Bill Cosby's Enablers: Did William Morris Agents Know the Secrets?
One of the comic's key agents is dead, and others (Jim Wiatt, Irv Weintraub, Dick Alen) who were there say they don't remember assault claims or payouts, but if "your big client wants you to do him a favor, you do it."
This story first appeared in the Aug. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Tom Illius cannot be reached for comment. The longtime William Morris agent died in 2011 and therefore is unable to address the fact that he has been named twice now in connection with the still-burgeoning Bill Cosby scandal.
In Cosby's deposition in Andrea Constand's 2005 lawsuit, obtained by the Associated Press in July, the star acknowledged that in 1976, he asked Illius to send $5,000 to another of his alleged victims. And in a statement released in January by attorney Gloria Allred, a woman identified only as "Kacey" alleges that she quit her job as Illius' assistant at William Morris after Cosby drugged and assaulted her at the Hotel Bel-Air.
Although that statement did not say when the alleged incident occurred or whether it was reported to Illius or William Morris, Allred says in response to questions from THR that Kacey — using an assumed name — says she left the agency in 1996 after reporting what allegedly had occurred to both Illius and the William Morris human resources department.
Verifying this account is difficult. Illius is dead, and Cosby's top agent, Norman Brokaw, who served as chairman of the William Morris Agency and still is chairman emeritus of what is now William Morris Endeavor, is 88 and frail. Press accounts have mentioned him as a key part of the team that helped Cosby fend off allegations over the years, but his son, David Brokaw, who himself has represented Cosby as a publicist for 40 years, tells THR, "Any action my father, Norman Brokaw, has ever taken that I knew about was predicated on honesty, ethics and integrity for any client."
WME declined to address the agency's relationship with Cosby on the grounds that current management wasn't in place during the comedian's heyday. William Morris was transformed after Endeavor took over in 2009, and the old guard largely is gone. But many former WMA agents — including some who were on the board of directors and some who didn't necessarily leave with fond memories — insist, even with a promise of anonymity, that they never heard a murmur about Cosby, drugs or sexual assault.
For outsiders, it seems impossible to believe that Cosby's longtime agents could have been totally unaware of what came to be recurring allegations regarding a client of such staggering importance. William Morris or WME represented Cosby for 48 years until the comic departed for CAA in 2012. (CAA since has dropped Cosby.)
By 1996, the year that Kacey says she reported the alleged assault to the agency, package fees from Cosby's sitcoms had generated hundreds of millions of dollars for the agency, dwarfing revenue from such other syndicated comedies as Silver Spoons or Murphy Brown. There was more money from personal appearances and commercials. It hardly would be surprising if the agency did not want to deal with an assault that Kacey says occurred after Cosby invited her to lunch in his hotel suite and insisted that she swallow a "large white pill," which he allegedly said would help her relax. She says her next memory was waking up in bed with Cosby, who was "naked beneath his open robe."
Kacey says she had been at William Morris for more than six years by then, working for Illius for three of those years, during which Cosby showed a growing interest in her and her family. Asked how Illius and the agency responded when she told them her story, Allred relays Kacey's response: "She stated that [Illius] seemed upset, but she was not sure if it was because of what she told him or because he now viewed her as a potential problem." Allred says Kacey believed that the woman in the William Morris personnel department, whom she did not name, also "viewed her as a problem for the agency," leading Kacey to leave "because of the stress of the situation." (Allred says she has no plans to sue the agency.)
Dick Alen, now an 84-year-old retired William Morris agent who worked alongside Illius for more than 30 years in the personal-appearances department, doesn't remember ever hearing any allegation that Cosby drugged or assaulted women and says he cannot believe his longtime colleague knowingly facilitated or covered up that kind of wrongdoing. Alen, whose clients included Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin and Julio Iglesias, says he and Illius "were very friendly, and I never, ever heard him mention drugs and Cosby in any shape or form, … and I never heard anything about a coercive thing with girls."
David Brokaw, Jim Wiatt and Irv Weintraub
At the same time, Alen says if Cosby asked Illius to send money to women, the agent would have followed orders. "Cosby or any artist could call us — who were longtime friends as well as agents — and say: 'Hey, do me a favor. Give $100 to this [person], I'll reimburse you,' " says Alen. "You don't ask why. Your big client wants you to do a favor, you do it. Why is none of your business. You never ask." (In fact, in Cosby's deposition, he said Illius did not ask questions about the payment and was not told the purpose of it.)
According to Alen, Illius' job was to handle bookings, from specifics of the contract and venue to the smallest details. "Tom would be responsible that everything was done the way Cosby wanted," he says. "Is the dressing room the way Cosby wanted it? Was there a television set to show the football games on Sunday?" (Alen remembers this as a key concern.) Another member of the Cosby camp remembers being in the star's dressing room once as Cosby ate a well-sauced sandwich and seeing Illius dart over to lay a napkin in his lap.
Although Cosby kept Illius busy, it was Brokaw who took the lead. "Norman was his Siamese twin," says Fred Silverman, who took turns as head of programming at all three big broadcast networks during the 1970s and worked on various shows with Cosby. "If you had dinner with Norman — I don't care what the topic of conversation was, he'd be talking about Bill Cosby. That was his life." (Silverman previously has said he never knew anything about alleged assaults.)
It's possible to imagine that Cosby's agents might not have known, at least for some years, of allegations that the star was carrying out a string of assaults. None of the accusers, other than Kacey, has reported speaking directly or indirectly to the agency. The star's deposition seems to imply that he did not perceive himself as having done anything wrong beyond carrying on extramarital relationships, which he said he never discussed with anyone. If he believed himself blameless, he would not have confided in anyone. In Cosby's heyday, says Alen, the concern seemed to be protecting him from random women who pursued him. And if ever an allegation had been brought to Illius' attention, says Alen, "What you do as an experienced agent is to get it to a lawyer as fast as possible and walk away."
As the years passed, however, the idea that Cosby's agents might have remained ignorant becomes harder to credit. If Kacey reported her assault in 1996, the agency was on notice at that time and likely would have been required by law to investigate. Constand's allegations of drugging and assault became public in January 2005, and in February of that year, California lawyer Tamara Green went on Today with claims of her own. Constand filed suit in March, with more than a dozen witnesses prepared to testify on her behalf. But Cosby vigorously denied wrongdoing and — thanks in part to a team of advisers that included Norman and David Brokaw — the story did not get traction in the national media.
Jim Wiatt, who was president of WMA in 2005, says he has no memory of accusations against Cosby being discussed at any time during his tenure at the agency from 1999 to 2009. "I just don't have any recollection of any Bill Cosby issue," he says.
A person with a long institutional memory, Irv Weintraub, was CFO of WMA from 1992 to 2005 and COO from 2005 to 2009. Asked what he knew of alleged misconduct or checks that may have been issued to women at Cosby's behest, he also finds his memory blank. "I don't have any recollection of any checks that came across my desk that might have been a payment," he says. "I never heard any of these allegations, and I'm not aware of any payment that William Morris made or didn't make."
It may not be possible — even now, with nearly 50 accusers going public — to establish what agents at William Morris knew and when they knew it. But it's clear that eventually, Illius' services were valued more highly by Cosby than by some of his colleagues. Former William Morris agents remember that at a time of downsizing in the 1990s, there was a move to let the agent go. "Bill Cosby intervened," recalls one agency veteran, "and he was saved."