When Artists Management Group founder Michael Ovitz made his
first television appearance on the Charlie Rose show on Jan. 23, he talked a
lot about his father. His dad, he said was one of the top three influences in
his life. The other two were show business visionaries, MCA founder Lew
Wasserman, and late Warner Bros. chairman Steve Ross, so that said a lot.
Mr. Ovitz’s father was a wholesale liquor salesman who, as he
told Mr. Rose “covered the chain store accounts.” Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be
worth noting were it not for the seemingly penitential tone of Mr. Ovitz’s
appearance, which has entertainment executives on both coasts talking.
No one has referred to Mr. Ovitz as the most powerful man in
Hollywood for some time now. Though his management group, AMG, which represents
Cameron Diaz, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio continues to thrive, Mr.
Ovitz’s attempts to branch out into television production and to catch the
broadband wireless network wave have fizzled. But though he didn’t dwell too
much on the present state of his affairs-except to say that he was doing fine
financially-Mr. Ovitz did tiptoe through the lowlights and regrets of his
career in an effort to adjust his image from superman to human. “I must say
that in my early years, I was incredibly aggressive,” he told Mr. Rose. “I was
working as hard as I could to build a business, to try to dominate a business.
And I probably irritated a lot of people.”
There it was. Hardly an epiphany, but the timing was right. In
the wake of our national agony, Mr. Ovitz, and, yes, Tina Brown before him-two
people driven to put their fingers to the wind-had to figure that this city,
this nation were in a conciliatory mood. Stand up. Embrace your failure. Submit
to its purifying properties. You will be forgiven-and, if you’re lucky-reborn.
There was something vaguely Bill W. about Mr. Ovitz’s
performance, as if he was taking part in some 12-step program that required him
to apologize to the people he’d hurt in his life.
“Having trained myself for 30
years as an aggressive, insensitive agent,” Mr. Ovitz said that he was now
“pushing like crazy to change.”
Mr. Ovitz didn’t exactly bare his heart or beg for forgiveness
and he spent a lot of time defending his actions, but he did imply that he and
Disney chief executive Michael Eisner, who fell out after Mr. Ovitz’s
disastrous stint as Disney’s number two, were trying to patch things up.
But he left little doubt that
the situation between him and his former friend and C.A.A. partner, Ron Meyer,
who currently runs Universal’s movie studio, was hopeless. Likening the end of
their friendship to “a divorce” and “a huge hole in my life,” Mr. Ovitz
admitted, in the end, “I think that he was just one of the people that I was
It was fascinating to watch
Mr. Ovitz, gap-toothed and visibly nervous, do his television act of
contrition, but, ultimately, there aren’t too many of Mr. Ovitz’s colleagues
who are buying it. And this is, perhaps, where the influence of Mr. Ovitz’s
father comes in.
Mr. Ovitz’s attempts to atone for his sins failed because he sold
his apology wholesale when he should have taken it door to door. He should have
appointed himself the Fuller Brush Man of remorse, and expressed himself
privately and personally, not over the distant medium of television.
The number of men and women in show business that Mr. Ovitz has
angered-as important and self-reverential as they are-is not enough to register
with Nielsen. So when Mr. Ovitz went on a national-albeit boutique-television
program to catalog his faint regrets, it was apparent that something strategic
was afoot here.
“It was like watching Nixon,” said one entertainment industry
executive who knows Mr. Ovitz. “Sweaty lip and all.”
And some of those suspicions were confirmed when, on Jan. 24,
former Columbia Pictures chief Mark Canton was announced as the new chairman of
Artists Production Group, the movie-producing sister company of A.M.G.-even if
the deal feels a little like Moe Howard hiring Larry Fine.
Watching Mr. Ovitz recount
his good friend and client, Michael ( E/R )
Crichton’s advice that “The only way to really learn something is to have
failed” felt a little like watching yesterday’s news-because it was! Ms. Brown
had just spent the previous week, in the wake of Talk magazine’s demise, dispensing similar pearls of S&M
Still, it’s hard to dismiss Mr. Ovitz’s intentions as entirely
calculating. He did tell Mr. Rose that he had lost his father a year ago. Even
for a Hollywood ninja, that is a life-altering event, and Mr. Ovitz said that
the experience had made him look “at my life through his eyes and what he
brought to his family and what his legacy was, which was really my brother and
As for his own legacy, the man who co-founded the formidable
Creative Artists Agency said it is “not going to be about having been the most
powerful man in Hollywood for 10 years because, frankly, that was fun but it
wasn’t particularly relevant to me socially or…charitably. The legacy for me
is going to be my three kids, the UCLA Medical Center,” to which Mr. Ovitz had
pledged $25 million, “and hopefully, having built a couple of companies from
scratch and-and leaving them in good hands.”
There were other moments that seemed genuine, too. When Mr. Rose
asked Mr. Ovitz: “How are you different today than you were at the height of
the power of CAA”? Mr. Ovitz said he’d just had the same conversation with his
“I tried to explain to him errors that I made in my career and
things that I thought that I did were good. And on the error side, a lot of it
had to do with immaturity and with insensitivity and with an agenda of wanting
to get out of what I called “the valley.”
