Disney recruits Hollywood superagent


Surprising even the most sophisticated entertainment executives for the second time in two weeks, Walt Disney Co. announced yesterday that talent agent Michael Ovitz would become Disney's president.

The move pairs Mr. Ovitz, widely considered the most powerful man in Hollywood, with Disney's chairman, Michael D. Eisner, the most powerful man in the entertainment industry.

The news caught Hollywood nearly as off guard as the announcement two weeks ago that Disney would become the world's largest entertainment company by acquiring Capital Cities/ABC Inc. for $19.2 billion.

Even though becoming president of such an empire might strike many as an alluring proposition, it will put Mr. Ovitz in the unaccustomed position of reporting to an executive even more powerful than himself.

Only two months ago, Mr. Ovitz, head of the Creative Artists Agency, ended negotiations to become president of the MCA Inc. entertainment company, explaining, "I can't predict the future, but the only thing that is for sure is that I love my life at CAA."

As for Mr. Eisner, he had been seen as reluctant to share power since the death 16 months ago of his trusted lieutenant, Frank Wells, who was Disney's last president.

Shareholders have feared that Mr. Eisner, who is 53 and had emergency heart surgery last year, was not preparing an adequate line of succession.

"It became clear as I started to rebuild the company that I needed a partner to go forward with," Mr. Eisner said yesterday.

He said that he had tried to hire Mr. Ovitz, who is one of his closest friends, at other times over the years, most recently after Wells' death.

"I am the chairman," Mr. Eisner said. "I need a partner. We will understand each other's moves. The company is big and growing, and Michael joins a team that is very strong."

For Mr. Ovitz, 48, the decision to leave Creative Artists Agency seems like an inexplicable change of heart. Two months ago, his widely publicized negotiations with Edgar Bronfman Jr., president of MCA's owner, Seagram Co., ended abruptly, surrounded by speculation that Mr. Ovitz wanted more than $300 million to take the job and that he was uncertain about leaving the autonomy of his own company to work for Mr. Bronfman, who also a friend.

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