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Better Call Brad: Hollywood’s Secret Problem Solver Speaks

With a client list that has included Frank Sinatra and Tom Cruise, Brad Herman has smoothed out difficulties for Tinseltown’s elite for more than 40 years. Just don’t call him a fixer.

Not long ago, Brad Herman, the right-hand man to hush-hush Hollywood, invited a longtime client, legendary Motown songwriter Eddie Holland, to a private visit with another client, The Supremes’ Cindy Birdsong, who since September 2021 has resided in a Los Angeles-area care facility after two strokes that have left her unable to walk or speak. Herman, who says he’s been granted power of attorney over the singer, had worked with Birdsong’s family members to extricate her from a previous living arrangement.

“Eddie puts his hand behind her head, very delicately, sweetly, saying, ‘Cindy, I’m really happy to see you,’ then he just sat there real close and sang in her ear: ‘Baby Love,’ ‘Love Child,’ ‘Someday We’ll Be Together,’ ” Herman recalls, eyes tearing, rolling up a shirtsleeve to show a forearm prickling in memory: goose bumps. “Every­one who has a public face has drama. I help.”

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Herman, 64, who will speak — circumspectly — of his late clients (e.g., Johnny Carson, Burt Reynolds, Stan Lee) but remains mostly mum about those still living, including his current roster (A-list performers, athletes and influencers), has collected affectionate monikers. Among the dead, The Late Late Show host Tom Snyder, a longtime client, liked to refer to him as The Wolf, in reference to the skillful cleaner of messes played by Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction. Elizabeth Taylor, in a thank-you note sent to Herman after he steered her then-husband Larry Fortensky through a DUI arrest without the press learning of it, labeled him My Sunshine. Celebrated industry attorney Howard Weitzman called him The Secret Weapon. Weitzman’s widow, Margaret, recalls: “Brad was always talking to my husband. He’s almost like a priest — one who takes care of business.”

The less enamored might simply call him a fixer. As Herman acknowledges, “I do operate in the gray area between an officer of the court and a layperson.” But he “detests” the word. “The implication is that there’s something surreptitious or underhanded. Everything I do has been straight-arrow legal, forever,” he claims. So, what does he prefer? “I’m a facilitator and a crisis manager and a problem solver.” Shawn Holley, a top entertainment lawyer, is succinct: “Brad is one of a kind. There is no one in Hollywood who can do the things he can do.”

"Everyone who has a public face has drama,” Herman says. “I help.”
“Everyone who has a public face has drama,” Herman says. “I help.” Photographed by Christopher Patey

Over a series of meals at his favored old-school L.A. standbys — including The Smoke House, El Coyote and The Grill on the Alley — for the first time in his professional life he’s spoken openly about his clandestine trade, which has him tooling around town in his mobile office, often a black 1988 Porsche Carrera coupe, overstuffed leather Tumi tote bag by his side. What he does keeps productions moving, reputations upstanding, relationships thriving (or at least surviving) and, above all, deals flowing. “I was driving with him a few weeks ago and his phone didn’t stop ringing — one major person after another, flipping out over something they needed him to take care of,” observes actress and former model Ann Turkel. “It’s something to see.” Explains documentary producer and Spectrum News correspondent Alison Martino, “If you have him on speed dial, you have your consigliere.”

Indeed, this tireless operative emanating a Boy Scout’s sincerity who instinctively picks up every call, paying no mind to blocked numbers, and immediately responds to each text, has become perhaps the industry’s most indispensable freelance troubleshooter, certainly its longest-standing. “If you do something really, really well that nobody else wants to do,” he says with a shrug, “you will be very busy.”

And yet, for all his success solving the problems of others, he’s recently found himself unmoored by an agonizing crisis of his own, one beyond the practical or emotional capacity of this veteran of entertainment’s shadow realm. “Those closest to me,” he confesses, “don’t know how I do this.”