“San Fernando Valley,” Mr. Rose said.
“Yeah. I grew up in the
valley, and I just wanted to make something of myself. And I had a lot of
ideas, and I wanted to do things.…And in order to do that, I pushed really
That sounded real. Unfortunately, Mr. Ovitz’s comment that he and
his family “play Ozzie and Harriet” on the weekends did not. And why is it that
entertainment moguls always profess their human frailty when they’re on the
There was also something hinky about Mr. Ovitz’s attempts to
bring to light his philanthropic side, perhaps because it’s the one thing that
the natural-born killers of the corporate world try to dredge up when they’re
trying to look human.
Mr. Rose did his part to shill on that front-after all, Mr. Ovitz
had chosen to wear the stubble shirt on his program. In his wiry Southern
gentleman’s voice, he told his television audience that Mr. Ovitz’s “friends
want you to know that there is another side that is not seen and not told, a
family man who’s a superb art collector and generous in charity.”
Then Mr. Rose asked: “What is it you want to say? What’s…wrong,
you think, with the image that many people have [of you]?
“One of the reasons I called you is that I was having dinner with
a friend of mine who I had helped,” Mr. Ovitz said. I’m involved at the UCLA
Medical Center in raising money to build a new hospital. And she had called-I
hadn’t talked to her in some time-and asked if I could help a friend of hers
who was in very serious trouble.”
Mr. Ovitz lent his assistance, and he said, his friend had told
him: “You know, you are so opposite of what I read about.” That, Mr. Ovitz
said, was what had led him to appear on Mr. Rose’s show.
“I mean , all of us are
probably three people. We’re probably the person that we think we are, and
we’re probably the person that you or somebody else perceives us to be, and…
frankly, we’re probably somewhere in the middle. And I think that it’s
important that there be a balance with respect to how individuals are-you know,
are looked at,” Mr. Ovitz.
Two days after his appearance, Mr. Ovitz’s remarks about his
charitable acts was met with a headline in
The New York Post : “Pay Up, Mike Ovitz.” The story’s writer Nikki Finke,
who has written for this newspaper, reported that Mr. Ovitz, who had promised
the $25 million in April 2000, had made payments toward the pledge but had yet
to deliver the full amount.
That same day, UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale issued a
statement in response to the Post’s article. Mr. Ovitz’s “generosity is not
only a gift to UCLA; it is a gift to mankind,” the statement read. “The gift,
like most major gifts, is to be paid over a period of years, and I have every
confidence that Michael will live up to his commitment.” Mr. Ovitz’s spokesman
Mike Burns did not respond to the Observer’s request to interview Mr. Ovitz,
but he did tell UCLA’s Daily Bruin
newspaper that Mr. Ovitz’s pledge is not supposed to be fulfilled until 2007.
Mr. Ovitz had gone on television and expressed some regrets. His
comments had ridden out on the signals and particles of electronic media that
his friends and rivals control and monitor on a daily basis and the immediately
the response had come back.
The message was in code, but it was unmistakable: You are not yet
Liza, With a G.O.P.
Liza Minnelli has recorded a lot of enthusiastic numbers in her
day, but her latest happens to be a political endorsement for Republican State
Assemblyman John Ravitz.
Mr. Ravitz, who’s running in the Feb. 12 special election for
State Senator Roy Goodman’s seat, was in attendance when Ms. Minnelli laid down
the spot at a Manhattan recording studio on Jan. 20. According to the
candidate, this was the entertainer’s first political advertisement.
The Transom obtained a copy of the 60-second spot, which opens
with a few piano bars of what Mr. Ravitz described as a creative “mix of
['One,' from] A Chorus Line , and ‘New
York, New York’.” Neither tune could be used because of copyright restrictions.
Ms. Minnelli pops up seconds
later. “Hi, this is Liza Minnelli!” she says in a peppy tone that must have
sent the V.U. meters to the moon.
For whatever reasons, Ms.
Minnelli has adopted an extremely sibilant style of enunciation lately, and
when she announces in the ad that she’ll be voting for Mr. Ravitz for “State
Senate in the special election,” she sounds as if Lucifer got waylaid at the
Lucille Lortel Theater on his way to the Garden of Eden.
“Now as a longtime resident
of the East Side”-Ms. Minnelli owns a co-op apartment in the Imperial House on
East 69th Street, in the district where Mr. Ravitz has served for 10
years-“I’ve seen our city come together after the tragic events of last year.”
Ms. Minnelli memorably responded to the tragic events of Sept. 11
by refusing to fly to Los Angeles for a benefit concert. At the time, she told
the New York Post ‘s Cindy Adams that
her “Washington contacts” had advised against flying and sagely remarked, “I
should risk my life for one fucking song?”
