Powerhouse CAA rep had roster of marquee clients

Martin Baum, a powerhouse agent who joined CAA a year after it was founded, died Friday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 86.

During his 40-year career, Baum repped a range of biz heavyweights, from such helmers as John Cassavetes, Blake Edwards and Richard Attenborough to marquee thesps including Sidney Poitier, Julie Andrews, Gena Rowlands, Gene Wilder, Gig Young (who left his Oscar trophy to Baum, who had insisted on casting Young in “They Shoot Horses”), Rod Steiger and Carroll O’Connor.

Baum’s move to CAA in 1976 lent legitimacy to the then-upstart venture formed by Michael Ovitz, Ron Meyer, Bill Haber, Rowland Perkins and Michael Rosenfeld Sr., who had bolted from WMA.

In fall 1976 after Baum joined the agency, Michael Ovitz flew a plane over Malibu with the words, “Thank you Martin Baum for joining us — CAA,” according to “The Agency: William Morris and the Hidden History of Show Business” by Frank Rose.

Baum served as the agency’s first head of motion pictures and he remained a presence at the tenpercentery until his final days. He was known for telling great yarns about his showbiz experiences, and was respected for his encylcopedic knowledge of biz history. His insights and perspective on dealmaking aided two generations of CAA agents.

“To those of us in his CAA family, Marty was a hero,” the CAA partners said in a statement. “He was not only a brilliant agent, but a generous mentor to so many. We are grateful to have known Marty as a dear friend and colleague and will always be indebted to him for his inspiration and wisdom.”

Also among his clients were Dyan Cannon, Stockard Channing, Richard Harris and Joanne Woodward, .

For a 2001 Variety profile on Baum, ICM agent Jack Gilardi said Baum cared about his clients and the people who worked for him. The two worked together at the General Artists Corp., where Gilardi said Baum showed him the ropes.

In that same interview Gilardi and Baum related an incident about the casting of Stanley Kramer’s “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”:

Baum tried to sell the helmer on casting Ed Brophy, not knowing the thesp had recently died. Once he realized his error Baum tried to head off Kramer by saying the actor wanted plenty of money and top billing. But when the director persisted, Baum had to come clean.

“Kramer said, ‘You sold me a dead actor,’ and Marty said, ‘But you bought him,'” Gilardi recalled.

The New York City native joined the military during WWII while still in high school. He took part in the Allied invasion at Normandy.

After the war, Baum began his showbiz career in the Off Broadway world, where he eventually became a prominent tenpercenter. He relocated to Los Angeles in 1960 and became a partner in the Baum & Newborn Theatrical Agency. He also ventured into producing as an exec with Creative Management Assn. and Optimus Prods., where he shepherded such features as “The Last Valley” (1971), “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” (1974) and “The Wilby Conspiracy” (1975).

From 1968-71 he served as prexy of ABC’s feature department, where he worked on such pics as “Cabaret.”

He returned to the percentery biz as head of General Artists Corp.’s West Coast office and as head of features for Ashley Famous Agency. By the mid-1970s he had his own shingle, the Martin Baum Agency, which merged with CAA on Oct. 11, 1976.

Baum’s wife, Bernice, died in 1997. Survivors include his girlfiend, Vicki Sanchez; a son, Rich; a daughter, Fern; and three grandchildren.

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