Michael Ovitz

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Michael Ovitz
Born (1946-12-14) December 14, 1946 (age 76)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
EducationUniversity of California, Los Angeles
OccupationCo-founder of the Creative Artists Agency
Judy Reich
(m. 1969)
Children3, including Kimberly

Michael Steven Ovitz (born December 14, 1946) is an American businessman, investor, and philanthropist. He was 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 for only 16 months, from October 1995 to January 1997.

Early life and education[edit]

Ovitz was born to a Romanian Jewish family[1][2][3] in Chicago, Illinois, the son of a liquor wholesaler. Raised in Encino, California, he was student body president at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, a classmate of Sally Field and Michael Milken. While a pre-med student at the University of California, Los Angeles and president of Zeta Beta Tau, he began his entertainment career as a part-time tour guide at Universal Studios.[4]


Upon graduating from UCLA, in 1968, with a degree in theater, film, and television, Ovitz secured a job in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency. From there, he left for law school, but returned shortly (something William Morris normally did not allow). He was soon promoted, eventually becoming a highly successful television agent. Six years later, he and four other young colleagues left William Morris to found Creative Artists Agency.[5][6]

Creative Artists Agency[edit]

Dissatisfied with his pay and promotion opportunities, Ovitz and fellow William Morris agents Ronald Meyer, William Haber, Rowland Perkins, and Michael S. Rosenfeld planned to form their own agency after raising money. Learning of their plans, William Morris fired them in January 1975.[6] Borrowing $21,000 from a bank,[7] the agents rented a small office, conducting business on card tables and rented chairs, their wives taking turns as agency receptionist.[5]

Ovitz reportedly had three new film packaging deals sold in the first week. Within four years CAA had $90.2 million in annual bookings and was the third-largest Hollywood agency.[6] 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.[8] 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.[9] As CAA rose in stature Ovitz became one of the most powerful men in Hollywood;[10] he was so influential that, when The New York Times wrote about him in 1989, industry executives, directors, and actors refused to comment or would only do so if CAA allowed it.[6]

Promoted to president, then to chairman of the board, Ovitz's 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.[11] 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.[12] Ovitz's signing of Coca-Cola as a CAA client from agency McCann-Erickson had a significant impact on the advertising industry.[13] 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.[14] He disliked publicity, however, with the Times reporting that "Ovitz is one of the very few people in the world who own almost all the photographs ever taken of them".[6]


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.[15] After a tumultuous year as Eisner's second in command, he was dismissed by Eisner in January 1997[16] and left Disney with a (previously agreed-upon) severance package valued at $38 million in cash and an estimated $100 million in stock.[17]

Disney shareholders later sued Eisner and Disney's board of directors for awarding Ovitz such a large severance package.[17] Later court proceedings reflect that Ovitz's 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.[18]

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 undisclosed amount, which was merged into his management group The Firm.[19]

After the sale of AMG, Ovitz became the subject of controversy for remarks made in a Vanity Fair interview,[20] wherein he blamed the downfall of AMG upon a cabal led by Dreamworks cofounder David Geffen which Ovitz described as the "gay mafia".[20] In addition to Geffen, the list included The New York Times correspondent Bernard 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 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."[20] He later apologized for his Vanity Fair comments.[21]

Personal life[edit]

Ovitz acts as a private investor who has informally advised the career of Martin Scorsese.[citation needed] Active in philanthropy, he donated $25 million in 1999 to spearhead fund raising efforts for UCLA's Medical Center,[22] and has contributed significantly to numerous other philanthropic endeavors.[23] A private investor and businessman, his notable activities have ranged from attempts to bring an NFL team to the Los Angeles Coliseum[24] to ventures in online media.[25]

Ovitz is considered among the world's top 200 art collectors.[26] He owns works by Pablo Picasso, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and many others.[27]

He married Judy Reich whom he met in college;[28] they have three children, including New York fashion designer Kimberly Ovitz.[29]

In 2015, Ovitz became engaged to Tamara Mellon.[30]


Who is Michael Ovitz? was a memoir published by Michael Ovitz recounting his time at the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and his brief stint at The Walt Disney Company.[31][32][33][34]


