Lee Salomon Interview
(William Morris Agency)
Agents — the unseen power behind the stars. The movers. The shakers. The people who get things done.
The William Morris Agency is the oldest theatrical agency in America, having been established way back in 1898. Through the years William Morris has represented Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Sylvester Stallone, and The Rolling Stones to name just a few.
Lee Salomon is one of the ten Senior Vice Presidents at the Morris Agency's New York offices. He's been with William Morris for 41 years. His personal clients include Bill Cosby, Donna Summer, Tony Orlando, Jackie Mason, and The Temptations.
Q. Bobby Brooks, the agent who was killed along with Stevie Ray Vaughan in that helicopter crash....
A. I just met him once in my life. He was a very bright young man. He was at CAA (Creative Artists Agency), and he handled some pretty important people, amongst was the kid who went down with him, Whoopi Goldberg, Eric Clapton. I don’t know him that well. I know he's 34 years old, and it's an unfortunate thing.
0. When people think of an agent, they visualize a person in an office making up contracts and on the phone. Was this an unusual situation for an agent to be on the road with his client?
A. I fly a helicopter 40 times a year down to Atlantic City. We're all on the road. We service our clients.
Q. But once the contract has been signed, what are you doing on the road?
A. We're making sure all the things in the contract are being lived up to. We make sure the client is getting everything he's entitled to and that they're happy with the arrangements. If there's a percentage deal sometimes the agent will go into the box office and check it out and make sure everybody’s getting paid what they should be paid, and to really make certain everything is in order.
Q. There's a certain mystique about the William Morris Agency.
A. William Morris is the oldest theatrical agency, since 1898. That's part of the mystique I would imagine.
Q. Most agencies will take fifteen percent of a client's earnings, while the William Morris Agency has been known to take ten per cent...
A. I can't discuss our commission arrangement. I'll say that average commission is ten per cent.
Q. Is there some kind of daily routine you follow, or is every day different?
A. I don't think any two days are the same. You speak to your clients. You speak to your buyers. You go to meetings. You give input. You get knowledge. No two days are the same. Some days are easier. Some days are tougher. You handle problems when they come up. You don't have any problems, you have an easier day.
Q. Do you have a sixth sense that tells you some one is really talented and going places?
A. Yeah. It doesn't mean it's going to happen. You should have perception about someone who's a little more talented, but you have to have three things going for you in order to make it. One third talent, one third management, parenthesis agent, and one third timing. Luck. You have to have all three of those things going for you at the same time in order to make it big. Lacking any one of the three thirds, could hold you back a little bit. Would you say that George Burns had timing when Jack Benny was supposed to have done the 'Sunshine Boys' and died, and he was screen tested and got the picture? The timing was perfect. That's what brought him back to being a superstar. If they weren't looking for someone at that particular time, because Jack Benny didn't die, then George Burns wouldn’t have been as hot as he got. That's a great example. I just thought about it.
Q. Go back to the agent part once again...
A. If you have the talent and there's a job there, you gotta have the right person to know where it is at the right time. And, to advise you whether to take it or not. That's the other third of management, being an agent. I know something that happened in Atlantic City today that no one else knows and I'm going to put one of my people in there because I know about it. So, you have to have an agent or a manager who's on top of things.
Q. So, when the William Morris Agency considers signing a client, you take a good, hard look at their management.
A. When I say management, I mean management, agent. We substitute one for the other. Yes, if an artist has a manager, he has a right to be agent. There are some artists who don't have managers. A lot of motion picture and television stars don't have managers. When I say management, agent, I mean you can put either word in tandem. There are some artists who don't have agents. It depends on how smart your agent is, who you have for your agent.
Q. Do new comers get the same attention at William Morris as established artists get?
A. Well, they will by younger agents at William Morris. The younger agents are the ones who are building the younger artists. You couldn't expect someone who's making $30,000 a year to get the same attention as someone who's making $10 million a year. The idea of a good agent is to get the right talent into the right spot to be seen by the right people, and then the magic has to happen.
Q. If all agencies perform more or less the same service, why then do artists switch agencies?
A. You'd have to ask the artist why they go to different agencies. It could be timing. They weren't hot. Some people promised things they couldn't deliver. Basically, most agencies are good. A manager may have a feeling for some agent. It goes around. It goes full circle. You'll find a lot of artists stay with their agency. We've had Bill Cosby from the day he started. Milton Berle has been here over 50 years.
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