THE ED LIMATO MEMORIAL SERVICE
Legendary talent agent Ed Limato, who died July 3, 2010, was celebrated Tuesday night, January 11, 2011 at the Paramount Theater on the lot of Paramount Studios. 500+ guests attended. Producers like Jerry Bruckheimer and Joel Silver, studio heads like Jeff Robonov, agency gurus like Ari Emanuel and Bryan Lourd, movie stars galore and many of his co-workers from throughout the years came to pay tribute to the man who all agree was the last of a dying breed. Limato spent most of his career at ICM and William Morris (later WME).
The evening was orchestrated by Limato acolyte-turned WME talent agent Andrew Finkelstein, who personally handled a few of the agent’s fabled Oscar parties, and treated this event as if his bare-footed boss were present. Gina Wade Creative Inc. helped organize the celebration.
Ed Limato’s family was present, including his sister Angela. His 99-year-old mother, who survived him, died in Mount Vernon, NY just six days before the service.
Limato was eulogized by his four most famous clients: Richard Gere, Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Denzel Washington. Talent manager and former Limato assistant Richard Konigsberg hosted the evening, which began with WME head Patrick Whitesell remembering when he was a young agent chatting with Limato on the phone. Limato asked what Whitesell was up to, and the younger agent responded, “Trying to be you, Ed.” Whitesell mused that all agents wanted to channel a piece of Ed Limato.
A video featuring film clips with Limato clients offered up some of the most successful and beloved movies of all time like "Lethal Weapon" (Gibson), "Field of Dreams" (Costner), "Pretty Woman" (Gere) and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. Also, a lifetime compilation of Limato photos, accompanied by some of his favorite songs, brought him back to life for a moment. And amazing twenty-three-year-old baritone Elliot Madore sang “Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen” from the German opera “The Dead City” by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. (Korngold wrote the terrific score for Errol Flynn’s 1938 classic “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”)
Guests were given a card adorned with a picture of Limato on one side and a list of his favorite classic movies on the other. When Richard Gere took to the podium, he observed that none of his films were on Limato’s list. He polled Gibson, Pfeiffer and Washington in the front row, rhetorically asking if any of their films were on the list. They all shook their heads.
Richard Gere had been a Limato client for over 30 years and referred to his agent as, “A fiery, passionate person. Ed was so Italian. He was an opera.” Gere fretted over the fact that for the first time in his career he had to meet with new agents. Denzel Washington confirmed the fact that the protective Limato never introduced him to other agents. Gere also noted that it was the first time Limato’s four clients had ever been in a room together. WME agent and former Limato assistant Troy Zien, speaking on behalf of the former Limato trainees and assistants, said there was a reason the quartet had never been in a room together: It was the way Limato wanted it. They were all his favorites and he insisted on preserving that for each of them.
Gere remarked that he had been in Detroit filming, heard that Limato didn’t have much time left and flew to LA to be by his agent’s side. On the way to Limato’s “Heather House,” Gere got the call his longtime friend had died.
Michelle Pfeiffer was 23 when her agent resigned and turned her over to Ed Limato, a name she recognized but a man she’d never met. Limato always envisioned her as the Marilyn Monroe-type, which wasn’t quite in line with her thinking. He once called her before an award ceremony and told her that Giorgio Armani wanted to dress her. She responded, “Who’s that and why on earth would I need someone to dress me?” “I think it’s a good idea,” he told her. She followed his instructions, but instead of settling on one of Armani’s classic beaded gowns, she chose a black dress suit instead. “Poor Ed,” she said, “I fell a tad short of the glamour-puss he had envisioned.” After playing some character roles, Limato tried to chaperone her back into the glamour parts. He once warned her in his inimitable style, “If you think your public wants to see you in another wig and accent, you’re mistaken.” Michelle Pfeiffer’s memories were heartfelt and romanticized – like a daughter dreaming about her dad. She remembers just hanging out in his office while he worked – simply because she felt safe there.
