Jewish Journal

Ari Emanuel: Mogul on the rise

by Danielle Berrin

June 10, 2009 | 6:44 pm

Ari Emanuel is possibly the only contender to become the next big Hollywood mogul.

The young, brash, uncompromising superagent is on the ascending arc of his career: he is the architect of the new powerhouse agency, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, which he will run, and has a direct line to the White House through his Chief-of-Staff brother, Rahm Emanuel. But Emanuel is most famous—or perhaps infamous—for inspiring the character of Ari Gold on HBO’s Entourage, who seems to embody both the Hollywood dream and what’s despicable about it.

When he’s not a shark in a boardroom, Emanuel is part of a tight-knit Jewish family, with established roots in Israel. According to Wikipedia, he is the son of Israeli-born Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, a pediatrician, who was active in the Israeli Irgun and Marcia Emanuel, a civil rights activist and one-time owner of a Chicago night club. They raised three exceptionally ambitions sons (the eldest is Ezekiel, an oncologist and bioethicist who advises the Obama administration on healthcare), but placed great emphasis on family time. According to an interview the three Emanuel brothers did with Charlie Rose, they were “never allowed to miss Shabbat dinner”; that was just “not acceptable.”

But the dinner table wasn’t just about the food. The Emanuel brothers were expected to come to dinner with something interesting to say. And argumentation was considered high art: “It’s a sign of love to take someone’s view seriously and want to persuade them that [yours] is more accurate,” Ari Emanuel said to Charlie Rose.

That’s what we hear he’s real good at. 

Find out what makes Emanuel tick in the The New York Times story below (for which Emanuel, and brother Rahm, obviously declined to interview):

In 1992, Ariel Zev Emanuel, a young operative with the struggling InterTalent agency, had a problem with the rent on a $639-a-month walk-up in the city’s modest Fairfax district. The landlord took him to court seeking eviction, and won.

Today, Mr. Emanuel has a $10 million home in the Brentwood neighborhood…
Long known as a hardball player of considerable skill, Mr. Emanuel, 48, has emerged in the last six weeks as the pre-eminent power player in a Hollywood that has often bemoaned the sunset of colorful moguls from an older generation, including Michael Ovitz and David Geffen.

As the co-chief executive and principal architect of William Morris Endeavor, formed in late April by the merger of Mr. Emanuel’s Endeavor with the venerable William Morris Agency, Mr. Emanuel has finally stepped into their shoes — assuming he can hold his venture together. He spent much of the last week in mixers meant to help hundreds of wary colleagues from the newly joined agencies get comfortable with one another.

Hollywood, meanwhile, is still struggling to get comfortable with Mr. Emanuel and his aspirations — and to figure out exactly what makes him tick.

“It’s about respect,” offered J. C. Spink, a young producer who, with his business partner Chris Bender, has been a protégé of Mr. Emanuel’s. “With nine out of 10 people, if not more, they tend to be in this business for respect.”

Others queried in the last week mentioned power, money, an itch to surpass the Creative Artists Agency, and, most intriguing, a surge of ambition that came with the return of Mr. Emanuel’s brother Rahm, a former Clinton adviser, to the White House with President Obama. “Ari wants an empire,” said one associate, who insisted on anonymity to protect his relationship.

If empire is indeed being born here, it is being shaped by a restless achiever who hungers for the bold stroke — as when Mr. Emanuel and three colleagues in 1995 started Endeavor with a nighttime raid on their own office files at International Creative Management — even when that leaves a mess to be cleaned up afterward. In the case of their I.C.M. caper, James A. Wiatt, then president of the agency, caught and fired the four before they could quit.
“Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of Ari Emanuel, especially now that his brother is running the White House,” said one television executive, who asked for anonymity to preserve harmony with him.

Sharon Waxman calls Emanuel “the king of the world” on The Wrap:

Michael Ovitz should officially hand over the keys of the kingdom to a fast-talking, trash-mouthed, steam-rolling successor to his Hollywood dominion.

It is a rare moment in time and space that allows Ariel Zev Emanuel to hold the kind of power that even Ovitz could only dream about, chronicled today on the front page of the New York Times and concurrently noted by Kim Masters at the Daily Beast.
Here’s what’s unique about this moment: Over 18 months of hard-selling, Emanuel has just pulled off a “merger” that had William Morris paying Endeavor millions of dollars. And in a matter of weeks he’s turned it into a takeover, firing dozens of Morris agents, while leaving Endeavor more or less intact.

He has quickly shoved Morris chairman Jim Wiatt to the sidelines, with the Times reporting that Wiatt has decided to leave the agency in the coming months and one rumor suggesting that the agency ex-chief may go work with Chase Carey at News Corp. (An individual close to Wiatt denied it.)

The stage has been set for some time. Emanuel cannily figured out how to create positive spin in the blogosphere as he plotted—with a hotline to agency-central’s Deadline Hollywood Daily that guaranteed Nikki Finke’s scoops, while ensuring Emanuel positive coverage throughout the merger-takeover process.

He already has a television avatar in Jeremy Piven’s Ari Gold, who channels Emanuel’s testosterone temperament with barely a touch of hyperbole. (I nearly choked when I heard a teenager say the other day that they wanted to be just like him.)

Finally, Emanuel holds an ace in the hole that most could only dream about: His brother Rahm runs the White House.

Mike Ovitz, Lew Wasserman and Louis B. Mayer would all have to tip their hats before this kind of power play.

But then Waxman wonders about his tragic flaw—“Where is Emanuel’s Achilles heel?” she writes. “Every power broker has one. Emanuel has an awful lot of them, but it’s too early to say which character trait—which so far has catapulted him to a rare perch—may also do him in.”

You’d think a Hollywood story might enjoy the luxury of a Hollywood ending. Maybe in the movies, but not in their town.

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Danielle Berrin writes the award-winning Hollywood Jew blog, a cutting edge, values-based take on the entertainment industry for jewishjournal.com. A Los Angeles Times profile...

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