What I’m Reading: Understanding Michael Ovitz

I think understanding context is crucial for education and self-development.

An example: my current employer, Intellectual Property Group is a successor to the H.N. Swanson Literary Agency, one of the greatest Hollywood Lit Agencies of all time.

Swanie represented some of the greatest literary heavyweights: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, etc.

The foreword to his memoir, SPRINKLED WITH RUBY DUST, was written by client, the late great Elmore Leonard.

The Importance Of Context

In reading Swanie’s memoir and understanding the circumstances in which he built his agency, I understand the nature of my work and my environment a bit better. This is directly related to reading deep.

What are the takeaways? Can I glean a list of actionable to-do’s? Can I write a tactical advice, like  “10 Ways to Build a Lit Agency?”

No, of course not. The education isn’t in the tactics. It’s high-level stuff. It helps connect the dots, which is Hollywood-speak for “using your understanding of relationships to help others in your network.” This is a soft skill but very much a skill — one that improves with education, deliberate practice, and the desire to get damned good at it..

I Wanted a Better Understand of Hollywood’s Big Picture

So what do I read? Framing the question another way:

  1. Of all the material out there in connection to Hollywood, where do I start?
  2. In what order should I read?
  3. I don’t have time to read it all, so what can I skip?

I decided to read about Michael Ovitz, a co-founder of CAA and the agent who revolutionized the business, shifting power away from the Hollywood studios (where it had been since the inception of the industry) to the agencies, in the late 80’s.


Um no, this is not Michael Ovitz. It’s Rex Lee. Obviously.

Here’s the Reading List

Pertaining to the topic, and the order they should be read:

  1. THE MAILROOM by David Resin – there are entire chapters devoted to Ovitz and CAA. For now, skip all the beginning stuff about WMA, and the end stuff about the formation of Endeavor. (Speaking of context, Jay Maloney is prominently featured. He’s the agent closest to what you’d call the Ovitz protege. Jay committed suicide at the age of 35 – changes how you interpret his words, doesn’t it?)
  2. Michael Ovitz Is on the Line | NY Times – this article briefly covers the Ovitz rise at WMA, CAA, and the aftermath of him leaving the agency he helped found.
  3. Michael Ovitz, Take Two | Vanity Fair – here you better understand Ovitz’s relationship to other Hollywood players, especially his one-time best friend, co-founder of CAA, Ron Meyer. He talks about the formation of his new management company, AMG. Ovitz also talks a lot about how he views content — what’s scary is he turned out to be right in a lot of ways. Just a decade too early.
  4. Ovitz Agonistes | Vanity Fair – the fall out after AMG goes under
  5. Ovitz Emigre Hangs His Literary Shingle | Variety – and to tie it all back together, how my current employer emerged from the collapse of AMG and goes back to work under his own shingle.

The end goal will be to create a comprehensive, chronological “unauthorized biography” in the vein of Marissa Mayer’s bio, when I get to it in the queue. Until then, if you’re interested in learning more about Michael Ovitz hopefully these articles (and their sequence) will help.

Photo Credit: .brioso.

Leave a Reply



  1. Rama

    F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ming, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Apart from that typo early on, this is another winner.

  2. Ming

    Corrected! Thank you sir. 🙂

Next ArticleThe Difference in Small Fears vs Big Fears