Ron Meyer’s departure from Universal amid rumors of scandal has stirred a strong emotional response in Hollywood, perhaps more than any other executive exit within memory. Few had a wider circle of friendships than the 75-year-old ex-agent, some entailing deep trust and loyalty among the top stars and power players.
“Ronnie loves people. He loves women. Those two qualities have made him extinct,” said one senior colleague at his company who does not want to be quoted.
Having survived at least seven ownership regimes at Universal, Meyer was widely respected for his diplomacy and caution. His alleged former involvement with actress Charlotte Kirk runs counter to that reputation, since Kirk also had a relationship with Kevin Tsujihara, resulting in the end of his executive career as chairman and CEO of Warner Bros.
During his CAA career Meyer was the “fixer,” the agent who comforted clients who were offended by the aggressions of Michael Ovitz. It was a role he emulated at Universal. In recent years, he no longer made greenlight decisions but he regularly settled arguments and negotiated disputes.
“Ronnie was careful about his fingerprints,” comments one of his top colleagues of former years. “If the studio had a flop, it was never his decision.” On the other hand, Meyer was a key in recruiting top talent and important packages.
Control of Universal shifted frequently over the decades, but it was always Meyer who welcomed the new owners, whether it was Edgar Bronfman Jr of Vivendi or Brian Roberts of Comcast. There always were important parties and intimate dinners and screenings with top stars. The new proprietors always asked Meyer to stay on in the job.
Bronfman once told me that, upon first touring the famous Black Tower, he decided to paint it white. “Ronnie talked me out of it, and he was right,” he said. Lew Wasserman, the famed father of Universal, liked black suits and black towers, so that tradition was not to be meddled with.
Meyer, like Wasserman, cultivated close relationships with his clients, even advising them on their affairs and divorces. Like Wasserman, Meyer also sustained ties to friends in various walks of life, ranging from other fixers like Anthony Pellicano to his many fellow gambling buddies – Meyer admitted his gambling losses over the years but insisted he had reformed.
Up to recent years a visit to Meyer’s Sunday night screening would encompass stars like Barbra Streisand and Angelina Jolie or filmmakers like Irwin Winkler or top executives of Comcast.
I once mentioned in a column that I considered Meyer a close friend, adding that, as such, I shared that association with virtually everyone else in Hollywood. That mention prompted a rare angry complaint from him. “I’m careful about my friendships,” Meyer assured me. “Maybe not as careful as I should be.”