Disney Case: Not a Dry Eye in the House as Ovitz Emotes

01 November 2004

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will recognize with an Oscar Friday's barnstorming courtroom performance by Michael Ovitz, Hollywood agent and short-lived president of the Walt Disney Company.

Invited to tell the court of his feelings after being hired, then months later fired, by Michael Eisner (at that time chairman and ceo of Walt Disney and friend of twenty-five years standing), many in the courtroom believe they heard the command 'lights ... camera ... action'.

Ovitz' theme was betrayal and he graped it with both hands.

"I was best friends with this guy [Eisner] and his family. I loved this guy like a brother. We spent holidays together. I was at the funeral of one of his parents, he was at the birth of my first son. We were together Thanksgiving, Christmas. I was very close to his children. He was close to mine. My wife was his wife's best friend. There was very little that we didn't share with each other as a family. We lived together, basically."

Although Ovitz' outpourings were not exactly germane to the main issue before the court - whether or not the Walt Disney board failed in its duty to litigant shareholders by omitting to properly scrutinize the terms of Ovitz' hiring and $140 million (€110m, £76m) firing - those present enjoyed a slice of ham unmatched since Jack Nicholson's performance in The Shining.

Cut to tear-stained closeup.

"What to this day, and until the day I die, I will never be able to understand ... [is] how I spend twenty-five years with a man and his family and within 60 days of taking this position he decides that I'm a number of things that he had 25 years to figure out if I was or I wasn't.

"Now I'm not the smartest guy in the world," continued the man considered to be Hollywood's most razor-sharp agent, "and I'm not the dumbest guy in the world. And I'm a loyal friend, and I am a horrible enemy. But I was this guy's friend. I'm not sitting here trying to play victim because I don't play that role very well.

"But it all went downhill, and I don't understand how. And I never will understand how a guy that lived with me, and a guy and his wife who lived with my wife and I, could be with me so much and then [contend] that I'm a liar, that I have a veracity issue, that I'm a psychopath.

"I can't figure it out. I can't figure it out because I know he wanted to do good for the company ... I said, 'just train me and I'll cover your back'. I said, 'all you got to do is cover mine'. It never happened. I live to this day with a 25-year hole in my life and seven or eight of the worst years I've had in business, or personally, or anything else."

Slow fadeout to the strains of a heavenly choir.

Although it will be impossible to follow such a tour-de-force, the case at Delaware Chancery Court continues this week.

Data sourced from MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff