Who Is Michael Ovitz? is no better written than an email from the boss to the guys. But that’s its proper and very readable style. We should guard against Ovitz’s calm vanity in interpreting all the deals. Some have seen the book as a grandiloquent and self-serving celebration of the way efficiency killed Hollywood, following decades in which the business had been lyrically unbusinesslike. But while there can be no doubt that Ovitz was a uniquely obsessed operative, if it hadn’t been him it would have been someone else. There was once an age when uneducated vulgarians who had escaped Europe made raw pictures that thrilled the world. But their business grew so large it became part of the conglomerated media industry. In the process, the vibrant mainstream picture – dreams for everyone – died, and expertise is part of what smothered it.
Who is Michael Ovitz? reads more like an essay question than the title of a book but it is a good one, since most people will have forgotten the former Hollywood agent... Ovitz’s memoir is a fascinating study of how one agency managed to alter the balance of forces in an industry, usurping the role of studios by cornering access to talent. “To get actors, we needed directors . . . but to get to the directors, there was a further step: we needed writers . . . To get to writers, you often had to get to the executives they trusted... There is an absence from Who is Michael Ovitz? that somehow feels symbolic. The book has no acknowledgments, nor any mention of the ghostwriter — an extremely skilled one, to judge by the result — that Ovitz appears to have employed. No one is permitted to share credit with the star. The danger with pushing others aside to seize the top billing is that you end up alone.
He still owns the old CAA office designed by IM Pei that he was so proud of building, but when he recently revisited it, empty, “It felt small.' The same might be said of him. But we can conclude, at least, that this book is mostly honest, and therefore a useful contribution to the history of Hollywood, because it is so self-damaging.
As a study in the unusual personality traits required to pull this off, “Who Is Michael Ovitz?” represents a master class of sorts. Watching Mr. Ovitz simultaneously manage his clients and his partners while the going was good is something to behold: the strange fascination with gifting and clothing; the obsession with establishing bona fides in art and architecture; even the dissembling. It is not a package that could or should be replicated. But it all improbably worked for a time and might have gone on for longer if Mr. Ovitz had not convinced himself that he was destined for greater things.