The Last of the Old-Style Hollywood Agents


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Ed Limato, a great Hollywood agent, passed away this weekend at 73, after a singular and stellar 40-year-long career, during which he never became irrelevant. His style became archaic, but never ineffective. To get his way, he would scream at you at the top of his lungs, tell you he was never speaking to you again, and hang up—and then send you flowers the next day.

This is how I was finally cut from Ed's glamorous Oscar party after 20 years of happy continuous attendance:

For a sweet shining moment a while ago, I had a development fund at Paramount, where I whimsically—it seems now, anyway—developed a very good script of my favorite book, Philip Roth's American Pastoral. The fact that I did things then like develop my favorite tragedy makes me simultaneously laugh and cry now, but I digress. So for that millisecond, and the further millisecond in which I controlled the script (long, hideous story) Ed and I had one of our calls that Did Not End Well.

Another important digression: Throughout my career, I knew I had a good piece of material, if, when I came into my office in the morning, I found a call from Ed on my phone sheet. This was one such Monday morning.

"How is that American Pastoral? I hear it is wonderful." His basso profundo voice dragged on like gravel.

"Thank you, Ed. I love it. It will be very hard to get made."

"I have your solution. Mel Gibson should play the Swede." The Swede, as you probably know, is the novel's great American Jewish hero.

I almost fell out of my chair. This was in the height of the controversy over The Passion of Christ, which had set back Jewish-Catholic relations hundreds of years, if not merely prior to the second Vatican Council. Obviously, Ed knew all of this.

My problem is, I engage. I should have played the game.

It's not that I am not ecumenical. It's not that I am closed-minded or one of those Jewish people who cannot see all sides. On the contrary. Take my word, or don't. It's just that this was the stupidest idea I had ever heard.

I know what I should have said. If I were a wiser, wilier producer, or even one who lived to stay on Ed's list, I would have said, "Interesting...Let me think about it. Let me talk to my director! " Not that Ed would have let me get away with that. He's too good for that nonsense.

But I couldn't help it, it just came out. Something like, "Really?... Seriously?" I could hear his blood start to boil.

Now let me think this through. Had I been a what we shall call, for the purposes of this blog, a New-Style Producer, which I strive to be these days, Mel would have a) gotten the picture made? And then 6 months later run into a cop while drunk in Malibu and accused the Jews of starting all the world's great wars? Or b) Been on-set and completely sober when he made those comments, and Ed would have saved his career and the movie would have been made? You tell me. Anyway, I still would say the same thing, now because, frightfully, I am me. So Ed being Ed, he flipped out, screamed and yelled at me, told me what good this could do for Mel and "MY PEOPLE!!"

And that was it for me—and Ed's Oscar party.

But Ed and I of course kept doing business, and lunching and laughing, despite my banishment. And I always hoped for his call when the good scripts came in. They kept on coming, and he remained my barometer for the next upteen years.

That was Ed. His loyalty was of mafia proportions. He was fighting for Mel, and there was never any objectivity about his clients, any rational conversation like you can have with a New-Style Agent. As in, "Yes, of course, Lynda. That would definitely alienate the base audience, garner terrible and weird publicity, not be good for anyone. I understand." When cool heads prevail, as with a New-Style Agent, you can have a conversation like, "What about one of my other clients, Richard Gere?"

When Ed and I were putting together One Fine Day, with his then client, Michelle Pfeiffer, whom he loved to pieces and represented brilliantly, he wanted more than anything for Gere to play The Guy. I was interested in this new guy, off ER, George Clooney. As a super glamorous feature agent, Ed looked down on the TV star. He had only done a bit thing in a horror film. He told me that if George Clooney got that part he'd eat his hat. But Michelle loved George when she met and read with him, so Ed went along with it. He ate no hats. I got great flowers. New-Style Agents do not fight this hard, because they may sign George Clooney some day, and there are no secrets in Hollywood.

Agents who could bellow, like Ed, and then turn on his heels and be a gentleman to his awaiting guest, who could demonize and then send flowers, have been replaced by the low-key guy everyone loves, and sends flowers to everyone on birthdays and births. These guys are a pleasure to deal with and heaven to strategize with. The New-Style Agent is funny, if he has a personality, and the most controversial thing he might do is date a movie star—not fight a mogul like Ed.

Ed's passing can be seen as is the end of many things in our industry. It is the passing of a man, an era, and a style. He is certainly the last man in our business who will be able to wear a cape to work and get away with it, without playing a superhero. There are many New-Style Agents who are incredibly natty and wear avant-garde designer suits—but none of them is yellow or salmon. Nor will any of today's few big Oscar bash-throwers ever again greet their guests in Hawaiian shirts, barefoot.