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THE AGENCY by Frank Rose

THE AGENCY

William Morris and the Hidden History of Show Business

by Frank Rose

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-88730-749-3
Publisher: HarperCollins

 Savvy, though uneven, profile of America's oldest talent agency. William Morris began in 1898 as a vaudeville agent, but the German-Jewish immigrant was always receptive to new entertainment technologies that offered opportunities for his clients, whether in motion pictures or radio. Business writer Rose (West of Eden: The End of Innocence at Apple Computer, 1989, etc.) barely skims the years before Morris's death in 1932, and his coverage of the 1930s and early '40s is also sketchy; at times the author gets lost in show-biz anecdotes that have little to do with the William Morris Agency. The narrative kicks into gear with its smart assessment of the changes that swept the entertainment industry in the years following WW II, in particular the rise of television and breakup of the studio system, which left Hollywood vulnerable to the increasing demands of stars who could attract the audience. Led by Abe Lastfogel, the William Morris Agency consolidated its power and made its money by controlling the flow of talent, packaging groups of its clients to create the early television shows and making sure its movie actors were first in line for the juiciest roles. The company was known for its agents' low-key, businesslike demeanor and its family atmosphere; most employees joined straight out of school and stayed until they retired. Rose capably chronicles the stagnation that set in at WMA as financial types like Nat Lefkowitz gained power and the agency grew increasingly corporate, frustrating the people who actually dealt with talent and leading to the very public departures of six key employees in 1991. The book ends abruptly in that year, with no mention of developments since then and no assessment of the agency's prospects for the future. Almost always a lot of fun, although the lack of a coherent narrative thread means that the welter of names and anecdotes sometimes gets bewildering. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen) ($40,000 ad/promo)