The Client Carousel: Hollywood’s Great Off Screen Dramas
By CT Goodson
Hollywood drama – the world simply cannot get enough of it. From compelling series like CSI and Lost to movie franchises like Mission Impossible I, II & II and the latest, The Hunger Games, Hollywood is the world’s marketplace for high energy, high emotion universal escapism.
It takes a certain level of talent to keep us, the infinitely insatiable voyeurs, coming back for more. In the latest episode of KoldCast TV’s King of the List, Craigslist agent Ron Barba finds his faith in his own roster of talent renewed, after nearly giving up on the lineup of creative Craigslist eccentrics. Having navigated the same treacheries that Hollywood power agents go through – rival agents poaching his clients, entertainers unraveling psychologically, and one even dying just after a spectacular audition – it’s no wonder Barba was nearing the end of his rope.
King of The List – Bully for You Ron Barba!
Tinseltown has its own special brand of eccentric talent that occasionally has to be corralled. Equally powerful energy emanates from agents and managers that operate their client carousels – described as such because the talent is known to fire and rehire their representation every few years. This energy just happens to be relegated to real world dramas that occur every single day, behind the scenes on phone calls, emails, and through lawyers.
Tom Cruise vs. Viacom
Tom Cruise was the world’s most famous actor, second only to Will Smith today – maybe Brad Pitt. He was also the most important client of the dominant Creative Artists Agency (CAA). For a quarter of a century he was untouchable. That is, until his very public stumping for personal causes and effective “creative suicide” started costing Paramount Studios a loss in revenue.
When Viacom chief Sumner Redstone fired the Hollywood behemoth and shut down his on-the-lot production office, the story headlined The Wall Street Journal. While the industry openly reeled over the opportunities this presented, Cruise’s agent, Rick Nicita, didn’t wring his hands or his client’s neck. Instead, Cruise was quietly maneuvered into position with MGM Studios while Nicita worked out a deal with United Artists to reconstitute its brand under the MGM banner.
In no time, United Artists got its own financing and movies to produce, while MGM had a new pair of studio chiefs – Tom Cruise and his producing partner, Paula Wagner, who incidentally, was Rick Nicita’s wife. Wagner has since stepped down from MGM, which was later bought out by Spyglass Entertainment after massive debt nearly bankrupted it.
Mel Gibson vs. WME
He’s been publicly accused of anti-Semitism, racism, alcoholism and domestic battery. His enraged personal rants and deadly angry outbursts have been outed to the public via recorded conversations gone viral on entertainment media. And throughout all of the career killing and berserk behavior, the actor remained a client of his long-time agent, Ed Limato. That is, until William Morris Endeavor Entertainment (WME), the agency at which Limato was an agent, dropped Gibson from their roster a mere week after Ed passed away.
Ari Emanuel, president of WME, is an influential figure in the Jewish community and needless to say in the entertainment community. He had enough of Gibson’s hateful speech and made the call to let him go. According to sources close to the matter, the actual firing took place a day before Mr. Limato passed away but only hit the press a week later, causing some controversy. Timing really is everything.
Billy Sammeth, An Agent Scorned
What’s a loyal agent with a 20-year client relationship with Cher to do when she suddenly fires him? Or when Joan Rivers refuses to repay a charity pledge that the same loyal agent ends up fronting to help her win Celebrity Apprentice? In an interview with Kevin Sessums of The Daily Beast, agent Billy Sammeth unloads on Cher and Joan Rivers and reveals that he is planning to write a book.
Although he says he felt not only wronged, but heartbroken, when the seemingly immortal divas fired him (Cher in 1999 and Rivers days after she won The Celebrity Apprentice), he sued them both for lost commissions and Rivers for character defamation, with each case settled before ever making it to court. It appears that Sammeth will bounce from pocketbook to tell-all book in an effort to soothe the scorn of his broken heart.
Lou Pearlman – Perseverance Pays
Lou Pearlman was at one time both a mogul and a mastermind to the talent and investment industries. Not necessarily beset by neurotic thespians or crazed celebrities-in-the-making, Pearlman was tortured by his own lavish demons.
Credited with launching the boy band craze of the 1990s, Pearlman was also known at one time to the Orlando community as “Big Poppa” for his local contributions as a popular and seemingly lucrative business man. He was profiled on 60 Minutes II and 20/20. He produced the ABC/MTV series, Making the Band. At one time, there wasn’t anything that Lou Pearlman couldn’t do; he promoted and launched a new brand of entertainment in the 1990s, created an airplane-charter business and managed the funding of Orlando’s showcase real-estate project, Church Street Station.
Now the former manager of ‘NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys and O-Town is doing hard time in prison, 25 years, about the same amount of time he spent being revered in the entertainment industry and adored by the retirement community. Pearlman’s eye for undiscovered talent and his knack for weaving bored, retired investors into the glitz of the entertainment industry made him a millionaire who could afford to keep all his delicate plates spinning for two decades. Unfortunately, even though Pearlman was the most strategic of talent managers, he was not able to put the pieces of shattered investments and bad PR back together for his most lucrative client – himself.
The authorities and Pearlman’s penchant for living large caught up to him in 2006. A supposed airline business, funded through nearly half a billion dollars put up by investors, turned out to be a Ponzi scheme. Pearlman used the enticement of his lavish lifestyle to encourage and bilk approximately 2,000 investors – many of them bored Florida retirees. After years of legal disputes and government inquiries into his finances, he finally ended up pleading guilty to conspiracy, money laundering and a false bankruptcy claim. Even after the house of cards toppled, Pearlman the ringmaster still tried to work the show from his cell by requesting a delay to his sentencing so he could launch his latest boy band, US 5. His reasoning: their success would create the profits that would be used to repay his victims.
King of The List – Ventriloquist, duh!?
CT Goodson is an independent writer from Chicago who has been temporarily transplanted to a small, northern Illinois town. She is an active board member of a Chicago area based writers group that promotes the education and support of writers of all genres. She is currently working on a novel and deftly managing life’s chaos with a little help from an extraordinarily talented research associate and gifted friend.