wmalimato1.JPGI’ve learned that ex-ICM agent Ed Limato is heading to William Morris with clients Mel Gibson, Denzel Washington, Steve Martin, Richard Gere, Adrian Lyne and possibly others. United Talent also was in the mix. But the surprise was the very aggressive push for the tenpercenter by upstart Paradigm talent agency and its wealthy owner Sam Gores. Of course, given the quick-changing world of agencies Limato could change his mind, but I hear this is the situation as of today. Ed last worked for Morris 19 years ago and left there for ICM under great secrecy, prompting WMA to file a lawsuit to keep him. But that was then and this is now, and Limato will rejoin former ICM co-chairman Jim Wiatt, now Morris CEO. Ed will also reunite with George Freeman, the former ICM agent who was generously given Russell Crowe to handle by Limato. But then Freeman paid Limato back by defecting to Morris with — surprise, surprise — superstar Crowe in tow as his calling card. Let’s just say at the time there were a lot of four-letter words used to describe Freeman by Limato inside ICM.

This is going to be fun.

I understand from sources that UTA was interested if Limato would halve his price (supposedly $5 mil guaranteed, plus perks). paradigm.JPGBut Gores was ready to fork over a big fat contract to come to merger-frenzied Paradigm. Ed told friends that Gores was “very serious” and negotiated over coffee at Limato’s house. The rich offer made Limato think. (He’s “a wonderful man” who “built up an extraordinarily successful business in a very short period of time,” Limato told pals.) But in the end the freed agent went with the tried and true. “Maybe if I were 20 years younger,” Limato told friends about why he truncated the Paradigm talks in favor of William Morris. I think snobbery also factored into Ed’s decision. icmnewlogo1.jpgBut Gore’s aggressiveness in pursuing Limato underscores how determined Paradigm’s owner is to grow the agency and give it a higher profile. (After all, Paradigm is located in the former headquarters of Jules Stein / Lew Wasserman’s old agency, the legendary MCA.) Plus, Gore has the big bucks to be taken seriously, and his two brothers, Alec and Tom, are both high flying Southern California financiers as well.

edsclients.JPGWhat’s interesting is how rival tenpercenteries are trying to use the Limato brouhaha to spin the town about ICM. Recently, I’ve heard both Endeavor and CAA use the phrase that Hollywood now has “only four major agencies,” with the implication that ICM is no longer comparable to them or UTA or Morris because of the losses to its motion picture department. That’s ridiculous. But ICM and/or its investors are looking to buy an agency with a strong motion picture department. So stay tuned. (All my ICM and Limato postings are here.)

A few issues are left to be determined between Limato and ICM, one of them who pays Limato’s whopping $300,000 legal fees. Ed is saying it’s ICM, but ICM is claiming that’s still to be determined. I hear that, in an arbitration situation like this, it’s common for the plaintiff’s bill to be paid by the defendants. Ed was repped by showbiz super-attorney Tom Hansen of Hansen Jacobsen and Browne Woods & George litigator Miles Feldman. Hansen was the one responsible for chumming the agency waters to find a new home for Limato among the Hollywood sharks.

As for the case itself, I’ve heard the central issue decided by retired L.A. Superior Court judge Diane Wayne (who’s husband is former D.A. Ira Reiner) was Limato’s contract calling for a one-year employment extension, ending in June, and an additional three years of mandatory consulting that would have tethered him to ICM through 2010. I’ve already explained the Seven Year Statute of the California Labor Code, and the judge sided with Limato and not with ICM. Hopefully, this story is now over. All that’s left is for the Los Angeles Times‘ Lorenza Muñoz to publish her really, really late piece on ICM.