Rig for silent running

Wirtschafter profile sends clients to the door, prompts emails galore

William Morris chairman Abe Lastfogel would have thrown the agency’s newly minted president, Dave Wirtschafter, into the doghouse for talking to the press.

As it happened, New Yorker writer Tad Friend did it for him: Friend’s warts-and-all profile of Wirtschafter burned up Hollywood fax machines and email inboxes. Worse, WMA clients Halle Berry and Sarah Michelle Gellar promptly made their displeasure known by heading for the door.

Gellar bristled over her agent’s assertion that she was “nothing” prior to recent horror hit “The Grudge”; Berry took umbrage with her deal points entering the public sphere.

Lastfogel, of course, always made it clear that it’s clients who get the press, never their agents. He joined the agency in 1912, but that’s still good advice — particularly in a world where today’s gossip is no longer tomorrow’s fish wrap. Entertainment industry blog Defamer.com featured the article every day last week; New York Post gossip column Page Six also worked overtime to keep tongues wagging.

As a result, the schadenfreude in Los Angeles was thicker than the smog. With Wirtschafter’s client list in hand, competing agencies called to spread the news and met to discuss how they might further destabilize the Morris office.

Plenty of questions remain unanswered. Why did the normally press-loathing Wirtschafter gave Friend such a free hand, for one? What made WMA commit to such a risky endeavor? But no one’s questioning Friend’s fairness or Wirtschafter’s honesty.

Indeed, pre-“Grudge,” Gellar’s bigscreen profile was limited to membership in the “Scooby-Doo” ensemble. She’d also starred in a romantic comedy, “Simply Irresistible,” opposite a magical crab.

And in the article, Berry’s deals illustrated Wirtschafter’s perspective that “Deals are about the world of the middle … why not make it work for everyone?”

Agents may get a bad rap for lying, but the woes of WMA and Wirtschafter might suggest that it sure beats telling the truth.

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