What do entertainment agents actually do? And why do they always get such a bad rap?
Many of us saw “Entourage,” of course, and as we speak, actress Julia Ormond is suing her uber-agents at CAA for making her hide harassment claims against Harvey Weinstein. Which brings me to Harry Abrams, arguably one of the most famous agents in the entertainment history—well, make that nice agents.
Now, happily retired as he nears 90, he has finally agreed to write his story (with the help of co-author Rod Thorn) Yes, it could have been your usual memoir of the young boy who works his way up, and meets everyone who is anyone. But Abrams was talked into making it more of a “how to.” Which is why the book, out this month, is called “Let’s Do Launch: A Hollywood Agent Dishes on How to Make Your Business and Career Take Off.” So, you too can perhaps discover some unknown on a stage or screen.
Harry Abrams did it with performers like David Strathairn, Jason Alexander and Liam Neeson. And, way ahead of these woke times, he helped Sterling K. Brown, Kerry Washington and Michael B. Jordan. Female clients included Jennifer Lopez, Susan Lucci, Katie Holmes, Connie Britton and more. Along the way, virtually every other agency offered to buy Abrams out, or bring him in, but he held fast. Until five years ago, when he knew it was time to close up shop and he sold it to his longtime top executives.
Abrams began, as they say, in the mail room. (“I had to earn my way up in the pecking order.”) He spent time in Lew Wasserman’s Hollywood orbit, which was involved in everything from tv and movie studios to serving as talent agent to the biggest stars of era from Bob Hope to Lucille Ball.
Working there “taught me how to become an agent. How to always be on the lookout for great talent.” When Wasserman’s MCA acquired by Universal Studios, the Justice Department forced MCA to divest its talent agency because the feds felt Hollywood talent would be at a distinct disadvantage if their talent agents were negotiation tv, movie or record deals with production companies that had the same parent company.
With the forced divestiture, Abrams decided to go out on his own, with a few partners in different enterprises. Eventually, his Los Angeles-based company was known as Abrams Artists. But it was in New York that Abrams found his true passion.
“My eyes were wide open as was my mind,” he writes. “My love affair with New York City began to take shape. I started dreaming about how I could get here.” Three years later, he did. (Eventually, he had 75 agents in each of the coasts) If you went to any audition, there would be Abrams agents seeking work for their clients. (They even had the top youth department for ambitious and talented kids.) He says his years there changed everything: for him as well as his clients.
“The theater was notoriously underpaying,” he writes, “and I helped actors by getting them work on soap operas and on television and commercials.” William H. Macy was one former “starving artist” Abrams represented. And Abrams still recalls when he first saw the great Lee J. Cobb on stage. He subsequently earned the actor substantial money for offering his voice in some odd places. (“I live for my principles,” Cobb told him, “but, I can be bought.”)
The book is a must-read for anyone who strives to start their own business, particularly in a field full of famous names. Some of the Abrams “Rules Of The Road:” Stay clear of the press. Stay out of the spotlight. Never rehire anyone. Hire people smarter and better than you.”
“Harry is amazing,” says Bill Rauch, the inaugural artistic director of the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center that recently opened at the World Trade Center.  “He is so thoughtful. It never ceases to amaze me how he remembers the names and interests of both my children. He came to see multiple shows every year when I was in Ashland at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and he would send beautiful and insightful comments about each and every play they had seen.”
"Harry is one of a vanishing breed of agent and his agency has always reflected it,” adds actor-director and former client Jason Alexander. “He takes vested interest in the people he brings on board. He roots and cheers, heis quick and agile to comfort when things are hard. It's not cogs in a wheel to him. It's people and generally people that he cares about. You always feel like you have an ally with Harry. And he accomplishes all that while being both down to earth and classy as hell.”
When’s the last time you heard anyone say any thing like that about an agent? To learn how to be that guy..well, this is the book for you.