Love Match: UTA & Polone
Why UTA signed the ex-partner as a client more than 10 years after a bitter legal brawl.
Gavin Polone wouldn't mind if his 1997 court battle against United Talent Agency faded from memory. But allegations as incendiary as the ones thrown about back then made it one of the most memorable fights in industry history. What makes this a true Hollywood classic, however, is that in February, Polone's former partners welcomed him back as a client after he dropped his longtime agents at William Morris Endeavor.
"The past is the past and he's a super-talented guy and we were all able to forget our differences," says UTA's head of TV, Jay Sures. "And to be honest, he's much more mature than he was 10, 15 years ago."
In 1996, UTA fired Polone, who had been with the agency for seven years and was the de facto head of its television department. The agency cited allegedly inappropriate conduct toward a female agent who reported to him. Polone quickly sued for wrongful termination and defamation, prompting UTA to settle fast. The agency agreed to pay him $2 million on the wrongful termination claim and $4 million to end the defamation case. UTA also issued a press release to THR retracting its statements about Polone's conduct.
But the following year, UTA sued Polone, alleging that he had violated the settlement by helping Endeavor -- which by then represented him as a producer -- to poach clients. (As a manager, Polone shared clients with Endeavor.) Polone counter-sued, alleging that certain partners -- among them Jim Berkus and Jeremy Zimmer -- had permitted a range of unsavory practices. The suit alleged that the agency condoned "illegal use of controlled substances," and that some partners "had … routinely committed sexual misconduct ." The suit further claimed that UTA recorded payments to partners as phony "loans" that were were meant to cover "country club fees, among other things."
The suit and countersuit were settled. Polone remained an Endeavor client, even after the agency morphed into WME in 2009. But in February, he returned to UTA. Sures says the rift had been healed several years earlier after he and Sue Naegle (then an agent, now at HBO) had a makeup lunch with Polone. UTA long has wanted to represent Polone, Sures says, because he has good instincts on material and strong relationships with the creative community. When Polone signed on, he adds, Berkus and Zimmer couldn't get on the phone fast enough to welcome him.
"Writers and directors … know he fights on their behalf," Sures says. And getting along with Polone is not such a challenge, he adds. "If you're incredibly straight with him and incredibly honest, he's a very, very loyal man. If you don't do that with him, he's one tough customer." As Sures, a survivor of the wars, knows from experience.