Life with John, Dustin and Harry

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:05

    Eileen Haves has been a New York talent agent for four decades.

      Having John Travolta throw his arms around you in a midtown pizzeria was only one of the perks of Eileen Haves' 40-year career as a New York talent agent. Born in Brooklyn, raised in the Bronx, and an Upper East Side resident since her 30s, she has worked from her office in the neighborhood, along with her new orange tabby cat, Baron.

    How did you get into show business?

    My aunt took me along when she joined The Players, a drama school on West 72nd Street, run by June Justice, which taught children and adults. Excited to see what acting was all about, I asked my parents if I could take classes. I studied from the time I was 11 to 13. I was very shy, so the teacher started me off very simply by asking, "How are you?" When I answered, "fine," she explained that I should say more and continue the conversation. It really wasn't so much about acting, as learning how to talk to and approach people. By 16, I had become even brave enough to give some lessons myself to kids in my building.

    Why didn't you pursue your acting career?

    It was just too tough to find work. I wanted something steadier. And I had begun to be intrigued about other aspects of the business. My first job was with Ashley Steiner Famous Agency, which is now ICM. I started as a relief switchboard operator and then moved up to receptionist.

    Who were some of your clients when you started casting for commercials?

    Dustin Hoffman. I remember he was shy and would usually come in at lunchtime when the office was pretty deserted. This was before he and Jon Voight became famous with "Midnight Cowboy" and he starred in "The Graduate." Jon and Ally McGraw were clients in the theater division, we called it "legit." Funny, they all made it around the same time.

    Do any huge stars stand out?

    Harry Belafonte. When he came into the office, everyone - even the men - would try to get a look at him. Once my friend Norma and I set up a fake meeting in the lobby so we could pass by him. We made some fake conversation. He knew what was going on.

    What are some of the biggest differences in the business between when you started and today?

    There's a lot more work but you have to work harder for it. We used to sell clients on the phone - now we do it all by email. And people certainly don't look down on commercials. No one could get anyone to do Preparation H for awhile but I had a guy, who wasn't phased by it at all. He said, "I'm an actor; I can do anything." He ended up making an awful lot of money doing Preparation H commercials.

    What makes someone good?

    A pleasant personality, always on time, polite, never gives anyone a hard time, and if you're going to be late to an audition, calling to say so. Same for when you go on vacation ? let people know. It's amazing how much good manners count. And a pleasant voice. It takes some training.

    Do your artists ever get competitive with one another?

    A lot. One might call me and say, "I saw that you sent so and so out three times last week. Why didn't you send me?" And I'll respond, "Are you African-American in your 50s?" Since in that case it was a young white man in his 20s, there wasn't much he could say.

    Are they thankful for your help?

    They all say thank you and many of them send me gifts on the holidays but I especially remember D. Wallace Stone, who went on to play the mother in the movie "E.T." I first ran into her at a Halloween party. She was dressed as a bunny. I asked her to come into the office the next day. Someone said to me, "Eileen, don't you ever stop working?" Anyway, much later, after she's made a lot of commercials and "E.T." she came back to the office to say a special thank you.