Monday, July 5, 2010

A Ballad For Ed Limato

Ed Limato, Hollywood’s last great agent, passed away early in the morning of July 3rd, 2010. He was the best agent in Hollywood and had the best client list in a generation. Simply the greatest.

Most don’t know I spent two and a half years working at ICM when Mr. Limato was Co-President. At first I was a floating assistant based in the mailroom before I settled in at Agency Contracts. At that time, it was a cushy job where HR let me go to auditions in the middle of the day. And best of all, I learned about the industry from the belly of the beast. It was like going to grad school, and you received a Masters in Show Business. Without that job, I would not have been able to start producing as soon as I did.

Now when I say that Limato had the best client list in a generation, I am not exaggerating. His client list, over the years included Antonio Banderas, Michael Biehn, Nicholas Cage, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Claire Danes, Geena Davis, James Franco, Matthew Fox, Ava Gardner, Melanie Griffith, Goldie Hawn, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Thomas Jane, Frank Langella, Jennifer Lopez, Derek Luke, Adrian Lyne, Madonna, Matthew McConaughey, Bette Midler, Liam Neeson, Sam Neill, Nate Parker, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dennis Quaid, Doris Roberts, Diana Ross, Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, Meryl Streep, Paul Walker and Marlon Brando.

Because of that list, it was normal to see the likes of Denzel Washington, Sylvester Stallone, Michelle Pfeiffer, Richard Gere or Clare Danes walking through the building. By the way, and just so you know; Michelle Pfeiffer would stop traffic even if she weren’t a famous actress. Mr. Limato represented Hollywood royalty.

He was Hollywood royalty.

And we all knew it. He had the clients he did not only because he was a prodigiously talented agent, but also because of his commitment to his client’s art. Most importantly, Mr. Limato had the clients he did because he treated them all like family. And it was rare for any of his clients to leave him - some never left. Other left and came back immediately. When you consider the level of clients he had - that's almost incomprehensible.

Because of that, his office was busy all the time. Limato’s office was so busy, the mailroom would send up his morning mail two hours before the first official mail run, which would be met by Limato’s third assistant. THIRD. This man had three assistants, and they were always busy.

If we had to do something for his office, his name created miracles. If we were in the middle of development season and the TV Lit department was duplicating hundreds of scripts, every other script order was slowly worked into the queue. If I walked into duplication and asked for four scripts to be copied immediately, I would be laughed at. Then I’d utter three magic words: “It’s for Limato.” They’d be ready in less than fifteen minutes.

Mr. Limato's style was uniquely sartorial. If you’ve never seen him or met him then you can’t really understand how well heeled he was or what a gentleman he was. He would wear plaid suits. To work. Or a salmon colored shirt. I’m just kidding – he would wear a salmon colored SUIT. Or mustard, just because. All without a hint of irony! That’s what I noticed about him immediately, if this were NYC these tailored garments would have be worn with a sense of humor. But Limato actually liked them, and he knew he could do anything - if only because he said so.

Don’t get me wrong, Ed Limato was also legendarily demanding - as demanding as anyone who is great at his job should be. The opportunity to see how this legend really worked was priceless, and most of his assistants worked so hard because they understood this. Some couldn’t handle the stress and pressure. I remember one assistant who quit by leaving a message on his office’s voicemail in the middle of the night.

“Oh, WOW,” I said. “That fool didn’t just quit working at ICM – he quit show business.” We all knew being that disrespectful to someone as great and legendarily powerful as Limato meant he would, as the saying goes, never work in this town again. It was sobering. And completely understandable.

As someone who was not an agent, nor one of his assistants, I was never really on his radar. Or so I thought. Late one morning I was riding the elevator from P4 to the third floor. The elevator stopped at P1, the VIP parking level. The doors opened and an impeccably dressed Ed Limato walked in. I didn’t know what to do – just Limato and me in a slow elevator together! I shouldn’t make eye contact! Should I bow my head and look at the floor? Just as my head was about to explode, I forced myself to speak.

“Good morning, Mr. Limato.”

“Good Morning, Malcolm,” he replied.

HE SAID MY NAME!!! I could have fainted right there in the elevator.

The only time I ever saw Mr. Limato outside of the ICM building was at a party for Tom Ford. Ford was leaving Gucci Group and was receiving a star on the Beverly Hills Walk of Fashion. I'd been to all sorts of parties, but this was easily the most luxurious party I had ever been to. A friend who worked at a management company scored me an invite, because he knew how much I respected Tom Ford’s work - this was the hottest party that month. Seriously. Not only did you have to be on the list, but they were checking ID's at the check-in table. They completely shut down Rodeo Drive from Little Santa Monica to Wilshire and built a party in the street that was two blocks long, with a third block for catering. I mean, it was built up off of the street and lined with black carpet! Imagine, Rodeo Drive, carpeted in black with multiple levels that you could get to. Every star in town was there. And I mean stars, there were no celebrities. At the three-hour mark, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson gave a little speech and presented Tom Ford with his award. I was trying to find a place to stand and found a place at the top of a small set of stairs. I could see above everyone.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a smiling and stunning Lucy Liu bounded up the stairs and hugged the person next to me. She looked so happy to see this man – I had not yet seen her look that luminous on screen. I looked over to see Ed Limato. They hugged and chatted for a minute. I remember thinking “Nothing about this is fake. Everyone truly loves this man.” She hugged him again and went back to her guest. I did notice she went up to him alone, she didn’t bring her guest up with her to be introduced…

I turned to him and forced myself to say something. “Mr. Limato… I work at ICM. It’s nice to see you here.”

“Oh yes,” he said and extended his hand for me to shake. “Are you enjoying the party?”

I was always impressed by his behaviour, he easily could have high-tailed it somewhere else so he wouldn’t have to make small talk with me, who was not even an agent. But Mr. Limato was a gentleman.

Rita Wilson presented Tom Ford with a plaque. As we cheered, white rose petals rained down on us. Now that’s confetti. This party was magical. Then, Gloria Gaynor took the stage and sang her huge hit “I Will Survive.” Mr. Limato, the greatest agent in Hollywood, in a sotto voce, sang right along with her. Really. Right before the bridge, he turned to me and said:

“This is my favourite disco song.”

I chuckled. I thought back to what his life and career must have been like. From working with Franco Zeffirelli in Italy in the 60s to going to work in the mailroom in NYC at the agency that would later become ICM. Being promoted and surviving a merger, then moving to William Morris and then back to ICM, becoming Co-President of the agency and still, all the way through the late 2000s having the greatest client list in all of Hollywood. Yes, of course “I Will Survive” would be his favorite disco song – a song he still knew all the lyrics to. All of them.

“It really is a good song, isn’t it...?” I replied, looking right into his eyes. I knew by his look how much he meant it.

Gloria Gaynor finished and Mr. Limato moved on, but not before putting his hand on my shoulder and saying goodnight. The man was a class act.

In just two brief moments with him, I may have learned two of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned in showbusiness. I will always us remember passing each other in the ICM hallways, him being so impeccably dressed and making my Banana Republic wardrobe look like thrift shop rags. Not once did Mr. Limato ever fail to nod his head to me or say “Good Morning,” as he passed by. He truly was incomparable,and what he did as an agent will not ever be duplicated.

This is the end of an era.

In a class by himself, Mr. Limato was a true gentleman. The real deal.

[© MMX MD TOTAL all rights reserved]

1 comment:

Mariana said...

Great article! I SO remember the "salmon suit" it was a sight to behold! and if anyone could ever pull that off, it most definitely was Mr. Limato!