Letterman's Dare and 4 Other Stories From CAA Book 'Powerhouse'

How Stallone blew 'Beverly Hills Cop,' Hawn lost 'Thelma & Louise,' Redford outmaneuvered Ovitz and other surprising anecdotes in the blockbuster new oral history of the celebrated talent agency.
Getty Images; Courtesy of Custom House
Michael Ovitz (left), Ron Meyer

Powerhouse, the much-anticipated 707-page oral history of CAA, went on sale on Tuesday.

The book, Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency, details the 1975 defection of Michael Ovitz, Ron Meyer and three others from William Morris to start their own agency; how CAA came to dominate Hollywood in the 1980s and early '90s; the takeover of the agency by the “Young Turks” after the departure of Meyer [for Universal] and Ovitz [for Disney]; and its diversification in the 2000s.

Here are five stories about some of Hollywood’s biggest stars who worked with CAA during the heyday of Ovitz and Meyer:

David Letterman Made Ovitz’s Son Chug Tabasco for $100
Ovitz asked Letterman if his son could tag alone on the late-night host's private jet to the Caribbean so he could join other Ovitz family members on vacation. On the plane, Letterman learned the kid didn't really have any money of his own, so he dared him to drink a bottle of Tabasco for $100. Ovitz’s son chugged it. “Holy shit,” Letterman suddenly thought, “what if I poisoned Ovitz’s son? Oh my god.” But, as Letterman recalled, “The kid just barked and coughed a little bit and stuck out his hand, and I gave him the hundred bucks.”

Meyer Begged Sylvester Stallone to Make Beverly Hills Cop …
Meyer: "In the early ’80s, I called Sly about an offer I had received for a movie that I was really excited about him doing. I knew that he probably wouldn’t want to do this film because it somewhat parodied his tough-guy image.”

Stallone: "Ron told me, 'Don’t change it,' but I took the script and rewrote it as a kind of compromise, where the guy was action-oriented but he also had a wry sense of humor.”

Meyer: "Nobody wanted his version, so I begged him, 'Please, do the original script.'"

Stallone: “I didn’t think I could pull it off. Then that ship sailed.”

Meyer: "The movie was Beverly Hills Cop, and as everyone knows, it got made with Eddie Murphy, who became a big star off of it."

… And Took the Blame for Goldie Hawn Not Getting Thelma & Louise
“That was a movie that I really, really wanted to do. Ron was my agent and set up a meeting for me with Ridley [Scott],” recalled Hawn, who thought her talk with the director went well. But Scott turned to Meyer. “Ridley told me, 'I don’t think she’s for me,' but because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, I ate it,” Meyer said. “I told her I didn’t think the movie was right for her and talked her out of it. When the movie came out and was a hit, she told me she regretted not doing it but didn’t dwell on it, and it never affected our relationship.”

Robert Redford Maneuvered Ovitz Into Letting Ovitz's Former Assistant David O’Connor Rep the Star
Redford took a shine to O’Connor after he helped him find a new president for his production company. He called O’Connor to a private meeting and told him he wanted him as his agent instead of Ovitz, whom he was frustrated with. Redford said, “Let me talk to Mike.” O’Connor relayed what happened next. “I got back to the office and about half an hour later was told, 'Michael wants to see you in his office.' So I sit down in front of his desk and he leans back and he looks at me and he says, 'You know, I think it's time for you to represent a major movie star on your own, and I think I have the perfect opportunity.' I said, 'Great! Who do you have in mind?' He says, 'I think I can convince Redford that you’re the guy, that you’re right for him, and that the two of you have the same sensibility. I also think he’d like you personally.' I said, 'OK. Great, I’m happy. Let me know what I need to do.' He said, 'I’ll work on this and get back to you.' I never let on what I had happened, but really? You’ve got to manipulate me at this moment in time?"

Ovitz Didn’t Negotiate a Fee With Coca-Cola in Advance When the Company Hired CAA for Advice in 1992
CAA took over Coke’s advertising from McCann Erickson (even though it had no experience in this field) and came up with the hit campaign that featured polar bears and generated $42 million in merchandise sales the second year. Peter Sealey, the Coke executive who worked with CAA, came up with what he thought was a fair fee. “I had my accounting guys issue a check for $10 million, payable to Michael Ovitz, and I had them put it in the hands of a little toy polar bear and walk it over to CAA. Three days later, I got an envelope from Michael with the same check and a little Post-it note. The check is voided and the Post-it says, 'Pete, let’s discuss this.' Ovitz eventually complained all the way to Coke CEO Roberto Goizueta that the fee was too low. The final payout? “Thirty-one million,” recalled Sealey. “In retrospect, it was worth it. But it was classic Michael Ovitz. You’ve got to admire the guy.”

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