But for Mr. Ravitz, Ms. Minnelli had softened her tone, if not
her pitch. “We need to stay together to preserve the things that make New York
so special, like the arts,” Ms. Minnelli says, with slight slur, explaining
that Mr. Ravitz understands “how important the arts are to our city and our
“They create jobs and are the”-here Ms. Minnelli builds to a 42nd Street crescendo-“very heart- beat of New York!”
After reiterating that Mr. Ravitz “understands how [the arts]
enrich our daily lives,” Ms. Minnelli inexplicably follows with the
announcement that “he’s 100 percent pro-choice and favors strong gun-control
Then, sounding a bit like Kathy Bates in Misery , Ms. Minnelli yelps: “And guess who loves him?”
The deafening answer?
“Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg!”
So, Ms. Minnelli concludes, “start spreading the news!”
Mr. Ravitz said that the final line was Ms. Minnelli’s personal
flourish, “because it’s from ‘New York, New York,’ which she is so proud of.”
The radio ad was suggested by a mutual friend of Mr. Ravitz and
Ms. Minnelli, whom Mr. Ravitz declined to name. The friend encouraged Mr.
Ravitz-who’s focusing much of his campaign on “protecting cultural and art
institutions”-to call the performer, who “knew [his] record through newsletters
and things,” Mr. Ravitz said. Soon after, Ms. Minnelli contacted the mutual
friend and asked what she could do to help the campaign.
Ms. Minnelli, who is in London presumably planning her March
wedding to music producer David Gest, which will feature Michael Jackson as best,
man and Liz Taylor as maid of honor, could not be reached for comment.
– Rebecca Traister
Blair Ditch Project
What do you have to do to get booted off MTV’s Total Request Live ? All actress Selma
Blair did was take a role in a Todd Solondz movie.
On Tuesday, Jan. 22, Ms. Blair was in town to promote her role in
Mr. Solondz’s new film, Storytelling .
Despite Mr. Solondz’s predilection for skeevy subjects-1995’s Welcome to the Dollhouse dealt frankly
with seventh-grade rape fantasies, and 1998’s Happiness had an unsettling subplot about a pedophile-MTV had
booked Ms. Blair for an appearance to promote the new film to TRL ‘s core under-18 audience.
Storytelling contains a
scene in which Ms. Blair’s character, a college student named Vi, has sex with
her black professor. The scene is explicit enough that Mr. Solondz avoided an
NC-17 rating by obscuring part of the steamy image with a digitally produced
But the show’s producers didn’t screen the movie until the night
before Ms. Blair’s appearance-and that’s when they decided to disinvite her
from Tuesday’s show, which is cablecast live.
Ms. Blair’s publicist, Troy Nankin, said that he received a call
on Tuesday morning “saying that upon review of the tape sent to them of Storytelling, they would be unable to
honor their commitment to have Selma appear on TRL in support of that film.”
A spokeswoman for MTV released a statement which emphasized that
the network “has had Selma Blair on MTV numerous times to talk about her
various projects which resonate with our audience.”
The statement went on to explain that “We didn’t get a screener
of Storytelling until late, and once
we had the opportunity to watch it, we decided that the film’s content was not
appropriate for the TRL audience.”
“The TRL audience” is
not exactly a bunch of delicate blossoms. In July, the Backstreet Boys chose TRL as the forum in which to disclose
that band member A.J. MacLean was in treatment for alcohol addiction. And in
August, the cast of the R-rated American
Pie 2 (which included Mr. Daly’s ex-fiancée, Tara Reid) appeared to promote
their film. American Pie 2 included a
scene in which Jason Biggs’ character glues his hand to his penis, which is
arguably more disturbing than Selma Blair and her professor going at it behind
a red box.
Both MTV and Mr. Nankin
confirmed that Ms. Blair will make her next TRL
appearance in March, when she’ll be promoting The Sweetest Thing, co-starring Cameron Diaz, Parker Posey and
Jason Bateman? Now that’s skeevy.
– Rebecca Traister
Party Out of Bounds
No one dances on Ron Porges’
bar-not even Fred Schneider. Things got a little too frisky-for Florida-at the
closing-night after-party for the Sarasota Film Festival at Ovo Cafe on Jan.
26. R.E.M. front man Michael Stipe and B-52’s singer Fred Schneider were in
attendance when the café’s D.J. cued up the latter group’s “Love Shack” and Mr.
Schneider jumped on the bar to sing along. The crowd loved it, but Mr. Porges,
who owns Ovo, did not. “We got pretty nice bars, with high-gloss finish,” he
told The Transom. “To have someone dancing on it, I don’t care who it is-it’s
Mr. Porges said he didn’t remember what happened next, but one
Ovo employee told The Transom that the owner pulled Mr. Schneider off the bar
and admonished him about proper saloon etiquette.
The D.J. tempted fate again when he played R.E.M.’s “It’s the End
of the World as We Know It”, but Michael Stipe stayed put on the floor.
“He wasn’t really dancing,” said the employee. “But you can’t
really dance to their music, can you?”