Was it an interview or a psychotic episode?
Industryites are still trying to come up with an apt description for the public self-immolation of onetime Hollywood titan Michael Ovitz.
In a stunning profile in Vanity Fair’s August issue, which hits newsstands Wednesday, the dethroned AMG boss adds to his considerable woes by, among other things, accusing Hollywood’s “gay mafia” of ruining his business and his reputation.
The piece, written by VF special correspondent Bryan Burrough, also focuses on Jeff Kwatinetz and his stewardship of the Firm. In particular, the article alleges a history of drug abuse on the part of Kwatinetz, raising questions about that outfit’s ability to become a dealmaking entity of Ovitzian proportions.
Aaron Ray, a former manager at the Firm, asserts that Kwatinetz has been a regular cocaine user.
“I mean, when you come in at 7 a.m. and find a guy standing on his desk screaming at people … this is not ‘Bright Lights, Big City,’ ” Ray said in the VF story.
Kwatinetz replied through a spokesman: “While I did drugs in the past, I categorically deny having a drug problem, and I certainly don’t use drugs now. I was particularly outraged by the accusation that I would have ever used drugs in the workplace, which was an outright lie by a disgruntled former employee.”
‘Roll of the dice’
The piece, which was being frantically copied and circulated Monday in Hollywood, provides the most detailed account to date of the financial missteps that dashed Ovitz’s ambitious original plans for AMG.
In one of many moments of nearly truth-serum candor, Ovitz tells Burrough that cooperating with him is the “low road” out of his travails.
“This is a big roll of the dice for me,” he said of the interview.
Yet in a series of conversations conducted amid AMG’s meltdown and the Firm buyout, Ovitz continued to fulminate against his enemies.
“The last six years have been a nightmare for me,” Ovitz is quoted as saying. “I know how hard it is for people to see me as a victim, but in this case it’s pretty close to the truth.”
Ovitz’s statements about a “gay mafia” left even the battle-hardened players named in the piece speechless.
“You’re not serious,” Barry Diller told Burrough. “Wow. He said that on the record? Wow … Wow. I’m stunned. I’m stunned.”
Ovitz tells Burrough the business plan for AMG was flawed. The story recounts the 11th-hour collapse of two financing schemes crucial to AMG’s long-term survival: an $150 million investment from AT&T and $165 million that Diller planned to sink into the company’s TV arm.
But Ovitz reserves his greatest invective for an enemies list that includes CAA partners Bryan Lourd, Kevin Huvane and Richard Lovett, DreamWorks principal David Geffen and New York Times writer Bernard Weinraub.
“It was the goal of these people to eliminate me,” Ovitz told Burrough.
Talk of the town
Reactions around town to the VF story Monday ran the gamut from the predictable schadenfreude to utter disbelief.
“It’s as if he has no self-knowledge, no realization about the last six years. The gay mafia? It’s remarkable,” said the head of a major agency.
“I think the article speaks for itself,” said CAA’s Lovett.
Weinraub declined comment and Geffen did not return calls.
“It really reeks of the homophobia we saw in the ’70s and ’80s when a lot of gay execs were closeted,” GLAAD’s entertainment media director Scott Seomin said. “This is really surprising and comes off as a bit paranoid, a bit schizophrenic and very homophobic.”
One top TV industry exec said the piece could not be characterized as the final nail in the coffin of Ovitz’s Hollywood career.
“I don’t think there’s anything left to be killed,” the exec said.
(Claude Brodesser, Josef Adalian and Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)