Denzel Washington told the audience that he grew up in Mount Vernon, NY where Limato was born and, coincidentally, lived in a house that Limato's father had built. He spoke about Limato being openly gay and proud. An emotional Washington, a terrific orator, had to stop on several occasions to regain composure. He finished by noting that the light from a star takes eons to travel to earth, so Limato’s light would shine down for years to come.
A confident Mel Gibson took the stage without a hint of controversy. Ed Limato made Mel Gibson a superstar and Mel Gibson made Ed Limato a super agent. If anyone deserved to be there, it was him. If Gibson really is an anathema in Hollywood, you wouldn’t have known it. Gibson remembered the irreverent side to Limato in his funny, frenetic and literate way. He was sure “Eddy” was in a better place. He confessed to signing with Limato simply because upon first making his agency rounds, Ed Limato was the only agent who didn’t brush him off. Instead, he sat the future Oscar winner down and offered him a cup of coffee. He even joked that the agent taught him his “phone etiquette.” He closed by remembering that Limato once made him promise he would never have another agent after him. Gibson took a quick, sly glance at the room full of agents and then up to the heavens, saying he had kept his promise.
Troy Zien remembered the endless stories of assistants appeasing Limato. With the help of a power point presentation, Zien illustrated two identical cups of coffee. He asked the audience if they could tell the difference. They couldn’t. Neither could Limato, he joked. It seemed that the life of a Limato assistant was easier if, at around 4:00pm, he simply switched out the boss's cup of coffee for the decaffeinated kind. Limato never knew, and the late afternoon had fewer bumps.
Limato kept a massive fish tank in his office with all kinds of exotic fish. The tradition began, it seems, when Pfeiffer gave her agent a puffer fish 20 years ago. That fish died, but to prevent Limato from grieving, the assistant simply replaced it with a look-a-like puffer without telling the agent. Over the years, assistants switched out hundreds of dead puffers.** As far as Limato knew, it was the same fish Pfeiffer gave him all those years ago. Pfeiffer enjoyed the story, as she had never heard it before.
Zien pointed out many of Limato’s eccentricities – like his refusal to take down his Christmas tree until Valentine’s Day – in spite of the fact that by Martin Luther King’s birthday, it was already reduced to a pile of twigs with barely enough substance to hold the fading tinsel.
The evening concluded when Sir Elton John took a seat at the piano. He reminisced about Ed Limato visiting him in France each summer. Then he played a moving rendition of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” There was something surreal about watching this music icon perform in such a small venue. One guest said she wanted to close her eyes and get lost in the song but refused to take her eyes off Sir Elton.
Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres were served afterward in the lobby and then the bravest of movie fans ventured back into the theater at about 9:30pm for a two hour and forty minute screening of Judy Garland’s "A Star is Born" - one of Limato’s favorite films. (I once told him that I preferred the Janet Gaynor/Fredric March version. He looked at me with genuine disdain and asked, “How can someone so smart be so dumb?”)
When it was all over, the consensus was the celebration of Ed Limato’s life was exactly the way he would have wanted it.
On December 16th of 2010, the “Limato boys” (those who had worked for Ed over the last decade or so) gathered for dinner and drinks at Madeo’s in West Hollywood in his honor. It was Limato’s favorite Italian restaurant.
Afterward, we went up to Heather House for a private celebration of the man. In July 2009, we had gathered around him on his living room couch for a picture; it was Ed Limato's final birthday. This past December, we posed around the couch again.
** My favorite fish story is attributed to Limato assistant Jared, who left the office blinds open at the start of a hot summer weekend. When we returned to work on Monday morning – all the fish had been boiled. Thousands of dollars worth of fish had to be replaced before Mr. L arrived and discovered his beloved aquarium had been reduced to seafood bouillabaisse. (Jared is now living happily in Michigan.)
Below is a recipe for Limato's favorite Cabbage Soup Diet:
ED LIMATO JULY 10, 1936 - JULY 3, 2010