Invisible man holds his own in company of wolves

THERE ARE MANY IN THIS TOWN who have mastered the art of self-promotion, but I’ve always been more impressed by that other small fraternity — those who excel at being invisible. To some power-players, it’s far more satisfying to keep their names out of the papers than to make the columns.

Sidney Korshak, long a power at the studios and labor unions, cherished his invisibility. Kirk Kerkorian was rarely mentioned in the press until the late ‘ 80s when, after recycling MGM/UA for the third or fourth time, he finally blew his cover. Michael Ovitz would love to keep his name out of the papers (he’ll even wince at this mention), but his high-profile deals keep landing him on center stage.

Which brings us to Barry Hirsch. “Barry who?” many will ask. For three decades Hirsch, acting in his dual role as attorney and shrink (with full credentials in both areas), has counseled some of Hollywood’s biggest stars and engineered some of its most illustrious deals. He has represented Julia Roberts, Streisand, Hawn, Madonna, Pfeiffer, Nolte, Redford, Pollack, Donner and the Zucker brothers.

When Joe Roth recently closed his big deal with Disney, Roth dismissed his usual attorney and hired Hirsch. All the while, Hirsch has continued to conduct his group therapy sessions and give psychological counseling to individuals and couples, big stars and civilians alike.

In his own ferocious yet softspoken way, Barry Hirsch has been downright ubiquitous. Yet, when’s the last time you saw his name in Army’s column, or mentioned anywhere for that matter?

Hirsch has mastered invisibility. When I asked him if he wanted to make any comments for this column, he closed up like a Venus flytrap.

The Barry Hirsch you see at a dinner party appears understated and self-effacing, clad in his uniform of jeans and sports shirt. “Barry works the anti-establishment side of the street,” said one top agent who doesn’t particularly like him. “It makes clients feel secure.”

Indeed, the Barry Hirsch that is visible to those who go to him for psychological counseling is a buttoned-up, seemingly mellow individual who empathizes with their problems. But talk to the studio dealmakers and a different image emerges.

Said one business affairs chief: “Negotiating deals is essentially the art of making trade-offs. You take something here, then leave something on the plate for the other side. With Barry, nothing’s left on the plate. When he gets through with you, there’s not even a table.”

ONE TYPICAL HIRSCH GAMBIT, according to studio exex, is to see to it that the contracts of key artists are left unsigned until the 11th hour. Then, with cameras about to roll, Hirsch suddenly comes up with new deal points. Paramount saw this happen so often that the studio actually shut down a film in the middle of its first day of principal photography until Hirsch’s clients delivered their signed contracts.

“Hirsch knows all the tricks,” one business affairs chief sighed, “but if everyone played the game like he does, life wouldn’t be worth living.”

“I think Barry Hirsch in his heart hates all the studios,” said a major director and Hirsch client. “When he goes into a big meeting, there is hate in his eyes.”

Hirsch’s gaze is indeed intense and unyielding, but some would argue that it’s determination, not hate, being projected–that even Barry Hirsch has mellowed with the years. He has become a very wealthy man. His fees are right up there with Bert Fields and the other legal superstars–$ 400 to $ 500 an hour or a 5% cut of an artist’s salary. While his close alliance with Ovitz has benefited both men, exchanging information and clients, Hirsch also works with other top agents; unlike some legal mavens, he does not insist on representing a client on his own.

I FIRST MET HIRSCH SOME YEARS AGO, when I was head of production for a film company and had just closed a multipicture deal with a major director. The director had been represented by a top agent during the negotiations. The day the deal closed, however, Hirsch came by for an appointment and started raising a vast spectrum of new deal points.

“I thought we’d just closed this deal,” I offered innocently. “We’ve been at it for three months.”

Hirsch smiled his chilly semismile. “Well, I guess we’re going to un-close it and start all over,” he replied. The deal was, in fact, renegotiated, starting from scratch, and Hirsch as usual got most of what he wanted.

Talk to attorneys who practiced with him in the early days and they’ll present a picture of a tough, flinty young man who graduated from a working-class Los Angeles high school with a burning ambition to succeed.

Hirsch flirted briefly with acting lessons, even worked in amateur shows before deciding that law was his calling. “Barry seemed like a nice guy, but there was always something vaguely resentful about him,” said one former colleague. “He felt he had to battle his way up, that nothing was going to come easy.”

Well, Barry Hirsch has clearly won his battle. He is more in demand than ever , both as shrink and attorney, and seems bent on continuing his double life. And he’s equally determined to remain invisible.

When a reporter asked him a question about a deal recently, he seemed genuinely shocked. “I couldn’t comment on that,”he said. “It would be inappropriate.”

“Why inappropriate?” the reporter demanded. “It’s news!”

Hirsch just glared back. It was as though he were saying, “Don’t you realize I’m Barry Hirsch! I’m invisible!”

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