Michael Ovitz

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Michael Ovitz
Born (1946-12-14) December 14, 1946 (age 71)
Chicago, Illinois
OccupationCo-founder of the Creative Artists Agency
President of The Walt Disney Company
Spouse(s)Judy Reich (m. 1969)
ChildrenChristopher Ovitz
Kimberly Ovitz
Eric Ovitz

Michael S. Ovitz (born December 14, 1946) is an American businessman, investor, and philanthropist. He is a talent agent who co-founded Creative Artists Agency (CAA) in 1975 and served as its chairman until 1995. Ovitz later served as President of The Walt Disney Company from October 1995 to January 1997.

Early life[edit]

Ovitz was born to a Jewish family[1][2] in Chicago, Illinois, the son of a liquor wholesaler. Raised in Encino, California, he attended Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, a classmate of Sally Field. While a pre-med student at UCLA, he began his entertainment career as a part-time tour guide at Universal Studios. Upon graduating from UCLA in 1968 with a degree in theater, film, and television, he secured a job in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency. Within a year he was promoted, becoming a highly successful television agent. Six years later, he and four other young colleagues left William Morris to found Creative Artists Agency.[3]

Creative Artists Agency[edit]

Ovitz founded Creative Artists Agency in 1975 along with fellow William Morris Agents Ron Meyer, Bill Haber, Rowland Perkins, and Mike Rosenfeld. Borrowing only $21,000 from a bank,[4] the agents rented a small office, conducting business on card tables and rented chairs, their wives taking turns as agency receptionist.[3]

Under his direction, CAA quickly grew from a start-up organization to the world’s leading talent agency, expanding from television into film, investment banking, and advertising.[5] Ovitz was known for assembling “package deals”, wherein CAA would utilize its talent base to provide directors, actors and screenwriters to a studio, thus shifting the negotiating leverage from the studios to the talent.[6] As CAA rose in stature Ovitz became one of the most powerful men in Hollywood.[7] Promoted to President, then to Chairman of the Board, his roles at CAA were numerous. He served as talent agent to Hollywood actors Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Costner, John Belushi, Michael Douglas, Bill Murray, Sylvester Stallone, and Barbra Streisand, as well as directors Steven Spielberg, Barry Levinson, and Sydney Pollack.[8] He also provided corporate consulting services, helping negotiate several major international business mergers and deals including Matsushita’s acquisition of MCA/Universal, the financial rescue of MGM/United Artists, and Sony’s acquisition of Columbia Pictures.[9] His signing of Coca-Cola as a CAA client from agency McCann-Erickson had a significant impact on the advertising industry.[10] He negotiated David Letterman's move from NBC to CBS, chronicled in the book The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno, and the Network Battle for the Night by Bill Carter.[11]

Disney President[edit]

Ovitz resigned from CAA in 1995 to become president of The Walt Disney Company under chairman Michael Eisner. Ovitz quickly grew frustrated with his role in the company and vague definition of duties.[12] After a tumultuous year as Eisner's second in command, he was dismissed by Eisner in January 1997[13] and left Disney with a (previously agreed upon) severance package valued at $38 million in cash and an estimated $100 million in stock.[14]

Disney shareholders later sued Eisner and Disney's board of directors for awarding Ovitz such a large severance package.[14] Later court proceedings reflect that Ovitz' stock options were granted when he was hired to induce him to join the company, not granted when he was fired. In 2005 the court upheld Disney's payment.[15]

Artist Management Group and controversy[edit]

In January 1999, Ovitz formed CKE, comprising four distinct companies: Artist Management Group (AMG), Artist Production Group (APG), Artist Television Group (ATG) and Lynx Technology Group (LTG). In 2002 Ovitz sold AMG to Jeff Kwatinetz for an estimated $12 million, which was merged into his management group The Firm.[16]

After the sale of AMG, Ovitz became the subject of controversy for remarks made in a Vanity Fair interview,[17] wherein he blamed the downfall of AMG upon a Hollywood cabal led by Dreamworks cofounder David Geffen which Ovitz described as the "gay mafia" (despite the fact that most of its purported members were not gay).[17] In addition to Geffen, the list included The New York Times Hollywood correspondent Bernie Weinraub, Disney Chairman (and former employer) Michael Eisner; Bryan Lourd, Kevin Huvane, and Richard Lovett, partners at CAA, Universal Studios president Ronald Meyer (Ovitz's former partner at CAA); and Vivendi Universal Entertainment CEO Barry Diller. "If I were to establish the foundation of the negativity," Ovitz stated, "it all comes down to David Geffen and Bernie Weinraub. Everything comes back to those two. It’s the same group [quoted] in every article."[17] He later apologized for his Vanity Fair comments.[18]

