New MCA Head Hailed as Nice Guy by Friends, Foes : Hollywood: Ron Meyer belies cutthroat image of entertainment industry. He faces tough challenges.


He is the quintessential Mr. Nice Guy in a world where nice guys typically finish last.

Ron Meyer, who Monday was named president of giant entertainment conglomerate MCA Inc., is defined by friends and rivals alike as one of the most generous, trustworthy, accessible and people-savvy agents in an occupation known for its cutthroat nature.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. July 12, 1995 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 12, 1995 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Ron Meyer--Jennifer, 18, and Sarah, 15, are the oldest daughters of Ron Meyer, named Monday to be the new president of MCA Inc. This information was reported incorrectly in Tuesday’s editions.

While recently negotiating two of the biggest talent deals ever in Hollywood--getting Sylvester Stallone $20 million for a yet-to-be-determined movie and Demi Moore $12.5 million for a film called “Striptease”--the president of powerful Hollywood talent agency Creative Artists Agency was always willing to help bail out a client or advise a friend.


When his client Jessica Lange’s movie “Blue Sky” wasn’t testing well with preview audiences, Meyer flew to Washington to handhold the star and the film company that made the film.

One of Meyer’s closest friends and clients, director-producer Irwin Winkler, says of Meyer, “I not only trust him in business, he’s one of the executors of my will. We speak every day. In a business where people very often have no responsibility for being less than truthful, Ronnie has been incredibly honest.”

But all of Hollywood is asking today: Does Mr. Nice Guy have the business acumen and toughness to run the $7-billion MCA, whose sprawling operations include theme parks, movies, music, television, movie theaters, publishing and software?

Meyer, unlike longtime CAA partner Michael Ovitz, is not known as a visionary or someone who has broad business knowledge and experience--a possible disadvantage given all the challenges facing MCA. The company needs to reinvigorate some of its businesses, particularly TV, and has been among the least aggressive entertainment companies in positioning itself for the future and transforming itself into a cutting-edge conglomerate with interests in cable, new media and a TV network.

However, some believe that his managerial skills, intuition, personable manner and knack for avoiding feuds are all the assets needed, given that MCA majority owner Edgar Bronfman Jr. will clearly make the biggest strategic decisions, such as whether to buy a television network or engage in joint ventures with telephone companies. If so, will Meyer simply be Bronfman’s yes man?

His appointment also might signal a new approach to Hollywood management, where cutthroat ways have always prevailed over a more diplomatic, consensus-building style.

Meyer succeeds the much more abrasive, tough-skinned MCA President Sid Sheinberg, who is stepping aside after more than two decades to run his own production company.

Meyer, affectionately known in Hollywood circles as Ronnie, is universally considered one of the nicest and most trustworthy guys in a business where such virtues don’t exactly grow on trees. Even in a business where stealing each others’ clients is commonplace, Meyer has been known to call his competitors and tip them if one of their stars might be ready to leave.

He is described by his friends as a family guy who loves to play pool and eat and detests cold weather. Meyer is married to his second wife, Kelly Chapman, with whom he has a 1 1/2-year-old daughter, Carson. He has two children, Sarah, 17, and Jessica, 14, from his first marriage.

“His honesty and code of ethics are impeccable,” said producer Brian Grazer (“Apollo 13”), who recounts the time that he screened one of his movies for Meyer, who was bold enough to tell Grazer, “I think it’s really good, but it bored me.” Meyer, Grazer added, “is a very unusual person.”

At 50, the private, soft-spoken man who has virtually no public profile outside Hollywood--unlike Ovitz--is loved for his casual, down-to-earth, relaxed style. Where Ovitz is UCLA-educated and button-down serious, Meyer is a high school dropout from a tough West Los Angeles neighborhood.

In one of his first meetings with Bronfman about the job, he told the Seagram Co. chief executive that wearing a suit and tie “was not my uniform,” and the two agreed that his casual attire would suffice.

But, Grazer cautioned, Meyer “is not as easygoing as he appears--he’s more intense and tougher than people think.”

Just last Saturday afternoon, as his representatives were finalizing what would be the biggest deal of his life, Meyer and good buddy and attorney Howard Weitzman--both clad in cotton shorts, T-shirts and tennis shoes--waited in a long line to buy chicken and french fries from Reddi Chick at the popular Brentwood Country Mart.

