Lou Weiss, a pioneering Hollywood agent who helped establish William Morris Agency as a major player during the rise of the television industry, has died.
The chairman emeritus of William Morris was 101. He died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles, his family said in a statement. No cause of death was given.
During his long career, Weiss represented numerous TV clients, including Barbara Walters, Larry Gelbart, Howard Cosell and Danny Thomas.
He was an early practitioner of packaging — the bringing together of talent for a TV show using clients pulled from the agency’s rosters.
Packaging has since become a lucrative practice for talent agencies but it is currently at the center of a feud with Hollywood writers who are pressuring agencies to drop the practice, arguing that agents are prioritizing packaging over client representation.
William Morris Agency merged with Endeavor Talent Agency in 2009 to form WME, now the largest talent agency in Hollywood.
Weiss was born in 1918 in Brooklyn. His father was a Polish immigrant, and his mother was a sister of comedian George Burns.
The family connection helped Weiss get his foot in the door as an office boy for William Morris in New York, making $12 a week.
“My job was: deliver mail, deliver packages, learn shorthand and typing,” he recalled in an interview with the Television Academy in 1998.
“I even worked the switchboard when the switchboard operator was out.”
He eventually worked his way up to being an agent, representing live performers, including comedians and nightclub acts. One of his biggest clients at the time was figure skater Sonja Henie, with whom he toured the country.
Weiss served in World War II in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant in the 10th Mountain Division in Italy. William Morris promised his job back when he returned from war.
As a rising executive, Weiss was instrumental in the creation of William Morris’ television division and packaged hit series including “The Danny Thomas Show,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “Four Star Playhouse.”
He also worked with comedians Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase.
Weiss spent nearly seven decades at William Morris, rising to become executive vice president and the head of the agency’s worldwide TV division.
He ultimately attained the rank of co-chairman, alongside Norman Brokaw. He retired from the agency in 2007, most recently holding the title of chairman emeritus.
Through it all, Weiss remained a steadfast New Yorker. He spent most of his life in the New York area, refusing to relocate his family. He and his wife moved to L.A. several years ago.
“Lou’s dedication to this agency, and his contributions to the entire industry have been remarkable,” William Morris CEO Jim Wiatt said in a statement in 2007, according to Variety.
His wife, Alice, died in December. He is survived by their children, Jeffrey, Ann and Evan. Another son, Steve, died in 2013. Other survivors include grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A memorial for Lou Weiss is scheduled for Thursday at Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York. A second memorial is set for April 15 at Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles.