By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Vanity Fair should have balanced Burrough’s article with reporting about heretofore-unpublished allegations of Ovitz’s homophobia. Like the time in 1993 that then–HBO chairman Michael Fuchs took Ovitz to task for not helping cast the film of Randy Shilts’ AIDS best-seller, And the Band Played On.
“William Morris and ICM, they all stepped up to the plate. But not CAA. Why was that?” Fuchs chided Ovitz.
“We don ’t have any gay agents,” was Ovitz’s smug reply. Many in Hollywood witnessed that Ovitz, despite his repeated denials, was extremely uncomfortable around homosexuals socially or at CAA. In VF-speak, the article could have begun with an amusing anecdote about the time Geffen chartered a yacht for a Mediterranean sea voyage off the coast of Italy with Terry Semel, Ron Meyer, Irwin Winkler, Ovitz, and their respective wives and girlfriends. Until Ovitz found out Geffen had brought along a male lover and suddenly was manic to get as far away from them as possible. “And he got all the way to Rome to get a plane, but the airport was closed, so he had to come back to the boat. We were on the floor laughing,” remembers shipmate Cyndy Garvey. Or an in-the-know tale about how, sick of hearing about Meyer accompanying Geffen to this or that lunch or dinner, Ovitz would snap, “What, Ron, are you gay?” Or how, during fits of anger, the agent would refer disparagingly to the target of his tirade as a “fag,” the worst epithet he believed he could call someone, and which he did over and over and over.
His obvious awkwardness around homosexuals at work was hard to hide. There was the day a group of CAA agents were gathered in the conference room for a meeting with client Dolly Parton and her effusively gay manager Sandy Gallin, when Parton took off her earrings and necklace, and Gallin put them on himself. Inside and outside the glass walls, agents laughed at the sight of Gallin vamping until that moment when Ovitz walked in, and the room immediately fell silent. Ovitz continued the meeting without once acknowledging the joke. “And Gallin knew this and loved seeing Ovitz squirm. He did it strictly for reaction,” recalled former CAA agent Tony Ludwig. Ovitz’s own dislike of homosexuals had become institutionalized for the first 10 years at CAA, where the climate was tantamount to an anti-gay employment policy. Why homosexuals did not fit the CAA mold had nothing to do with gays themselves and everything to do with Ovitz and his carefully crafted image of the agency as a monolith of conformity.
By the late 1980s, unbeknownst to Ovitz, CAA was employing several gay but closeted agents. One day, Alan Hergott, the openly gay entertainment lawyer with a powerful list of clients including Tom Hanks, took a huge career chance and told CAA with utmost candor that the agency needed to hire more openly homosexual agents or at least let the ones already there come out. A sputtering Ovitz offered to hire Hergott as CAA’s homosexual consultant. Hergott declined. But a month later, Hergott was shocked to see a blurb in Time magazine that he had been hired as a gay guru to CAA. Ovitz claimed to be surprised by the magazine item and argued it was just another example of the media’s inaccurate reporting.
But then, when it comes to Ovitz, no one can get it right. Least of all Mike.
For a long time now, how the media wrote about Ovitz has been a litmus test of their journalistic integrity. Those who wrote honestly and accurately about Ovitz paid a big price in the form of punishment. Those who didn’t were rewarded. And that’s the primary reason why, whenever anyone talks about Ovitz as the most hated man in Hollywood (an appellation that Vanity Fair repeats), details are few and far between. Because if you make money for people in Hollywood, or for that matter sit for interviews that will sell magazines for media conglomerates, they'll overlook a lot of character flaws. It took real courage for both show-biz denizens and the reporters who follow them to lay bare the profound and lasting effect that Ovitz had on Hollywood for 27 years through threats, intimidation, bullying, blacklisting and destabilizing. Burrough’s article skips over that. Instead, it claims “the ultimate story about the dark side of Ovitz” is the stale tale about Ovitz buying a Malibu property out from under Meyer. As if Ovitz’s gay bashing on its own pages isn’t even in the running. Hollywood villains have gone from naming names in the 1950s to name calling in the year 2002.
Once again, it ’s business as usual.