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Later, as Gibson’s movie was readied for release, Limato continued to defend his client. Variety columnist Army Archerd, who normally went to the pre-Oscar party, found himself disinvited by Limato because of the columns he had written on the hubbub over Gibson’s movie. (In one, Archerd simply referred to a quote by Andy Rooney calling Gibson “a wacko.” ) Despite initial bad press and publicity, the pic went on to do more than $500 million at the worldwide box office.

Nevertheless, Limato’s clients haven’t always returned the loyalty. Anthony Hopkins and Cage were clients, then went to other agencies. Pfeiffer left for CAA. She returned briefly, then exited again. She and Limato are reportedly still close friends and a silver-framed photo of her (as well as of other clients) is on his piano at home.

Limato betrays no emotion on the subject and will reveal nothing. “Actors often hear the siren’s song — they get more calls from rival agencies today and things are more competitive year by year,” he explains. “I believe that actors should maintain continuity in their careers to grow. The grass always looks greener on the other side, but as a rule, I think things work better for talent if they give their representatives a chance to do their work.”

If getting jobs for actors is the basis of agenting, it isn’t the end — at least not for Limato. As his clout grew he became something of a movie-set troubleshooter.

Producer Robert Simonds, who worked with Martin on both 20th Century Fox’s “Cheaper by the Dozen” and the latest “Pink Panther” installment for MGM, says that Limato is a help on set.

“You don’t just get a triple-A piece of talent (like Martin), but you get Ed himself: He was for us a powerful tool in interceding with other agents and with the studios to get us key things we needed for these productions. I guess I’d say he’s a velvet hammer.”

Limato does not relish the idea of talking about the agency business today — in fact, he gives very few extended interviews. But bring up a few issues and he can’t help but weigh in.

There’s the fixation on youth, which in an indirect way ties in with his love for history and tradition. Just as Los Angeles is a town that readily, even brutally, jettisons old buildings and jacks up new ones, so, too, does Hollywood incessantly seek out the young and discard the old.

Only Hollywood’s definition of “old” is unforgiving: Actors can end up as has-beens in the blink of an eye, especially if they’re women. “It’s an indictment of our business that women over 35 have to scrape to get good roles,” Limato says, adding that it’s often left to indie labels or producers to come to the rescue since the major studios are so fixated on youth.

In the meantime, consolidation means fewer studios to which an agent can pitch a client or a project. Negotiating packages for clients has become tougher. Corporate mandates at the studios are increasingly to hold the line on talent salaries and to churn out the kind of big-budget blowouts that easily travel around the world but don’t generally engage actors. At best, Limato notes, they are assigning out the more intelligent, adult movies to their indie labels, then nickel-and-diming the actors who make them. “They’re looking for ways not to pay the talent at the same time that their movies are making more money than ever.”

It is a familiar agent’s complaint and one that has recently made tenpercenteries even more aggressive in competing with one another. They’ve eyed one another as takeover targets or merger prospects, expanded into branding and corporate representation, and have tried to parlay the talent they do represent into all forms of media. Later this month, however, none of that will matter. It will seem as if all of the industry has descended upon his home, the one he has so carefully preserved, just like his clients’ careers and his own fortunes. “I love what I do,” he insists. “I wouldn’t do anything else.”

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