  1. ^ "David Ovitz". The Chicago Tribune. June 8, 2000. Retrieved March 21, 2013.
  2. ^ New York Times: "Michael Ovitz Is on the Line" By Lynn Hirschberg May 09, 1999
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "Life's Work: An Interview with Michael Ovitz". Harvard Business Review. 2019-01-01. ISSN 0017-8012. Retrieved 2021-10-13.
  5. ^ a b Castro, Janice (February 13, 1989). "Pocketful of Stars: Michael Ovitz". Time. Archived from the original on November 29, 2009.
  6. ^ a b c d e Davis, L. J. (1989-07-09). "Hollywood's Most Secret Agent". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-04-13.
  7. ^ When Marc Met Mike–Andreessen Interviews Ovitz
  8. ^ "Ovitz, Michaeal - U.S. Media Executive". Museum of Broadcast Communications.
  9. ^ Cieply, Michael (July 2, 1989). "Inside the Agency - How Hollywood works: Creative Artists Agency and the men who run it". Los Angeles Times.
  10. ^ Appelo, Tim (Nov 2, 1990). "101 Most Powerful People in Entertainment". Entertainment Weekly.
  11. ^ "Michael Ovitz: A Tough, Innovative Superagent Emerges as King of the Hollywood Deal", People, Dec 31, 1990
  12. ^ Castro, Janice (Apr 19, 1993), "In A Rare Interview, Ovitz Defends His Power", Time, archived from the original on October 27, 2012
  13. ^ Top 100 People of the Advertising Century
  14. ^ Bill Carter (January 30, 1994). "Behind the Headlines in the Leno -- Letterman War". The New York Times.
  15. ^ "Michael Ovitz", Yahoo!
  16. ^ Masters, Kim (Aug 16, 2004), "Deposed: The strange hiring and firing of Michael Ovitz.", Slate, The Washington Post Company
  17. ^ a b Brehm v. Eisner, 746 A.2d 244 (Delaware, 2000)
  18. ^ Holson, Laura (Aug 10, 2005). "Ruling Upholds Disney's Payment in Firing of Ovitz". The New York Times.
  19. ^ Holson, Laura; Weinraub, Bernard (May 13, 2002), "Some See a Young Ovitz in Emerging Power Broker", New York Times
  20. ^ a b c Burrough, Bryan (August 2002), "Ovitz Agonistes", Vanity Fair, Conde Nast
  21. ^ Gorman, Steve (July 3, 2002), Ex-Hollywood Superagent Regrets "Gay Mafia" Remark, archived from the original on June 21, 2010
  22. ^ Purdum, Todd (May 23, 1999), "Ex-Mogul at Helm Again, for Hospital", The New York Times
  23. ^ Steinburg, Jacques (June 10, 1998). "Voucher Program for Inner-City Children". The New York Times.
  24. ^ "Ovitz's Coliseum Design Dazzles NFL in Preview". Los Angeles Times. May 23, 1999.
  25. ^ Pollack, Andrew (May 21, 1999). "THE MEDIA BUSINESS; Ovitz Helps Form On-Line Entertainment Venture". The New York Times.
  26. ^ "The ARTnews 200 Top Collectors". Archived from the original on October 25, 2010.
  27. ^ "Money makes the art go round".
  28. ^ Burrough, Bryan; Masters, Kim (December 6, 2011). "The Mouse Trap". Vanity Fair. Ovitz persuaded his fraternity brothers to choose his girlfriend, Judy Reich, as the official Z.B.T. sweetheart because she belonged to the Waspy Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. He believed the selection would be a coup for the predominantly Jewish Z.B.T.'s.
  29. ^ "New York Fashion Week fall 2013: Kimberly Ovitz". Los Angeles Times. February 8, 2013.
  30. ^ "Tamara Mellon and Michael Ovitz engaged". HELLO!. March 16, 2015.
  31. ^ Knee, Jonathan A. (2018-09-25). "Review: Michael Ovitz Offers a Revealing Retelling of His Hollywood Career". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  32. ^ Cieply, Michael (2018-10-01). "'Who Is Michael Ovitz?' Review: A New Memoir From The Master Of Confession And Concealment". Deadline. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  33. ^ Rushfield, Richard (25 September 2018). "'Who Is Michael Ovitz?' Review: Confessions of a Super Agent". The Wall Street Journal.
  34. ^ "Who is Michael Ovitz? by Michael Ovitz". Financial Times. Retrieved 2019-01-08.

External links[edit]

Business positions
Preceded by Disney Presidents
Succeeded by