An agent of change
Rode wave of New HollywoodFreddie Fields, who reigned as the personification of the free-wheeling, high-living Hollywood agent from the 1960s through the '70s, has died. He was 84.
He died Tuesday of lung cancer at his home in Beverly Hills.
Although Fields went on to become a studio executive and film producer, he made his mark on the industry through the Creative Management Agency, which he co-founded with David Begelman in 1960. CMA — which later evolved into the current ICM — exemplified what at the time was called the New Hollywood.
From its headquarters on Beverly Boulevard, it boasted a glittering talent roster that included Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine, Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand and Steve McQueen along with such directors as Arthur Penn, Steven Spielberg, Mel Brooks, Sydney Pollack, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Paul Mazursky. It also employed some of the era's most dynamic agents including Sue Mengers, Richard Shepherd, Guy MacElwaine and Mike Medavoy.
Jeff Berg, who joined CMA as a young agent and now heads ICM as its chairman and CEO, said: "It was a very high-energy environment, a very collegial place. Freddie taught us a great deal about how to think and operate. He was extremely creative. He understood the needs of artists and how to manage the complexity of a career. All of us in the agency business owe him a huge debt."
Fields worked aggressively to ensure that his clients not only got the best projects but also were richly compensated with lucrative backend deals, often augmented with top-of-the-line perks.
When Fields first decided to go into business for himself with a handful of clients that included his then-wife Polly Bergen and Phil Silvers — at the time, Fields had spent 10 years at MCA — one of the first performers he pursued was Judy Garland, even though her career was then at a low ebb. He not only won her over, but he also persuaded her to take a supporting part in Stanley Kramer's "Judgment at Nuremberg," which earned her an Oscar nomination, recharging her career. Together, Fields and Begelman helped engineer Garland's legendary 1961 Carnegie Hall concert and her CBS variety show, "The Judy Garland Show," which ran from 1963-64.
Mazursky, in a recent piece on Salon.com, recalled how Fields and Begelman once went into action to save his feature "Alex in Wonderland" when producer Mike Frankovich began to have doubts about the project. "We think we've got a way to get Frankovich to let you move the project. The trick is to make Mike think it's his idea," Fields explained. Within the course of a five-minute phone call, Mazursky wrote, "they got Frankovich turned around, and the movie was moved to MGM."
Realizing that Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox were developing dueling movies about office building fires, Fields intervened and persuaded the two studios to join forces on one project, "The Towering Inferno," which, naturally, starred such clients as Newman and McQueen.
Most notably, Fields helped forge the template for artist-owned production companies with the creation of First Artists in 1969. Initially, the company brought together Streisand, Newman and McQueen — Sidney Poitier and Dustin Hoffman would join later — to produce and star in their own films.
"We lived through a very exciting time together," Streisand said. "He was a very creative thinker. I always enjoyed his company. It's the end of an era."
Although the company lasted just five years before the actors went their separate ways, it left behind such films as Streisand's "Up the Sandbox," Newman's "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" and Poitier's "Uptown Saturday Night."
Explaining its significance, Berg said, "Freddie found a way to raise capital around significant stars who were willing to gamble on the success of their films."
Fields began his career working for agent Abby Greshler, who famously nurtured the careers of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. From there he moved to MCA, where he worked in the television department in New York.
CMA, originally set up as a management firm, shifted into the agency business by 1962, moving from New York to new headquarters in West Hollywood. Fields and Begelman ruled the publicly held company together until 1973, when Begelman departed for an executive post running Columbia Pictures.
ICM was born in 1974 when CMA was sold to Marvin Josephson's International Famous Agency. Fields stayed on as president for just six months before taking off in a new direction as a producer based at Paramount.
His film credits include Jonathan Demme's "Handle With Care," Richard Brooks' "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" and Paul Schrader's "American Gigolo."
In 1981, Fields was lured into the executive suite as president of the motion picture division at MGM. The move reunited him with Begelman, who was then serving as chairman and CEO of United Artists.
But within just a few years, Fields returned to filmmaking. The 1989 civil war movie "Glory" — his last credit as a film producer — earned five Oscar noms and picked up two awards, including a best supporting actor trophy for Denzel Washington.
He is survived by his wife Corinna; his children Kathy Fields Lander, Pamela Kerry Fields and Peter William Fields; three grandchildren; four step-children; and one step-grandchild.
Services will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at Pierce Brothers in Westwood.