Personal life[edit]

Ovitz now acts as a private investor who has informally advised the careers of luminaries such as Martin Scorsese. Active in philanthropy, he donated $25 million in 1999 to spearhead fund raising efforts for UCLA's Medical Center,[19] and has contributed significantly to numerous other philanthropic endeavors.[20] A private investor and businessman, his notable activities have ranged from attempts to bring an NFL team to the Los Angeles Coliseum [21] to ventures in online media.[22]

Ovitz is considered among the world's top 200 art collectors.[23] He owns works by Pablo Picasso, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and many others.[24]

His daughter is New York fashion designer Kimberly Ovitz.[25]

In 2015 Ovitz became engaged to Tamara Mellon despite still being legally married to his wife Judy.[26][27]

Business positions
Preceded by
Frank Wells
Disney Presidents
Succeeded by
Robert Iger


Ovitz published an autobiography 'Who is Michael Ovitz' in September 2018.[28][29]


  1. ^ New York Times: "Michael Ovitz Is on the Line" By Lynn Hirschberg May 09, 1999
  2. ^ Brook, Vincent. From Shtetl to Stardom: Jews and Hollywood: Chapter 1: Still an Empire of Their Own: How Jews Remain Atop a Reinvented Hollywood. Purdue University Press. p. 10.
  3. ^ a b Castro, Janice (February 13, 1989), "Pocketful of Stars: Michael Ovitz", Time, Time Inc.
  4. ^ When Marc Met Mike–Andreessen Interviews Ovitz
  5. ^ "Ovitz, Michaeal - U.S. Media Executive". Museum of Broadcast Communications.
  6. ^ Cieply, Michael (July 2, 1989), "Inside the Agency - How Hollywood works: Creative Artists Agency and the men who run it", Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Company
  7. ^ Appelo, Tim (Nov 2, 1990), "101 Most Powerful People in Entertainment", Entertainment Weekly, Time Inc.
  8. ^ "Michael Ovitz: A Tough, Innovative Superagent Emerges as King of the Hollywood Deal", People, Dec 31, 1990
  9. ^ Castro, Janice (Apr 19, 1993), "In A Rare Interview, Ovitz Defends His Power", Time, Time Inc.
  10. ^ Top 100 People of the Advertising Century
  11. ^ Bill Carter (January 30, 1994). "Behind the Headlines in the Leno -- Letterman War". The New York Times.
  12. ^ "Michael Ovitz", Yahoo!
  13. ^ Masters, Kim (Aug 16, 2004), "Deposed: The strange hiring and firing of Michael Ovitz.", Slate, The Washington Post Company
  14. ^ a b Brehm v. Eisner, 746 A.2d 244 (Delaware, 2000)
  15. ^ Holson, Laura (Aug 10, 2005), "Ruling Upholds Disney's Payment in Firing of Ovitz", The New York Times, The New York Times Company
  16. ^ Holson, Laura; Weinraub, Bernard (May 13, 2002), "Some See a Young Ovitz in Emerging Power Broker", New York Times
  17. ^ a b c Burrough, Bryan (August 2002), "Ovitz Agonistes", Vanity Fair, Conde Nast
  18. ^ Gorman, Steve (July 3, 2002), Ex-Hollywood Superagent Regrets 'Gay Mafia' Remark, archived from the original on June 21, 2010
  19. ^ Purdum, Todd (May 23, 1999), "Ex-Mogul at Helm Again, for Hospital", The New York Times, The New York Times Company
  20. ^ Steinburg, Jacques (June 10, 1998), "Voucher Program for Inner-City Children", The New York Times, The New York Times Company
  21. ^ Ovitz's Coliseum Design Dazzles NFL in Preview
  22. ^ Pollack, Andrew (May 21, 1999), "THE MEDIA BUSINESS; Ovitz Helps Form On-Line Entertainment Venture", The New York Times, The New York Times Company
  23. ^ The ARTnews 200 Top Collectors Archived 2010-10-25 at the Wayback Machine.
  24. ^ Money makes the art go round
  25. ^ New York Fashion Week fall 2013: Kimberly Ovitz
  26. ^ [1]
  27. ^ [2]
  28. ^ "Review: Michael Ovitz Offers a Revealing Retelling of His Hollywood Career". Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  29. ^ Cieply, Michael (2018-10-01). "'Who Is Michael Ovitz?' Review: A New Memoir From The Master Of Confession And Concealment". Deadline. Retrieved 2018-11-19.

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