According to Weitzman, this is a ritual of the two, who have been friends for nearly 20 years. He said, “Ronnie’s priorities are playing pool and being with friends.”

And, from the looks of Meyer’s demeanor that day, it appeared to be just another lazy Saturday afternoon hanging out with his pal.

But that was hardly the case. Less than 24 hours later, Meyer would win the job that just a month earlier his longtime partner Ovitz had been negotiating for.

Meyer, it was thought, would “accompany” Ovitz to MCA, along with several other CAA colleagues. But, when Ovitz and Bronfman could not come to terms, no such deal materialized.

The epilogue, however, was not ready to be written. At least not for Meyer, who has long lived in Ovitz’s shadow.

Now, after being an agent for 30 years, Meyer was clearly ready to cut the umbilical cord and make a dramatic career shift to the other side of the business.

Sources say the ambitious Meyer, who was looking to make a major change, was personally very disappointed when the Ovitz-MCA arrangement fell through.

Meyer, however, flatly denies that. “I had no plans to make a change and they presented me with an irresistible opportunity,” Meyer told The Times. Meyer declined to comment further on his future plans.

There was speculation among some powerful players in Hollywood that Meyer went behind Ovitz’s back in cutting his deal with Bronfman and that Ovitz was told after the fact. Both Meyer and Ovitz rebut this.

But what cannot be rebutted is that Ovitz had nothing to do with orchestrating the deal. Meyer told Ovitz about MCA’s proposal immediately after it was presented to him, a source said.

“Mike had zero to do with this in any way, shape or form. He didn’t broker or position the deal,” a source very close to Meyer said.

The negotiations, which reportedly were quick and furious and concluded within a week, were kept surprisingly quiet and came as a total shock to the Hollywood community.

It even appeared that the poker-faced Ovitz was in a state of shock. He described Meyer’s imminent departure as “a bittersweet situation,” one that is “sad because we won’t be working together, but great because he’ll be my best buyer.”

For sure, some of CAA’s agency rivals are concerned that with Meyer now at MCA, Ovitz will in some regards control two major Hollywood studios. With the helping hand of Ovitz, longtime CAA agent Mike Marcus was installed as president of MGM two years ago.

It is virtually impossible to find anyone in Hollywood--even his competitors--who has a bad word to say about Meyer.

One of his dearest friends, producer Mike Lobell (“Striptease”), who has been close to Meyer since meeting him at a poker game 30 years ago, said, “He has the best personality of anybody in the movie business. He’s the opposite of me--he never gets flustered and never loses his cool.”

DreamWorks studio co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg said Meyer’s strengths as “an extraordinary signer and recruiter of talent,” a “great administrator” and “a great team leader, keeping everybody [at CAA] working as a cohesive, finely coordinated machine,” will all serve him well at MCA.

Meyer is also unusually friendly with most of his rivals.

Arnold Rifkin, head of the worldwide motion picture division of William Morris, said he and Meyer “are friends at arm’s length” in a business where “it’s unique to be friends with your competitors.”

Rifkin first met Meyer 20 years ago when Meyer was a young agent at William Morris. Rifkin went on to open his own agency, Rifkin David, with partner Nicole David, while Meyer, Ovitz and three other William Morris agents defected and formed CAA. That was in 1975.

Meyer had begun his industry career as an errand boy at the Paul Kohner Agency after having served in the Marine Corps and dropping out of University and Venice high schools at age 16.

Because Meyer is so tied to the talent side of CAA, where Ovitz divides his time between the agency’s A list clients and advising major corporate clients such as Matsushita, Sony and Coca-Cola, there is a question as to what kind of loss Meyer will represent and whether it might destabilize the agency.

Ovitz said that while Meyer’s departure is “a big loss for me, the company will survive.”

“There is sure to be a power struggle there,” said one industry source, referring to the quintet of aggressive agents known as the Young Turks, who will undoubtedly vie for an ownership stake in the agency with Meyer gone. Neither Meyer nor Ovitz would discuss how Meyer’s CAA shares, which CAA is buying back, will be redistributed. Ovitz owns 55%; Meyer and CAA’s TV head Bill Haber own the remainder.

* COURTING TALENT: MCA chief Bronfman is emphasizing people skills over business wizardry. D1.