Norman Brokaw, who pioneered the mailroom-to-agent route in Hollywood and went on to become chairman of The William Morris Agency, has died. He was 89. Brokaw was one of the last of his generation of agents of a certain era, working alongside Abe Lastfogel, Stan Kamen, Morris Stoller, and Sammy Weisbord. Brokaw (who was one generation removed) and Kamen basically built the William Morris television department from scratch. Brokaw’s son, David, says his father died today in Beverly Hills after a long illness.
Brokaw took over the career of Marilyn Monroe after his Uncle Johnny Hyde died. It was his Uncle Johnny who brought “Normie” into the mailroom at the agency. After four years slaving away there, Brokaw was promoted to a secretary and then an agent before he was hand-picked to start the television department in Los Angeles. He helped push William Morris film clients to crossover to TV, and worked personally with Danny Thomas. Kamen worked with Sheldon Leonard. And all four — the two agents and Thomas and Leonard –became powerhouses in television. Brokaw helped put packages together for Thomas and Leonard’s T&L Productions which produced The Danny Thomas Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Real McCoys, The Joey Bishop Show, The Andy Griffith Show and its spin-off Gomer Pyle. He and Weisbord later worked together to package popular TV shows like The Mod Squad.
He was also Bill Cosby’s agent and as such, was instrumental in getting the young comedian cast on I Spy and eventually spearheaded deals that led to The Cosby Show (Jerry Katzman, Carsey-Werner and the late Brandon Tartikoff put it all together).
Brokaw was considered one the giants of his generation and either directly repped or helped the careers of many Hollywood heavyweights and numerous well-known public figures — among them Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Stanwyck, Loretta Young, Clint Eastwood (Len Hirshan took him over after Brokaw signed him), Andy Griffith, Kim Novak, Natalie Wood, President Gerald Ford, Jesse Jackson, Mark Spitz, Tony Orlando, Tony Randall, Brooke Shields, Hank Aaron, Marcia Clark and Christoper Darden and Priscilla Presley (Hirshan repped Elvis).
Between The Cosby Show (which ended up eventually in syndication after a successful run) and the Elvis estate, millions of dollars flowed into the William Morris agency. However, one big mis-step was his and others at the agency’s reluctance to sign a long-hair group of kids from London — The Beatles — despite the begging of other young agents. They did, however, eventually agree to give in to the next generation and signed The Rolling Stones.
Brokaw began working for William Morris in 1943 at 15 as its first trainee. He eventually was put as the head of the West Coast Television Department (taking over from Weisbord), put on theWMA board (along with agents Kamen, Lou Weiss and Tony Fantozzi at the time), was elected President and CEO in February 1989, and two years later was named Chairman and CEO. He also served (at one point) as co-chairman with Weiss.
He, Walt Zikfin, Katzman and John Burnham were also the key players in the roughly $25M purchase of Triad Artists.
Brokaw was immensely proud of his achievements, and chafed at being overlooked as players like Michael Ovitz and Ron Meyer gobbled up attention in the 1980s and ’90s. Once, he threatened to sue a Los Angeles Times reporter for leaving him off an agency power list, raising the prospect of an unusual claim for libel by omission. Instead, he invited the reporter to lunch at the Hillcrest Country Club, and read aloud from a manuscript story of his life over dessert.
In 2010, Brokaw received the TV Academy’s Governors Award on Brokaw — the only agent to be given the group’s highest honor.