As Mr. Abate, who declined to comment for this article, would later testify in court, on that Friday morning in February, Ms. Newberg gave him some words of advice: Leave the building right now before L.A. wakes up. If you wait, they’ll escort you out with security guards. L.A. is going to be furious.
In geography and mind-set, culture and disposition, the worlds of New York book publishing and Hollywood moviemaking are far, far apart. (Think about how different the citizens of the two cities are, and multiply that by 10.) But increasingly, the two are colliding with one another. Authors, their agents and their publishers stand to make big money from film deals; more and more, novels are sold in pre-emptive deals to film-production companies before they’re even on the shelves. Of the many agencies in New York, just two—mega-agencies ICM and William Morris—manage to represent clients in both worlds simultaneously: actors, screenwriters and directors in the brassy, ballsy world of Hollywood, as well as authors in the genteel, cerebral world of New York publishing.
During his decade at ICM, Mr. Abate belonged wholeheartedly to the latter camp. Still, he was Hollywood-savvy enough to be attractive to Mr. Emanuel, who courted him for the Endeavor job. It was practically a perfect match. The only surprise is that it took so long for the edgy agency to get in on the books end of the action.
According to his later testimony in court, Mr. Abate had long anticipated that ICM, which employed him for a decade, would fire him as soon as he turned down their contract extension. In case of that eventuality, for weeks he had been working on Career Plan B—setting up a new literary division for ICM’s Hollywood rival, Endeavor.
In the wake of his apparent dismissal, Mr. Abate moved fast. By the end of the day that Friday, he had set up a makeshift workspace in Endeavor’s New York offices in midtown. There, in a group conference room, he propped up a computer on a filing cabinet and got to work contacting his clients.
On March 5, Variety reported that Endeavor had hired Mr. Abate to set up the agency’s nascent East Coast literary division. By that point, the bulk of Mr. Abate’s former clients had reportedly followed him to Endeavor.
Around that time, Mr. Abate contacted his former office to see if they would send over all of the book proposals, novels and query letters that had been piling up in his absence. He was particularly worried about offending his nephew’s teacher, who had sent in a novel in progress. His former colleagues in the literary division obliged. In New York, collegiality prevailed.
Not so in L.A.
On March 7, two days after the piece in Variety, the ICM honchos in Hollywood filed a $10 million lawsuit against Mr. Abate in New York District Court, accusing him of breach of contract and seeking an injunction to prevent Mr. Abate from working for Endeavor until January 2008. In the complaint, the lawyers pointed out that prior to his employment at ICM, Mr. Abate had been working “as an assistant at a book publisher earning $20,000 a year.” In 2006, ICM paid Mr. Abate $225,000 plus an $85,000 year-end bonus.