Lou Weiss, chairman emeritus of the William Morris Agency and one of the last vestiges of the old guard of a bygone era in the entertainment business, passed away at 9:30 AM on April 8, due to complications from an appendectomy. He was 101.
Weiss retired in 2007 after 70 years at WMA. During his tenure, which tracked the rise of the television medium, Weiss became one of the most powerful agents in the TV industry.
Born on March 22, 1918 in New York City’s lower east side, Weiss started in the mailroom at the New York William Morris agency in 1937, with the help of his comedian/actor uncle and WMA client, George Burns.
With the advent of World War II, Weiss was drafted into the US Army and became a 2nd lieutenant with the 10th Mountain Division serving in Italy. Upon returning from the war to his job, Weiss reported to the legendary Abe Lastfogel (“Mr. Lastfogel” as Weiss always referred to him) who guided the young agent into the variety department. There, Weiss would meet and work with talent that he would later usher into the burgeoning television industry.
As one of that industry’s very first agents, Weiss has repped the likes of Alan King, Danny Thomas, Dick Powell, David Wolper, Merv Griffin, George Schlatter, Bill Cosby, Larry Gelbart, Buddy Hackett, Jackie Mason, Jack Parr, Carol Channing, Chevy Chase, Howard Cosell, Sammy Davis, Jr., David Frost, Barbara Walters, and Diana Ross, along with Berry Gordy and the entire Motown roster.
Beginning in 1960, Weiss ran the WMA’s New York television office as EVP, eventually becoming a member of the board of directors and worldwide head of television. He pioneered the concept of “packaging” talent, creators and producers; which went on to dominate the business of the top talent agencies. Weiss guided WMA through monumental transitions in the medium involving the role of advertising sponsorships, syndication and financial interest regulation, and the eventual vertical integration of broadcasters and studios.
In 1987, Weiss became Co-Chairman of the Board with his friend and colleague Norman Brokaw. Among his notable accomplishments was brokering the then-unprecedented $1 million dollar ABC deal for Barbara Walters in 1976, making her the highest paid, and first female anchor, of a network evening news show. Weiss also an avid swimmer and tennis enthusiast and in fact, closed the Walters’ deal on the tennis court of his Scarsdale home. Weiss’ philanthropic interests included UJA and Beit T’Shuvah among many others.
In 1944, Weiss married the love of his life Alice May Helhor. During their 75-year marriage, they had four children Steven, Jeffrey, Ann and Evan. Weiss’ death follows that of his beloved Alice, who passed away on Dec. 29. His son Steven, also a former William Morris TV agent, died in 2013 of Myeloma. Weiss is survived by three children, 8 grandchildren, 5 great grandchildren and their many respective spouses.
“I wouldn’t trade my years and my memories for a new start,” Weiss used to say in one of his favorite quotes. “It’s been too good. I’ve been the luckiest guy in the world.”
Service will be held on Thursday April 11, 2019 at noon at Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York. A service will also be held in Los Angeles on: Monday April 15 at 10:30 AM at Hillcrest country club, followed by a luncheon.
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