***

Herman’s Los Angeles family has serviced Hollywood since the sign read HOLLYWOODLAND. His great-grandparents owned a barbershop and tobacco store on the Paramount lot, one relative worked for Max Factor (“When he was just a guy, not Max Factor Incorporated”), and an aunt was an early secretary for the brothers Warner. As an undergraduate at UCLA, Herman got his first unguarded glimpses of the private lives of stars and moguls while employed as a delivery boy for upmarket Westside grocers Jurgensen’s and Gelson’s. Jimmy Stewart once invited him into his Beverly Hills home to show off a button on the wall of the master bedroom that would activate the front-yard sprinklers to ward off autograph-seeking trespassers.

In time, Herman parlayed the connections into a car-washing hustle for a network of entertainment figures, including actor Ernest Borgnine, producer Stanley Fimberg and attorney Ed Hookstratten. “Everyone in my bubble used Brad and still uses Brad,” explains publicist Jeffrey Lane, who met Herman in the early 1980s during his tenure at Rogers & Cowan. “He was then as he is now: Someone who turns caring into an art.” Eventually Hookstratten, aware that Herman had an in at the DMV — his then-girlfriend’s mother worked at the Santa Monica branch — tasked the then-26-year-old go-getter with chaperoning a client, Frank Sinatra, to assist with an expired license. “[Well-known] people either do not want to go or they’re afraid of being hassled there,” explains Herman. “That was Mr. S’s thing. It was fear. It’s the only place, no matter your level of resources, where you have to get in line with the unwashed masses. So what did I do? I processed it in advance, handled it through a back entrance, created a VIP concierge service.”

Herman’s been doing it ever since — the car guy greasing the wheels of the Hollywood dream machine. (To this day, he retains a silent-partner stake in an auto-detailing business catering to a high-end clientele.) “What started out with Mr. S as a one-off turned out to be a foundational part of my business,” he says. “I still go to the DMV three to four times a week. Whereas other people avoid it, I embrace it.” Danny Trejo, a current client with a slew of vintage cars, calls Herman “a godsend,” adding, “If you go to the window there and try to get a registration for a 1930 Ford pickup truck, you’ll be there for hours, and it’ll be crazy,” referring to selfie and autograph requests.

Clockwise from below left: A driver’s license and an AAA card belonging to now-deceased clients Tupac Shakur and Frank Sinatra; Jacqueline Onassis’ driver’s license; and a personal note from Elizabeth Taylor.
Clockwise from below left: A driver’s license and an AAA card belonging to now-deceased clients Tupac Shakur and Frank Sinatra; Jacqueline Onassis’ driver’s license; and a personal note from Elizabeth Taylor. Courtesy Image (4)

Herman’s also a regular at the myriad government offices handling passports, birth certificates, property records, name-change documentation and other essential identity paperwork — timely procurement of which often determines whether a shooting schedule will be derailed, an embarrassing lawsuit averted or a lucrative contract signed. Clients pay for Herman’s expediting juice with civil-servant clerks. “It’s all about those relationships,” he says. Peter Benedek, the UTA founder and board member who notes that Herman works with many agents at his firm, says: “You go to the DMV with him and he’s on a first-name basis with everyone, talking to them about their children; these people are in jobs where they don’t get appreciated. This is how he’s extraordinarily efficient with impenetrable bureaucracies.” (Herman won’t discuss his fees, which are often project-based; typically, he’s tapped by an agent, a manager or a lawyer, or else a studio or network’s business affairs department.)

Another area of public-sector expertise: jail. “I’m the one that usually gets called,” he says. Herman has his preferred bondsmen. “Over the years, I’ve had to bail a large number of clients out of the Gray Bar Hotel.”

DEFCON situations, as Herman refers to problems requiring emergency-style disaster response, can involve clients as well as close connections of theirs whose troubles might draw them in. For example, Herman says he once found himself on a cross-country red-eye flight with the mandate to ensure that a handsome young man’s DUI and impounded Bentley didn’t end up connected to his older, closeted boyfriend — a world-famous star. “The actor had purchased the vehicle in his own name, and I’d advised against it at that time because it was used by this other person,” Herman recalls, still smarting despite the ultimate success of the mission. “I’d suggested acquiring it in an LLC or in a trust so that the public figure wasn’t tied to it in the event of a problem.” A long sigh. “They didn’t listen.”

