With United Talent Agency‘s recent snatching of several CAA agents and clients over the past week, my thoughts turned this morning to UTA’s CEO and co-founder Jeremy Zimmer, with whom I’ve felt a vague connection for 25 years and actually a bit more. Not so much for who he is (he’s fine but he’s an agent) but because in the mid-to-late ’70s I was somewhat friendly with his mother, author Jill Robinson (“Perdido“, “Bed/Time/Story”), when I was living in Westport, and because I’ve long been an admirer of her father (and Jeremy’s grandfather) Dore Schary — the late producer, playwright, screenwriter and former RKO and MGM honcho, a serious liberal whose taste in films was more complex and layered and socially progressive than that of Louis B. Mayer, whom Schary succeeded at MGM before losing the post himself in 1956.
I’ve always loved the sound of that name — Dore Schary. It could be a character in a mystery novel, used to suggest someone cultivated and refined. There’s no way in hell that a lifeguard or a race-car driver or a high-school janitor could ever answer to it.
And I’ve always respected Zimmer for having uttered, a quarter-century ago when he was at ICM, an uncharacteristically blunt (and, as it turned out, prophetic) assessment of the basic nature of Hollywood’s agent culture: “The big agencies are all like animals, raping and pillaging each other day in and day out.” (My admiration grew years later when Zimmer’s thought was echoed by Matt Zoller Seitz when he said in a 2006 Slate piece that Barry Lyndon was about “animals in clothes.”) Zimmer’s quote, which resulted in ICM chairman Jeff Berg showing him the door, was first reported by Variety and then by Spy‘s “Celia Brady”.
Given his understanding of the bestial nature of Hollywood life, I was a bit surprised during my one and only phone coversation with Zimmer, which happened sometime around ’93 or ’94. I forget what I was calling about but Zimmer said at one point, “Why do you write about movies if all you do is hate on them?” That’s the way it seemed, I suppose, because at the time I was doing a lot of gotcha pieces for the L.A. Times and Entertainment Weekly, but if I’d been inclined to explain to Zimmer where I was really coming from (which I was forbidden to do given the iron-clad rule about big-media journalists having to stick solely to the issue at hand) I would have said that I don’t hate all movies. Quite the contrary. But I also would have told Zimmer that at least 80% if not 85% of movies hate on me. I would have explained that I love 5% of them and am more or less admiring of or at least comfortable with about 15% for a total of 20%, but if you want to be strict about it the legendary saying is that “90% of everything is crap.”
Zimmer knew that, of course, but decided to give me a little shit all the same. That’s what an agent is — a guy who’s always looking to play you or tap you off-balance on some level.
I wasn’t much of a writer when I was friendly with Jill. I got to know her a bit when I was working as a kind of usher and program-notes writer at the Westport Country Playhouse Cinema in ’76 and ’77. Robinson was friendly at the time with Erica Jong, whom I met once or twice, and novelist Jonathan Fast, son of “Spartacus” author Howard Fast. I wanted to be a half-decent writer, of course, and learn all I could, and so I admired the hell out of Jill’s sublime prose, and by the glow of my fanboy feelings we became a bit friendly, a bit trusting. During one visit to her home I remember her father calling a couple of times and their conversation going on for a bit. Jill went through a ghastly memory-loss trauma in the early ’90s, which she wrote about in “Past Forgiven.” She was living in London for a few years but I’ve just learned she’s living here, in the Brentwood or Santa Monica vicinity.
The films that Schary produced or oversaw included Bad Day at Black Rock, Sunrise at Campobello (which he also wrote the screenplay for, adapting his own Broadway play), Battleground, Joseph Losey‘s The Boy With Green Hair, They Live By Night, Designing Woman, The Swan and The Red Badge of Courage. He was running MGM when they made Vincent Minnelli‘s The Bad and the Beautiful (’52), and despite Schary not having had much to do with it creatively (or so I’ve read) I’ll alway think of that classic Hollywood tale as one of “his” films. Schary’s movie-writing credits include Act One (which he also directed and produced), Lonelyhearts (’58), Young Tom Edison (’40) and Boys Town (’38).
Schary’s first name was pronounced “Door-ee.” Greek in origin, the name was originally Isadore. I would have shortened it also.