In the new buttoned-down Hollywood, power and access are more important than prestige and pay—and yet there is a single man who has cornered all four. He is neither director nor star but a dealmeister extraordinaire, a Lubitsch not of film but of finances, who in November brokered the sale of Universal Studios' brand equity along with the King Kong ride, Bruce the shark, publishing's Putnam Berkley Group and MCA's mat-black skyscraper to the Japanese electronics giant Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. for $6.9 billion.
Michael Ovitz added the top line to his credit crawl by providing a service usually performed by Wall Street investment houses. His take on the MCA deal: a reported $40 million. Last year, Ovitz did a push-up to this task by marrying Sony to Columbia Pictures Entertainment. "Hollywood is about relationships," a well-connected TV producer once said, "and everybody today wants an even warmer relationship with Mike."
So as Hollywood slides across the Pacific Rim to Japan, the man greasing the wheel is Ovitz, the 44-year-old superagent who. as chairman of Creative Artists Agency, has assembled an unparalleled stable of actors, directors and screenwriters. Among them: Madonna
, Kevin Costner, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, Sylvester Stallone, Cher and Ovitz's former aikido instructor, Steven Seagal.
Much of Ovitz's most-powerful-man rep still comes from "packaging" clients-actors, directors and writers—to make films like GoodFellas (Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, director Martin Scorsese and writer Nicholas Pileggi). And he pulls all these strings with consummate skill. Says Disney Chairman Michael Eisner: "He's among the most tenacious people one would ever meet."
The spotlight rarely shines on the publicity-shy agent, who started out as a mail boy in the William Morris Agency. Devoted to Judy, his wife of 21 years, and their three children, Ovitz spends much of his time at their art-filled Brentwood home. Some think he may take over a studio. But why bother? He is already the shogun of Hollywood.