Creative Artists Agency has hired Anna Perez, who served the last four years as Barbara Bush’s press secretary, to replace Stephen Rivers in handling all media relations and public affairs for the powerhouse agency. She will assume her new duties Feb. 1.
As the former first lady’s press secretary, Perez is the only African-American to ever hold that position at the White House. Previously, the 41-year-old native New Yorker worked on Capitol Hill as press secretary to U.S. Rep. John Miller (R-Wash.) for four years and before that to Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) for an equal period of time.
Rivers, 37, who has been at CAA since the position was created three years ago, says he wants to “take asabbatical” from the type of work he’s been doing for nearly 20 years. For 12 years before joining CAA in January 1990, he handled press and media relations for Jane Fonda and her former husband Tom Hayden.
Rivers, who said he’s “now reached a time in my life when I need a break for a while,” will stay on for an undetermined transitional period and will become an outside consultant to the agency.
It was Rivers who recommended Perez for the CAA job and introduced her to agency topper Michael Ovitz.
Commenting on Perez’s appointment, Ovitz told Daily Variety, “We are really looking forward to having Anna be part of the company. She has a great deal of energy and enthusiasm, and her background and her experience will serve her and us very well.”
Ovitz, a Democrat who has very publicly endorsed Democratic candidates and issues, said he views the appointment of Perez –who calls herself “a Barbara Bush Republican”–as entirely non-partisan and not an issue.
The hiring, however, may raise eyebrows in some liberal Hollywood circles, particularly given the grand scale participation of many high-profile Hollywood stars and movers and shakers in President Clinton’s campaign and in last week’s inaugural proceedings.
When asked if she was concerned about it, Perez said, “People in Hollywood are suppose to be very tolerant and accepting, and I can only hope they will accept me.”
She also noted that she is married to a Democrat (Ted Sims), “and we agree far more than we disagree.”
As for being a “Barbara Bush Republican,” she says that means she favors “tolerance, inclusiveness and broad-based values.”
While the similarities between Washington and Hollywood politics are obvious, the truth is Perez also comes to the CAA job with no prior experience in the world of entertainment.
“I think that only time will tell whether it will work for me or against me. I’m a technician, I think I’m good at what I do. The skills I have developed working with the large personalities here in Washington will translate pretty well in the entertainment business.”
Perez added, “In both industries –the political and creative communities–things happen very quickly and you have to deal with a lot of issues and at the same time you have to be a juggling expert and fast on your feet.”
Perez, who has two children, said her new endeavor “is a dream job.”
Before she went to Washington, Perez owned and edited a newspaper with her husband in Tacoma, Wash., from 1979-80, having studied journalism at Hunter College in New York City.
In her new job, Perez will assume Rivers’ duties handling all media relations for the agency as well as overseeing any external affairs, such as charitable events and governmental relations.
As Rivers has done, on an as-needed basis, she also will handle press relations for CAA’s roster of high-profile talent as well as corporate clients including Nike and Coca-Cola.
Regarding Rivers’ impending departure, Ovitz said, “Stephen has made a big difference for our company and our clients over the past three years. We respect his decision to take a sabbatical but are very sorry to see him go.”
Rivers has been instrumental in helping raise the agency’s, and in particular , Ovitz’s public profile over the last three years. Ovitz is known to be somewhat thin-skinned about publicity, whether personal or regarding the agency itself.