N.Y.-based agent was industry stalwart

Sam Cohn has retired from ICM, the agency he co-founded.

Though his role at the agency has diminished since he left its board of directors in 2005, in his heyday Cohn was considered the dominant New York-based talent agent.

Cohn, who’s 79, began his dealmaking career in 1963 at General Artists Corp., which later merged with Creative Management Associates. Cohn co-founded ICM in 1975, when he and ICM chairman-chief exec Jeff Berg merged CMA with IFA and joined forces with Marvin Josephson, Freddie Fields and Sue Mengers.

“Sam mastered so many disciplines of the agency business: film, TV, publishing and stage,” Berg said. “He has an encyclopedic knowledge of classical music and American theater.

A 1982 New Yorker article burnished his reputation, highlighting such eccentricities as a penchant for eating paper, not returning phone calls, being a gruff negotiator and rarely traveling to Hollywood despite populating studio films with his clients.

During his career, Cohn repped Meryl Streep, Jackie Gleason, Woody Allen, Nora Ephron, Robert Altman, Paul Newman, Mike Nichols, Sigourney Weaver, Bob Fosse, Arthur Miller, Arthur Penn, Kander and Ebb, Peter Maas and E.L. Doctorow.

Robert Newman, the longtime ICM agent and current Endeavor partner, recalled meeting Cohn for the first time in a job interview.

“After that New Yorker article, he was so often called the legendary Sam Cohn that you almost thought his first name was legendary,” Newman said.

Cohn was long a major stockholder and decisionmaker at the agency. He sold his shares back to ICM for a multi-million dollar payday in 1999, when he was supplanted as head of the agency’s New York office by Esther Newberg and Amanda Urban. Cohn left the board of directors several years later.

Former ICM prexy and current WMA chairman-chief exec Jim Wiatt said Cohn was the most formative influence in his career.

“He was such a New Yorker that he regarded as an outsider anyone who lived West of the Mississippi,” Wiatt said. “He could be eccentric and different, but was so passionate about artists, and the theater, first and foremost.”

Hanging onto his trademark ways to the very end, Cohn did not return a call from Daily Variety for comment.

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