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But Morris’ greatest strength as an institution — its enduring constancy in the face of flux — would become the agency’s greatest weakness for decades. True, the daily sight of the septuagenarian Abe Lastfogel shuffling the two blocks from his penthouse apartment to the Beverly Hills office in the 1970s, or of the octogenarian Lou Weiss sitting behind a desk in the New York office even today has been a comfort in a perplexing world of little stability and less sanity. But in a town where loyalties change with the latest box-office numbers, Morris had always been more than just a place of work. It’s a family or, more to the point, a Jewish family, with all the tradition and dysfunction that implies. Close-knit to a fault, the group of elders who long ran the agency with one eye on the dotted line and the other on the bottom line viewed agenting not as a career but as a religion. For young agents, the feeling you were almost working for your parents was at times odd, even humorous, and stood in contrast to the cruel realities of show biz. It was assumed that the Morris elders would finish their careers at the Morris office and be carried out the door feet first.
Certainly that’s been Brokaw’s attitude.
After running Morris for decades, Brokaw has weathered the agency’s up and downs. His blind devotion to the agency made him something of a joke with younger colleagues. Without the least hint of self-consciousness, he made such grandiose pronouncements to colleagues and reporters as: "The way Morris goes is the way show business goes" or "We’re not the best because we’re the oldest; we’re the oldest because we’re the best." Once, when the Saturday staff at the Grill didn’t recognize Brokaw and refused him his usual booth, the agent returned with a copy of his "official" Morris biography. Brokaw seemed hopelessly out of date and out of step with gab about dead stars like Marilyn Monroe or nearly dead ones like Red Buttons.
That is, until Brokaw could lay claim to the biggest deal in the history of the agency, the syndication of client Bill Cosby’s 1984-1992 sitcom, The Cosby Show. I’m told Morris’ first check came to $40 million, the biggest packaging fee for a series in the history of television at the time. Many more checks followed, and Brokaw to this day is considered a working agent who earns his keep. No one will ever dare show him the door.
On the other hand, Haskell may leave on his own. He’s that rarity among top Hollywood TV agents: goyim. Morris knows from Italian-Americans in its midst (affectionately dubbed "faux Jews") but not from Haskell, who hails from the spit-sized town of Amory, Mississippi. There’s even a street named after him. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Haskell, a Republican, runs for Congress with the help of his Mississippi buddy Trent Lott, the ex-Senate majority leader.
Which brings us to Wiatt.
The son of a clothing magnate, a Beverly Hills High brat, an aide to former Senator John Tunney, Wiatt loved politics but never thought he’d make a good candidate himself. That’s why he believed he’d make a good agent because he never wanted to be the star. Wiatt rose at ICM to co-chairman because he could massage egos, put out fires, translate boss Jeff Berg’s "vision" into everyday concepts and, most importantly, get Sam Cohn on the telephone. But for years, Wiatt had lived the high life (literally) and, after two divorces and a third marriage (to Berg’s ex-assistant), found himself deeply in debt to ICM. With reportedly over $1.5 million worth of loans outstanding, and most of his compensation tied up in company stock, Wiatt made no secret of the fact that he needed cold hard cash to keep his gilded lifestyle. After looking around, he jumped to Morris.
There are some who believe that Wiatt is an agency lifer and others who suspect he is still on the prowl. With mogul pals like Les Moonves, Tom Freston, Brad Grey and Jeff Katzenberg, he wouldn’t mind joining their club. It’s known he’s available for the Paramount topper job and even the Disney CEO gig. But as long as Hollywood superlawyer Skip Brittenham remains Wiatt’s buddy, the agent will not worry too much about losing his footing at Morris, should a temblor happen to roll through.
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