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Power agent changes hats

Times Staff Writer

Rick Nicita, a longtime Hollywood agent whose clients include Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, is leaving the agency business after 42 years to become a movie executive.

A managing partner at Creative Artists Agency, where he spent nearly three decades, Nicita has been named co-chairman and chief operating officer of Morgan Creek Productions, a movie company founded by James Robinson that in recent years has struggled to produce hits.

In his new job, Nicita will be under pressure to turn around Morgan Creek, which in the late 1980s and early ‘90s was behind such hits as the “Ace Ventura” comedies starring Jim Carrey, “Young Guns,” “Major League” and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”

Since then it has faltered with a string of misses, among them “Georgia Rule” with Jane Fonda and Lindsay Lohan, “Man of the Year” starring Robin Williams, and “The Good Shepherd,” a costly thriller directed by Robert De Niro.

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“I want to make this company like it used to be,” Robinson said. “Rick’s mission is to make sure that we’re No. 1.” Nicita will assume his new post Aug. 15.

Nicita is following a Hollywood tradition that has seen scores of Hollywood agents over the decades -- including his former CAA bosses Michael Ovitz and Ron Meyer and DreamWorks co-founder David Geffen -- shift into the executive and producer ranks. Guy McElwaine, who previously held the top movie job at Morgan Creek before he died this year, was a former agent.

Nicita’s wife, Paula Wagner, was also an agent at CAA before leaving the agency to become her then-client Cruise’s producing partner. Wagner and Cruise are now attempting to revitalize MGM’s sister studio, United Artists, in which they are part-owners.

Robinson said he got to know Nicita doing business with him over the years as an agent and as a fellow board member of American Cinematheque. “A couple of months ago we kind of fell into a conversation. I was looking for someone to run the company and he was looking for a new challenge,” Robinson said.

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Nicita, at 62, was part of the older guard at CAA to be made a partner in the agency in 1995 after Ovitz left to become president of CAA and Meyer went to head up Universal Pictures. Other former partners now gone are television agent Lee Gabler and music chief Tom Ross. The group once known as the Young Turks -- including Richard Lovett, Kevin Huvane, David O’Connor and Bryan Lourd -- now run the agency.

Most of Nicita’s clients also represent older generation Hollywood, such as Al Pacino, Anthony Hopkins, Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner and Rob Reiner.

Nicita has maintained close ties with Meyer at Universal, which distributes Morgan Creek’s movies in the U.S. Morgan Creek finances its own productions as well as print and advertising costs, paying Universal a fee to distribute its films.

Nicita began his career as a motion picture agent at William Morris Agency in New York, moving to the firm’s Beverly Hills office in 1976. Four years later he followed Ovitz and Meyer to CAA and later became co-head of the talent department and co-chairman of the agency.

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claudia.eller@latimes.com


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