Power To Burn: Michael Ovitz & the New Business of Show Business

Published: 01/01/1996

As the head of the high-rolling Creative Artists Agency from 1975-95, Michael Ovitzwas called the most powerful (and most feared) man in Hollywood. A full-scale businessbiography, Power to Burn offers the first complete, unauthorized portraitof one of the most formidable and famous, yet least known media moguls. His storyreally began in the mid-1970s when Ovitz and four colleagues bolted the legendaryWilliam Morris Agency to start CAA. They had a $100,000 line of credit and a borrowedoffice furnished with card tables and folding chairs. Ovitz was 28 years old, hungry,and scared.

Fifteen years later, from its I.M. Pie-designed fortress on Wilshire Boulevard,CAA had come to control a multibillion-dollar client list that boasted some of thebiggest moneymakers in Hollywood: Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, and BarbraStreisand. The Morris Agency was now the one running scared, as Ovitz’s cutthroatnegotiating tactics provoked accusations throughout Hollywood that CAA was tryingto put its competitors out of business. Ovitz saw Hollywood agenting as not merelyas a job, but as an extension of the art of war and he was ruthless about winning.

Superagents had come and gone, but LA had never seen his like before. Always dressedin Armani, unnervingly reserved and quiet, Ovtiz took agenting into uncharted territory,from brokering the sale of MCA to Japan’s Matsushita Corporation to creatinga new marketing campaign for Coca-Cola. Nationally and then internationally, heseemed to be pulling the strings behind every big deal in the entertainment industryand beyond. But at the height of his success, a rebellion against him was growinginside of CAA and before it could erupt into full-scale revolution, he left thecompany he’d started.

He shocked the entertainment world by becoming president of Disney — the startof his stunning downfall and disappearance from the Hollywood scene.