Michael Ovitz Asserts Contrition As Hollywood Gasps and Slavers

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

insensitive to.”

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

wisdom.

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

myself.”

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

21-year-old son.

“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

hard.”

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

skids?

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

forgiven.

 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

souls.”

“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

laws.”

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

red box.

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.

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

not cool.”

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?”

-Blair Golson