That it involved two of the most hated men in town and that its release came just days before Disney shareholders’ referendum on Eisner during this week’s annual meeting in Philadelphia only made the missive all that much juicier and more scandalous. And while the tattling was aimed at Ovitz’s hijinks, the tittering was about Eisner’s utter lack of judgment in hiring the jerk in the first place.
What few people know is that Eisner received from people he trusted many warnings not to hire Ovitz. The most illustrative came from Joe Roth, who at the time was running Disney’s movie and television business. Roth had been on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard when he received word from Eisner just days after the Capital Cities/ABC merger announcement. “Joe, I want to tell you that I’m going to have a president, and I think I’ve hired someone,” Eisner said. Roth was shocked to hear it was Ovitz.
Roth immediately flew to Aspen to meet alone with Eisner. There, he tried hard to convince the Disney chairman that he was making a big — perhaps the biggest — mistake in his life by bringing in Ovitz.
Eisner was taken aback by Roth’s intensity. After all, weren’t Ovitz and Roth pals? Hadn’t Ovitz done Roth’s Caravan Pictures deal at Disney a few years earlier? There was a discussion about agents and studio heads, both general and specific to Ovitz. Roth opined that Ovitz wouldn’t know how to operate in the corporate arena. But Eisner was adamant. Sure, their goals were different across the negotiating table, but “Mike can change,” Eisner argued. “He could be like Lew Wasserman, who went from an agent to a studio head.”
“No, he can’t,” Roth replied.
Eisner wouldn’t budge.
“Well, I hope you’re right,” Roth said. “I don’t want to piss
Roth flew on to Los Angeles, resigned to the idea that Ovitz was coming to Disney and resolved to give Eisner the benefit of the doubt.
Later that day, a transatlantic phone call tracked down Roth. On the line from a yacht in the Mediterranean where he was vacationing was power attorney Jake Bloom. “So, let’s do Brad Grey’s film deal,” Bloom bellowed cheerfully, referring to the well-known manager.
“What are you talking about?” asked a puzzled Roth.
“Brad’s film deal. You know. Ovitz called me about it,” the lawyer replied.
“I don’t know anything about it,” Roth said.
Roth barely knew Grey. Though Grey is a great piece of manpower, Roth had never been pitched by him in the 15 years Grey had been a manager. More to the point, Ovitz was treading on Roth’s turf before the new job was even announced publicly. Roth phoned Eisner pronto. “Six hours!” fumed Roth. “SIX HOURS!That’s how long it took Ovitz. Do you still think he’s going to change?”