William Morris Agency Reunion Draws 250 Alums to L.A. Bar
"It's surreal," said former agent Alan Gasmer of the gathering. "It's like a giant staff meeting with people you've only heard about."
It was a reunion probably unlike anything Hollywood has ever seen.
More than 250 alumni of the William Morris Agency, the storied talent agency created in 1898 and merged with Endeavor in 2009, gathered to reminisce (and network) Friday night at Mixology 101, a bar in Los Angeles’ Farmer’s Market with an apt name, given the wildly divergent and generational mix of agents and former agents in attendance.
Fred Specktor, the CAA vet who agented at WMA from 1968 to 1978, rubbed shoulders with Arnold Rifkin, who acted as the agency¹s president in the 1990s. He was driven to the event by Mike Simpson, who started in 1979 and is now partner at William Morris Endeavor.
"It's surreal," said Alan Gasmer, who agented from 1985 to 2009 and is now a manager, surveying the scene. "It's like a giant staff meeting with people you've only heard about. I’m glad we did this.”
Agents are a social bunch, but it's extremely rare to see such a large group -- many of them competitive rivals -- together at one reunion. The gathering, which The Hollywood Reporter was invited to attend, spoke volumes about how much the agents valued their time at WMA.
Cassian Elwes, a top independent film agent and WMA alum, noted how odd it was to see former colleagues, industry legends and frenemies in one room.
“It feels like you’re reliving a dream. It’s crazy,” he said.
The idea of the reunion sprang from John Ptak, Jay Jacobs and Jim Crabbe, who last summer began an e-mail chain dedicated to former WMA employees. The chain, which allowed people to recount old stories and ask “Whatever happened to ...?" grew to include more than 400 people. Finally it was decided to throw a get-together, which was facilitated by former agent Michael Gruber, co-owner of Mixology (with Robert Earl of Planet Hollywood fame).
“The people that worked there had such great memories and wanted to get back together,” said Gruber.
“It’s everything I hoped it would be,” yelled Larry Auerbach, standing precariously on top of the bar and speaking to those assembled. Now an associate dean at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Auerbach spent 47 years at the agency, repping talent such as Elvis Presley and Aaron Spelling during his tenure.
“With all the problems most of us had,” he said, alluding to the dysfunction that began plaguing the agency during its later years, “most of it was pretty good.”
This being Hollywood, however, the event wasn't a total love-fest. Amid the chatting and even a script pitch or two, an agent was seen trying to avoid a producer who was hounding him for a script. Another producer turned around when he saw a manager whose calls he was avoiding. One former employee yukked it up with an agent, but after moving on, said, "That guy was an asshole to me when I worked there.”
Jim Wiatt, the agency's former chief who merged it with Endeavor and has been blamed by many for its loss of stature, was not in attendance, though his name did come up in conversations -- and not in a favorable way.
And a good many “You look goods” were followed by the occasional “Did you see ____? He doesn't look so good.”
One person who definitely looked good was Lou Weiss, a 70-year vet of the agency who just turned 94. In fact, the entire room sang "Happy Birthday." to him.
“This is a remarkable evening,” Weiss told the room in a raspy voice. “As I look around, everyone truly belongs here.”
In a line summing up the WMA experience and the evening, Toni Howard, the ICM icon who worked at WMA from 1982 to 1989, said, “Working at William Morris was the best of times and it was the worst of times, but I love seeing old friends.”