Elliott Kozak, Bob Hope’s producer for more than 30 years who also served at times as his agent and manager, died July 23 of complications after recent surgery in Tarzana, Calif. He was 80.
Although he criss-crossed back and forth between work for Hope and for various talent agencies throughout his 65-year career, he was known primarily in the industry as the “go-to” person for anything Hope-related.
Brooklyn-born Kozak began his career in 1945 at age 15 at the William Morris Agency mailroom in New York. Within three years he became a full-time agent in the TV variety department, booking “The Milton Berle Show” and “The Ray Bolger Show,” among others.
At one point during his time at WMA, Kozak did a favor for Colonel Tom Parker and got a young Elvis Presley an audition on “Arthur Murray’s Talent Scouts,” but Elvis and the band were quickly rejected.
In 1959, on a tip from Berle, Kozak learned that Hope’s longtime agent, Jimmy Saphier, was looking for someone to help book Hope’s NBC specials, so he left for the West Coast to begin what would become a decades-long on-and-off relationship with Hope.
In 1969, Kozak returned to William Morris for a three-year stint in the TV variety department in Los Angeles, helping to shepherd a young Michael Ovitz, as well as Kozak’s assistant, future mega-manager George Shapiro. In the TV packaging department, Kozak packaged “Laugh-In” and booked “The Merv Griffin Show,” among other shows.
In 1972, Kozak returned to Hope again, this time partnering with Saphier, and became Hope’s main agent after Saphier’s death in 1974. Kozak was soon producing Hope’s many NBC specials, coordinating his appearances and running his production office.
In 1979, Kozak was hired to run ICM’s TV variety department, to which he lured an array of A-list producers and directors, including Gary Smith & Dwight Hemion and Steve Binder.
But his high-crowning achievement was an anniversary show that Motown’s Suzanne de Passe brought him in 1982 and that he sold to NBC as a two-hour special and ICM package. “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever” won an Emmy for best TV special, as well as an NAACP Image Award and a Peabody Award, and became one of the highest-rated shows in television history.
Following the Motown project, Hope asked Kozak to return for what would be his last run with the comedian in which he continued his prior duties, serving also as his manager.
In 1991, Kozak opened up a West Coast office for Nashville’s Buddy Lee Attractions, where he would remain throughout the 1990s. He was semi-retired beginning in 2000 and spent the last decade of his life booking personal appearances.
Kozak is survived by his wife, Marie, a former executive secretary for General Artists Corp. (now ICM); sons Steven, clearance coordinator at “Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and Robert ; daughters Julie, wardrobe supervisor on “Extra,” and Heather; and 10 grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Sunday, Aug. 7, at 2 p.m. at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif.