 1970s, Berg was working for ICM, which had been formed by New York investor Marvin Josephson as an amalgamation of several existing Hollywood agencies. Colleagues took to calling him “Iceberg” because his people skills left a lot to be desired. It was around this time that Jim Brooks, then one of TV’s hottest writer-producers, had to find a new agent. He interviewed two: The first agent was extraordinarily charming, with a great manner and a keen wit. And the second was Berg. ‘He was not very verbal, not very cheery, didn’t have a great, winning light-up-a-room personality. But I chose Jeff,’ Brooks once told me. ‘I reasoned that if the two agents were on the same level, it must mean that Jeff was incredibly bright — it had to be everything you didn’t see.’
“In June 1980, Berg did something akin to the day he climbed that rope: He made an appointment to talk about his future with Josephson. At the time, well-liked vet Guy McElwaine was the virtual head of the agency and expected to be named president shortly. Berg had never mentioned wanting to head the agency to any of his colleagues, to his friends, or even to his family. But 25 minutes later, unbeknownst to anybody at the agency, Jeff Berg, at the age of 33, walked out of Josephson’s office the president of the second largest talent, literary and music agency in the world.
Fast-forward to the present… Continued here
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