CAA agent zapped in villa flap

Clooney repped by Lourd as Gruber exits

Call it “The Italian Job,” part two.

Furor over a finder’s fee for a posh villa in Italy has apparently led to the departure of a key agent from Creative Artists Agency.

Michael Gruber, the agent for George Clooney, has abruptly resigned from CAA, per a terse statement Tuesday from the tenpercentery.

No official reason was given for the departure, but agency insiders say it stems from a dispute over a fee that Gruber was to have received — though eventually didn’t — from a real estate transaction he helped set up for Clooney in Italy.

“This was a situation where I introduced friends to George,” Gruber told Daily Variety, adding, “I was not involved in the negotiation of the transaction by any means. While a finder’s fee was discussed, and disclosed to Clooney, it was never expected and it was never received.”

However, the sellers of the eight-figure estate apparently assumed that Gruber would duly receive a payment of up to $250,000 for the introduction to Clooney. Sometime after this arrangement was disclosed to Clooney the thesp became upset and refused to continue being represented by Gruber.

Stan Rosenfield, a Clooney spokesman, said his client declined to comment on the transaction. He said Clooney will now be repped personally by CAA managing partner Brian Lourd.

A spokeswoman for CAA would not elaborate on its one-line statement that Gruber had resigned from CAA effective immediately, saying only that “we appreciate Michael’s contribution to the agency during his time here” and that “we wish him all the best in his future plans.”

Gruber has not made a decision about his next move.

His clients at CAA also included directors Steve Carr (“Friday”) and Brett Ratner (“Red Dragon”) as well as rapper-turned-thesp Ice Cube.

Gruber has had conversations with the Firm about joining that company as a talent manager, but calls to a spokesman for the Firm were not returned late Tuesday. Observers give such a deal for the tenpercenter a longshot.

Gruber had previously served as an agent at William Morris Agency, where he first repped Clooney.

In March 1999, Gruber, who was a senior veep at WMA, reportedly decided not to negotiate a new deal with the Morris office.

Though Gruber exited the company, WMA held him to the remaining six months of that pact, forcing him to postpone employment at CAA by exec producing on two New Line feature projects: “A Leonard Cohen Afterworld,” helmed by client James Cox, and “Next Friday,” the sequel to the NL comedy “Friday,” both of which starred his former client, Ice Cube.

Gruber’s departure from CAA may also have had something to do with his mounting dissatisfaction with the terms of his partnership agreement at the agency and with his year-end bonus.

In the meantime, Gruber is mulling his options. He may resurface as either a manager — sparing CAA the interagency jostling for his clients — or as an agent, which could mean that it’s open season on his CAA list.

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