Herman with his 1988 Porsche Carrera at the DMV in Santa Monica.
Herman with his 1988 Porsche Carrera at the DMV in Santa Monica. Photographed by Christopher Patey

***

Herman’s services include asset management. This can involve extensive wine holdings or fine art collections or property portfolios. He’s also responsible, when the time comes, for working with trust executors and auction houses to arrange estate sales. “He’s trustworthy, efficient and just unbelievably helpful,” says producer David Niven Jr., who has had Herman oversee the restoration and digitization of his family’s photos, including those of his Academy Award-winning actor father.

While Phil Spector, Herman’s client of more than a quarter century, was on trial for the killing of Lana Clarkson — or, as Herman puts it, “indisposed” — Herman oversaw staff payroll at the Wall of Sound music producer’s mansion turned crime scene, recovered a motor home thought stolen and kept a sharp eye on young wife Rachelle’s spending habits (which Spector would later cite as grounds for divorce).

Pat Boone has been a client since 1991. “Brad’s rescued me from all kinds of trouble over the years,” explains the performer. “He’s like a Swiss Army knife: He has several blades to cut through the subterfuge, the complications. He’s a guy who wants to help you in whatever way he can. He’d try to help you with your marriage if he could.”

Herman says he began working for Tom Cruise “very early on” in the actor’s career and continued for 19 years, up until, he claims, “I wouldn’t go to Scientology sleepaway camp,” a proposed weeks-long session at the church’s headquarters in Clearwater, Florida. Herman recalls that the icon, an acknowledged master of the grand gesture, once gifted Herman’s mother a new Range Rover.

Overseeing the acquisition, maintenance and storage of vehicles has been a specialty for Herman. (Just before she was murdered in Beverly Hills in 2010, awards publicist Ronni Chasen was driving a brand-new Mercedes-Benz E350 Herman had delivered to her.) He’s worked with some of the most renowned auto enthusiasts in the business, from Burt Reynolds to Jerry Seinfeld. In 1986, Herman conspired with client Johnny Carson’s producers in a bit to prank another client, David Letterman. The latter’s beat-up Chevy pickup truck was hauled off his Malibu driveway, ostensibly because of its unsightliness (Carson being a neighbor), and turned up behind a curtain during Letterman’s guest appearance on The Tonight Show. “What’s next, kidnapping my girlfriend?” Letterman joked after the reveal. Herman recalls of the segment, “They later got another client of mine, Judge Wapner [of reality show The People’s Court], to iron out the dispute.”

Herman’s alertness to the stardust allure of celebrity vehicles has over the years helped him amass a deep list of law enforcement contacts, especially across Southern California jurisdictions, from watch commanders to chiefs and sheriffs. He brings cops, generally car-struck, over for private tours of client collections, then lends out cherished chariots for their fraternal organizations’ philanthropic events. “I’ll show the original Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit,” Herman explains. “They all want to have a picture taken.”

His ability to have his calls returned from top brass — or, rather, to press higher-ups to make calls inside their organizations — is invaluable. Not because outcomes change, Herman contends. Information simply flows more quickly, a necessary edge in time of catastrophe. If he does his job right, the crisis PR specialists won’t need to be tapped. “At least [knowing someone] advances the issue when something will otherwise be sitting at the bottom of a pile,” explains Herman, who’s quick to insist that he’s no blurred-boundary Ray Donovan. (Although he acknowledges crossing paths a few times with Hollywood P.I. and convicted criminal Anthony Pellicano, he professes to have found him “really unsettling.” He feels the same way about notorious figures like Heidi Fleiss mentor turned nemesis Madam Alex — who wanted help acquiring an ID card — pronouncing them, with a shudder, “not Brad-like.”)

From left: Herman with Stan Lee and wife Joan Boocock Lee; with Austin Butler (right) this year; with Quincy Jones (left), posted on his Instagram
From left: Herman with Stan Lee and wife Joan Boocock Lee; with Austin Butler (right) this year; with Quincy Jones (left), posted on his Instagram Courtesy of Subject (3)

Herman says he’s firm about his limits. “Game over is going to be if I’m asked to do something that’s illegal, immoral, untoward, inappropriate,” he insists, adding: “I’ve had clients say, ‘I really want to make their life a living hell! Who can …’ and before they can even finish, I say, ‘Nobody, I don’t know anybody like that. Don’t ask that question.’ When people have asked me to do crazy things, I tell them, ‘I am not your person [for that].’ ” Yet Herman can’t help but feel for his clients, even at their most vindictive moments. “They’re in an angry, unstable place,” he says, “which leads to massive, massive desperation, which leads to malice.”

