By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Next was a skit. One of CAA’s top financial officers dressed up as Santa Claus and read aloud purported “Dear Santa” letters while various agents took turns sitting on his lap. One supposedly from Ovitz started out, “Dear Santa, I really like art. Would you give me some paintings?” Then Ovitz, who had just managed to finagle a trusteeship at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, was handed his gift: a framed painting of a panther set off by black velvet. “You sure know your art,” Ovitz chuckled, placing the work off to the side where it remained forgotten for the rest of the evening.
The time had come for Ovitz to address the gathering. Like a TV evangelist, Ovitz held a wireless microphone and walked around the room radiating sincerity and showing sentiment. He exulted over the agency’s first full year in its new I.M. Pei–designed headquarters. “It’s been a tough year, exciting but also tragic. But a tough year all in all,” Ovitz declared. Exciting was a reference to the MCA-Matsushita deal. Tragic to the loss of CAA music agent Bobby Brooks in a helicopter crash. “And now we have a few prizes we want to give out.”
With that, the CAA chieftain handed the microphone to four young agents who pulled on red-and-green “Santa’s Elves” costumes. They distributed bingo cards to CAA employees who proceeded to play for big-ticket Japanese electronic goods. Each table played as a team for the prizes. Number after number being called was punctuated by the choruses of “Yesssss! . . . Yesssss! . . . Yesssss!” and displays of raised fists. Agents who might receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in end-of-the-year bonuses competed just as feverishly against support staff whose holiday envelopes would contain $100 for every year of service. At stake were Panasonic VCRs, Panasonic portable phones with built-in answering machines, Panasonic portable CD players and Panasonic boom boxes. But everyone salivated for the then-state-of-the-art Panasonic color stereo TVs.
Then the game changed. Each of the 50 tables had a numbered placard with the name of a U.S. state. Santa’s Elves brought out a large map of the United States and threw darts; depending on where they landed, the table with that state’s name won still more Panasonic prizes. Even by the end of the darts, some employees were still empty-handed.
Standing on the sidelines was Ovitz, his arms crossed over his chest, his fingers drumming against his biceps, leaning against a wall and watching all this animation on the part of his employees with a mixture of paternalistic pride and detached amusement. He did not play along. At exactly 11 p.m., the gift-giving ended and the band struck up and Ovitz was out the door. Close on his heels were the other CAA partners, then the rest of the CAA higher-ups. From that moment on, the room began to rock. By midnight, a crowd clamoring for their cars descended on the valet parkers.
Yet one vital detail of the carefully choreographed event had been overlooked. The last sight revelers remembered was of a young Ovitz disciple trying, again and again, to shoehorn his newly won Panasonic television into the tiny jump seat of his Porsche.
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