One of my favorite guilty pleasures is stories of Hollywood people having badly. Love The Player. Love Entourage. Always a good time.
I was therefore naturally attracted to Powerhouse by James Andrew Miller. This is the story of the founding of Creative Artists, the ground-breaking literary agency. (I also read Miller’s book on ESPN). Miller’s trademark is writing oral histories, and he is extremely good at it. There is commentary when needed, but it is used sparingly. He doesn’t re-invent dialogue (I’m looking at you Bob Woodward), but takes the actual quotes and puts them under the name of the actual person who said it. (It’s a little Studs Terkelish).
There’s a huge amount of skill in how these things are assembled. He lets the reader play along. For example, he will juxtapose two recollections which are 100% divergent, and let you, first, gawk, and then second decide for yourself who is right. ProTip: When you are faced with an employee saying that the work environment is shit and a CEO saying it was collegial and supportive, believe the employee
Anyway, the book has more than its share of bat-shit crazy people, starting with Michael Ovitz. There are certainly others–this is Hollywood–but Ovitz is the king of the bat house. Someone calls him a “maniac” and that might be the most perfect word for it.
Not only are the agents included, but many of the clients as well.
The only thing I didn’t expect to find was good guys. Ron Meyer, a co-founder, is just a 100% good guy. In fact, there are numerous testimonials of performers who credit CAA for their very career–people like David Letterman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tom Hanks, Eva Longoria–and do so in such an emotional and effusive way that it blows away the caricature of the agent we usually see.
CAA’s innovation was to work across the functional lines of the company, allowing Eva Longoria (for example) to develop a film career along with extending her into other businesses. Letterman had a similar story and there are others. And they made a difference in the lives of a wide variety of artists and performers in a wide variety of fields.
One other thing. I don’t know what I thought, but the agents in this book work incredibly hard. It’s a 24/7 story, at least for the ones who excel. There’s no downtime and little sleep. I am not sure I have ever met any single person who works as hard as ALL these people do. It’s a lifestyle decision. Yes, you will get rich but you have to live like this to get it. Nothing comes without trade-offs.
My recommendation is that if you like stories of Hollywood, this book is for you. And if you like business dramas, this book is for you.