Ari Emanuel Halts 'Fifty Shades of Grey' Meeting to Take President Obama's Call

Ari Emanuel
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The WME chief had lunch with author E.L. James instead of waiting in his office for an anticipated call from the president. Did the first lady really enjoy the steamy novels, or was Obama joking?

This story first appeared in the April 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

How hot was Hollywood's courtship of Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James last week? The battle to secure film rights to the steamy romance novels was competitive enough that top WME agent Ari Emanuel took a meeting with James and her agent, Valerie Hoskins, even though he was expecting a call from the president of the United States.

Protocol is that when told to anticipate a call from the leader of the free world, one remains at one's desk. But Emanuel took the meeting at L.A.'s Soho House with manager-producer Stephen Levinson, representing Mark Wahlberg. They were among the Hollywood legions pursuing the literary sensation about an ingenue's graphic sexual adventures with a jaded billionaire. Sony Pictures, Fox 2000 and Warner Bros. all submitted proposals, with Universal emerging triumphant in the bidding on Monday with an offer of $5 million.

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James -- a former television executive whose books were dubbed "mommy porn" in a March 9 article in The New York Times -- had a "no phones on the table" rule during her meeting with Emanuel, according to a source. But he said he was expecting an important call — which eventually came. (The president was touching base with Emanuel, brother of Chicago Mayor and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and a key backer of Democrats.) A source says that during Emanuel's chat with the president, he waxed enthusiastic about Fifty Shades, prompting Obama to say that the first lady had enjoyed the book.

But a source with close ties to the Obamas says the president was kidding and, no, Michelle has not read the steamy saga.

WME declined comment.


Twitter: @KimMasters