By Published on .

Michael Ovitz! You've finally been hired to run a Hollywood entertainment company! What are you going to do now?

It's the question everyone within Hollywood wants answered. But they'll have to wait until Mr. Ovitz, Hollywood's most powerful superagent and deal broker, assumes his new responsibilities as president of Walt Disney Co. Oct. 1.

And even then, answers may not be quick in coming. Moreover, Mr. Ovitz's migration has left a choppy wake that will ripple through Hollywood. The Beverly Hills, Calif., talent agency he turned into a legendary and intimidating business force, Creative Artists Agency, is not only adrift without a skipper but could become a ghost ship. Second-in-command Ron Meyer left last month to head up MCA, a job Mr. Ovitz turned down in June.

Bill Haber, CAA's third partner, is rumored to be leaving soon, as well. A committee within CAA was set up last week to make decisions about the agency's future, and while it's likely to survive, the days of speaking of and about CAA in reverent and off-the-record tones are most likely over.

The same can't be said of Mr. Ovitz. He continues to be the most connected man in Hollywood, but the honorific of Most Powerful Man in Hollywood has been passed on to his new boss, Disney Chairman-CEO Michael Eisner.

But this was the job Mr. Ovitz wanted. The skinny on Mr. Ovitz is that he has longed to be more than a behind-the-scenes gamesman, to be a creative player.

"Michael Ovitz took this job to make his mark," said one Hollywood insider. "He's going to have opportunities galore, with ABC, Disney Interactive, the theme parks, everything. He's got toys to play with and deals to make and strategic alliances to put together. He'll want to shine."

Mr. Ovitz's business interests match well with Disney's. Disney recently created an interactive unit aligned with phone companies Ameritech Corp., BellSouth Corp. and SBC Communications, and plans to soon launch an online service. Mr. Ovitz brought together Bell Atlantic Corp., Nynex Corp. and Pacific Telesis Group to form Tele-TV.

In sports, Disney is building a sports complex at Walt Disney World Resort, owns the NHL's Mighty Ducks and a quarter of baseball's California Angels, and has designs on an NFL franchise. One question is how the new guy will fit in. Mr. Ovitz is known for his predilection for abstract art and interest in Eastern philosophies. Disney is about as traditional and plastic as Western culture can get. So will Ovitz change Disney or vice versa?

"Disney already has a strong corporate culture and one individual alone won't change that, not even Ovitz," said a Hollywood observer familiar with the man.

And to think a year ago, following the death of Mr. Ovitz's predecessor, Frank Wells; Mr. Eisner's quadruple bypass; and the bitter resignation of movie chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, Wall Street was worried that Disney didn't have the talent in place for the post-Eisner years.

"All those fears should be allayed," said Jessica Reif, first VP covering entertainment companies for Merrill Lynch & Co., New York.

Many believe that Mr. Eisner's recent moves-snaring Capital Cities/ABC and hiring his best friend to serve as his second-are a prelude to his biggest move of all: retirement.

Complementing that is another theory that ABC President Bob Iger will be groomed to become Disney president when and if Mr. Ovitz succeeds Mr. Eisner, now 53. Mr. Iger had been rumored for the Disney president job after the merger, and some interpreted the selection of Mr. Ovitz as a slight to Mr. Iger. However, Mr. Iger said last week he was quite content in his present job.

A Disney spokesman said the company had no comment and calls to Mr. Ovitz at CAA weren't returned.

================================================================= Michael Ovitz

BORN: December 14, 1946

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Chairman of Creative Artists Agency, where he consulted

Sony on its purchase of Columbia Pictures in 1989, and brokered Matsushita Electric Industrial's takeover of MCA in 1991. Agent at William Morris

Agency from 1968 to 1975; tour guide at Universal Studios while attending

UCLA, from which he graduated in 1968.

PERSONAL: Married to Judy Reich; three children-two boys and a girl.

Most Popular
In this article: