When five young upstarts, deeply unsatisfied with the business-as-usual cronyism of the William Morris talent agency, decided to strike out on their own in 1975, they were looking for more of, well, everything. More responsibilities. More independence. More money. More of a collaborative environment, where information would be shared among even the lowest talent agents on the totem pole. More recognition. More glory. More authority. More power. More control.
What they had at the time, though, was less of, well, everything. They didn't have any money, so those five young agents--including best pals Michael Ovitz and Ron Meyer--worked around card tables in a cheap rental office and had their wives take turns answering the phones. They didn't have any clients, so they pounded the pavement, desperate to sign the next big thing. Every new introduction led to what they hoped would be the next big payday. Every penny they made went back into the business they constantly worried would fold.
"For the first year, it was all Darwinian--survival of the fittest, kill or be killed," Ovitz is quoted as saying. "We had no money, no cash flow. We had a giant behemoth that was organized and well-funded in William Morris that was threatening every minute of the day to put us out of business and trying to marshal its army against us. Our biggest film client was Ernest Borgnine. We had no film bookings. We didn't even pretend to be a film agency. We couldn't get any key film guys on the phone--they didn't have the time of day for us."
Times were lean. But hopes were high. And that optimism paid off. Big time. Because today, the business that they built, Creative Artists Agency (CAA), boasts a whopping 1,800 employees, has offices around the globe--including New York, Los Angeles, Beijing, Munich and Switzerland --and represents some of the best and brightest that Hollywood, and as of 2006, the sports world, have to offer. Movie stars Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Tom Hanks, singers Lady Gaga and Beyonce, directors Ron Howard and Oliver Stone, and actors Alec Baldwin, Ellen Pompeo and Eva Longoria are just some of the big names that have graced its roster over the years. These days, CAA is a star in its own right, often shining brighter than the talent it so doggedly represents.
In Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood's Creative Artists Agency (Custom House, 2016, 707 pgs., $32.50), author James Andrew Miller tells the fascinating and factual tale of how...