By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Inside ICM, the agent was known as abusive to colleagues. He considered business-affairs people as disposable as toilet paper. He could be imperious, insensitive and, at times, scathing. As someone who worked for him told me, “Nobody could make you feel better; and nobody could make you feel worse.” He made no secret of his contempt for Hollywood and rarely flew to the West Coast. “I wouldn’t want to live in L.A. any more than I would want to live in Los Alamos,” Cohn quipped.
If an ICM agent out in Los Angeles needed a Cohn client for a package, forget it. He ran his own shop. Cohn packaged his projects individually, without any interference from Los Angeles: Still of the Night, Silkwood, The World According to Garp, Plenty, Breaking Away, Kramer vs. Kramer, All That Jazz and other films. But the younger ICM agents came to bitterly resent that Cohn would never lend them a helping hand and wouldn’t even speak to them.
Cohn’s refusal to return calls was almost pathological; eventually, he stopped returning phone calls even from his own clients. Unreturned calls mounted into the hundreds. One time, when I asked Cohn to explain, the agent simply shrugged and said, “I hate giving bad news.” But the obdurate silence was cited as one of the biggest problems at ICM by a consultant’s report about why the agency was so dysfunctional: “In the last five years, I’ve never been able to get Sam Cohn on the phone,” castigated one anonymous agent in the report.
CAA co-founder Ron Meyer courted Cohn’s clients from Malibu. For months and months, Meyer talked up CAA and talked down Cohn: The ICM agent was not responsive to clients, he wouldn’t return phone calls, he wasn’t plugged into the Hollywood studios. In just over a year, Meyer stole many of Cohn’s stars. Cohn never recovered professionally from the CAA onslaught. He remained a legendary agent but never again a show-biz powerhouse. The industry will never see his kind again.
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