Lew Weitzman, a man I greatly admired and respected, died last June. He was 75, and during his 40+ year career as an agent at the William Morris Agency, the Lew Weitzman Agency, and Preferred Artists Agency he represented writers such as Len Katzman, James Lee Barrett, John McGreevey, and dozens more.
In my own 40+ year career, Lew was my agent not once, not twice, not three, but at least half a dozen times, for a total period of, probably twenty years. His death hit me so hard that it’s taken months for me to be able to digest and address it. And I’m usually pretty good about facing things.
Back in the late ’60s, before most of you were born, I bopped off a plane to begin my writing life in L.A. because three people who knew what they were talking about believed in me. Those people were Lew Weitzman, Sylvia Hirsch, and Ron Mardigian, the core of the literary department at the then prestigious (and existent) William Morris Agency.
The way I saw it, if these three thought I could make it as a writer, then it just might mean that I could.
Sylvia was the mother figure in the team, about a quarter of a century older than I was. Ron was the Dutch uncle. And Lew – Lew was the big brother. The most relaxed, amiable human being I’d ever met. To be around him was to be in a sea of calm and tranquility. Throw in intelligence and a passion for excellence and you had the best role model anyone could ever need.
Not that I was very good at following him…but I tried.
Speaking of best, Lew was not only among the first agents I had, he was the best. Dood actually got me gigs. Closed deals. And celebrated with expensive lunches on his – or at least the agency’s – dime.
I trusted Lew completely, and without his drive, advice, and, most necessary of all, his ability to give comfort, I never would’ve had the career I did. He was, without a doubt, the best hand-holder in the business, and in those insecure days I needed a hell of a lot of hand-holding. (I still do but try to hide it better now.)
The bottom line is that as far as I’m concerned, Lew was one hell of a guy. I respected him more than any other agent I’ve ever known or had, and more than most of the people I’ve known in the Biz. He was always a mensch. An adult in a business of children, and, yeah, I was very much one of the childish ones.
So why wasn’t Lew Weitzman my forever agent? Mostly it was a “grass is greener” thing. From time to time I’d allow myself to be seduced by flashy, Rolls Royce driving hotshots and big packaging agencies and promises of more dollar signs, let alone dollars, than I’d ever be able to count. The agents I left him for were like the hot Hollywood babes other men I knew left their wives for, or the rich Beverly Hills fat cats other women I also happened to be acquainted with ditched their husbands to be with.
But I always came back. Not only was Lew my first agent, he was also my last. Because comfort, oh yes. And calm.
My big regret about my almost half a century long almost-a-relationship with Lew Weitzman is that we didn’t become closer friends. As affable as he was, Lew lived his life and I lived mine. The only times we socialized were professional. There was a line that he never crossed, and neither did I because I enjoyed the man’s company so much, and respected him so much more, that I was afraid to do anything that might rock a boat that I loved being on.
So how did I finally find whatever it is that it took to address my big brother’s loss? Last week I had occasion to write to Lew’s son, Paul, about some business. I hadn’t spoken to him since I learned of Lew’s death, which meant I had to make myself sit down and say something about it. Something real and necessary on oh-so-many levels.
The process of writing the note acted the way all my writing does. It forced me to wrap my thoughts and emotions around the subject. It forced me to engage with those thoughts and emotions and in so doing engage with Lew and myself as well as with Paul.
And as I went through that process I could swear that Lew was sitting beside me, watching with that warm smile he always had.
Because, see, the key to his success as an agent and, more importantly, as a human being, was that he knew people so very, very well. And he knew writers – and certainly me – well enough to be keenly aware that the best way I could deal with even the loss of him was to write.
Thanks for everything, Lew. You’re the best.