***

Herman’s mandate often overlaps with the legal profession. “I don’t necessarily leave the same kind of trace,” he explains, noting that attorneys typically generate a paper trail. Also: “Not having a bar [association] card can be a good thing as long as you are proceeding in the furtherance of affecting a positive result, with a foundation of integrity and with the best of intentions — and doing so within the parameters of the law.” He’s dispatched to mediate conflicts, acting as an emissary to reach a resolution with business associates, family members, household employees, former sexual partners and other individuals alleging they’ve been, among other common grievances, harassed, lied to, cheated or stolen from.

“I think I’m helped by my personal disposition, the way I’m wired,” says Herman, a self-described sensitive, sentimental sort who unabashedly turns weepy and prides himself on being an excellent listener. “I’m not a threatening person.” His goal is to hear the parties out and determine how they might reach a compromise. It might take the form of an onscreen credit in a forthcoming project, or a formal apology, or, yes, money in return for the promise not to speak publicly about their dispute. (Lawyers later draw up agreements.) He adds, “Sometimes the goal is just finding a place where both parties can say, ‘We’re equally unhappy, maybe here is where we can meet.’ “

Much of Herman’s energy over the years has been spent auditing entourages — thorny networks of conflicted personal and professional relationships — with the directive to root out possible corruption and other predation. “[Celebrities] are just inured to being fucked with,” he says. “They write it off as the cost of doing business. I remember one of them, who will remain nameless, saying, ‘I know I’m getting screwed on things. It’s the cost of being me.’ I do think that’s a general view — not even a cynical view. Kind of like a tax.”

There are common traits, Herman believes, among those taken advantage of. “Too trusting, too isolated, too disconnected from the daily management of their lives, their households, their business affairs,” he observes. “They’re uninterested in those practicalities. Sometimes they’re in a fantasyland.” In his estimation, older stars are acutely vulnerable. He says he has attempted to address troubles surrounding several high-profile individuals whose late-life stories involved public allegations of elder abuse: Joey Bishop, Mickey Rooney and Stan Lee.

Herman remembers another DEFCON situation in which he was assigned to investigate the living arrangement of an aged man on the other side of the country. His stepson, an A-list movie star who financially supported the man, believed the stepfather was being swindled by an attractive young female live-in caretaker. By Herman’s account, he was sent for a visit to collect evidence of wrongdoing under the auspices of checking on the man’s health. He invited the woman out to a fancy boozy dinner; got her talking; convinced her to let him try on a family heirloom watch she’d been sporting; continued ordering her drinks; brought her home; and then called the police. When they arrived, she finally caught on to his ploy. “She said, ‘You can’t do this, I live here!’ ” Herman recalls. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, you don’t live here anymore. Your employment has been terminated. I’ve been instructed to see that you receive your payment within 48 hours.’ [The client] wasn’t interested in recompense. He just wanted her out — and that watch back.”

***

Herman, an only child, remembers himself as a shy, scrawny kid. His father died at age 41 of an aneurysm when Herman was in high school. “It calibrated something,” he says. “I didn’t know how much time I had.”

That death, as well as the painful collapse of a brief, childless early marriage (he hasn’t wed since), forged him. So, too, did an episode that cut short a successful run in his 20s and 30s, during which he acquired several residential properties, including Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s former Pacific Palisades home and a Brentwood commercial building. Around the turn of the millennium, he lost much of his net worth in what he says was a real estate broker’s deceptive loan scheme. (The broker later was convicted of fraud in a separate case and stripped of her license.)

A thank-you note from Nancy Reagan, whose former home Herman purchased
A thank-you note from Nancy Reagan, whose former home Herman purchased Courtesy Image

“I was on an upward trajectory, and then, at the age of 40, I got kicked to the ground,” says Herman, who during this period himself pleaded guilty or no contest to a series of vehicular offenses, including driving without a valid license and a misdemeanor hit-and-run in which nobody was injured. He attributes this series of incidents, for which he was sentenced to multiple stretches of probation, to “mentally unraveling” — but insists he was innocent in the hit-and-run, and only pleaded guilty on his lawyer’s advice to avoid a costly trial.

For his part, Herman is unapologetic about remaining on the road when he shouldn’t have. “I wasn’t out having a great time; I was doing my business — I didn’t lose any clients,” he says. Still, Herman believes his firsthand experiences with the judicial system when he was “in a bad way” have been valuable lessons in humility and empathy, making him better at what he does.

In recent years, though, they’ve been tested. He’s been enmeshed in lengthy legal battles with J.C. Lee, the only child and heir to the late Stan Lee and his wife, Joan, both longtime clients, regarding remuneration Herman believes the Marvel mastermind earmarked to him for his services and which their daughter has blocked. In a 2018 THR investigation into elder abuse claims involving Lee and his circle, Herman alleged he witnessed J.C. physically assaulting her parents at their Hollywood Hills home during a 2014 verbal dispute. (She has denied it and is pursuing a defamation suit against him.)

Herman, who’s scheduled to testify as a witness for the prosecution this month in a trial against Keya Morgan, a memorabilia dealer charged with financially exploiting Lee before his death, contends that trouble stemming from the Lee saga has been unlike anything he’s previously encountered in his career: “I’ve had death threats, I’ve been followed.” The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office confirms it assisted Herman in obtaining a protective order connected to the case.

Despite this, Herman maintains it’s been another ordeal that’s most tormented him. As he tells it, in 2021 he hired a well-regarded trucking company to transport, via two 26-foot-long trucks, nearly all his personal and professional effects to a new location. But once loaded, each vehicle’s lift gate failed. As the result of pandemic-era supply chain delays, the trucks were stored on the company’s lot, which he was assured was highly secure. However, weeks later, when Herman checked on the trailers, he says they’d both been burglarized and stripped of valuables, including two large safes. (He’s since estimated the loss at nearly $4 million.) After he called police, he claims officials at the lot told him he’d abandoned his belongings and they’d be immediately disposed of. Soon, he tracked down his stuff, finding it crushed at a local dump.

Herman is weighing his legal options, alleging he has lost decades of work product and generations’ worth of family mementos — everything from Sylvester Stallone’s divorce decree to Herman’s own baby book. “It’s all gone,” he says. The shepherd of everyone else’s foundational documents says he no longer has his own birth certificate, college diploma or passport. He’s amassed a fleet of mostly vintage vehicles but doesn’t possess their titles or any other proof of provenance, so he can’t bring them on the road. “It’s just not fair. The irony is too much,” notes his friend Martino.

“My very reason to exist is to limit my clients’ risk, their liability, their exposure,” Herman explains in quiet fury, ensconced in a red Naugahyde booth at another of his classic L.A. haunts, Taylor’s Steakhouse. “Then this happens to me? On my watch? I will never be OK with it.” A representative for the trucking company says it “is unaware of any insurance claim regarding this matter. As such, we are unable to provide any comment.”

Above all else, Herman can’t stop thinking about how his mother’s ashes were lost in the tragedy. “The minute I open my eyes in the morning, the first thing I think of is my mom’s ashes in the dump,” he says, tearing up again. “It’s the last thing I think of before I drift off to sleep. I will forever be broken and battered and less than I was.”

Yet Brad Herman — despite his anguish, or in reaction to it, or because it’s just who he is — can’t help but help. When his phone screen next illuminates on the white linen tablecloth, he picks it right up, the napkin he’d just used to daub his eyes now back in his lap. The voice on the line is muffled but distressed. As Herman listens, he grows focused, subsumed by the matter at hand. At last, he says, warm and in control, “Don’t worry. It’ll be fine. I’m on it.”

This story first appeared in the Oct. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. It has been updated to reflect Herman’s narrative of the trucking incident. Click here to subscribe.