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Who is Robert Slater and how did he persuade one of Hollywood’s most secretive power brokers to go on the record?

“I think the timing was right,” said Slater, who was in Los Angeles last week to publicize his just-published book on Michael Ovitz.

“Ovitz: The Inside Story of Hollywood’s Most Controversial Power Broker,” released May 19, is Slater’s mostly flattering account of Ovitz’s rise to the top of Creative Artists Agency and his downfall at Walt Disney Co.

Slater’s book contains Ovitz’s first publicly aired views about what was one of the most highly anticipated and bitterly dissolved executive marriages in Hollywood history, in which Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner hired and then suddenly dumped Ovitz as president of Disney.

Ovitz talked candidly about his controversial severance package worth as much as $140 million and the refusal of two of Disney’s top division heads to report to him even though he was the No. 2 man.

Ovitz told Slater that Eisner, a longtime friend, “promised me the world and delivered nothing.” Ovitz summed up Eisner as someone who is not ready to face the thought of stepping down. He called the move to Disney one of the biggest mistakes in his career.

Most Hollywood executives refused to comment on the book. Those who did said they were nonplussed. “My impression after reading an excerpt was that it really wasn’t going to be anything I didn’t already know,” said former NBC Chairman and CEO Grant Tinker.

Other industry insiders said they are perplexed as to why Ovitz would grant an outsider access that the super-agent had routinely denied journalists for years. Some even hinted that having an outsider do the book was a calculated decision by Ovitz, knowing such an author would be less likely to stumble on any “dirt.”

“What books has this guy written on the entertainment industry?” asked one Hollywood agent. “I don’t understand how this guy could write this book. He’s ignorant.”

Slater, a mild-mannered man with a shock of white hair, said he never asked Ovitz point blank why he cooperated with him on the book. And Slater concedes the decision could have been partly “strategic,” allowing Ovitz to get out his own side of the story behind his ouster from Disney.

“That doesn’t mean I was his hired gun,” stresses Slater.

So how did Slater a 53-year-old grandfather of two, who has been living in Jerusalem for the past 25 years and has never before written a book about a Hollywood figure land such an enviable deal?

Ovitz, as usual, was unavailable for comment last week.

But according to Slater, he merely asked.

The author recounts in the book that he sent a letter to Ovitz, as a courtesy, to let him know that he was under contract to write about him. Slater asked Ovitz if he could interview him along with some of his acquaintances.

“I remember saying to a publisher, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever get his cooperation and no one is going to speak with me,'” said Slater. “But he was such a fascinating subject I decided to pursue it.”

The next month, the Jimmy Stewart sound-alike phoned Ovitz at Disney. Ten days later, he got a call back.

Slater, who has written 16 books, including a biography of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, says the more he learned about Ovitz, the more he wanted to write about him.

He recalls his first conversation with Ovitz in his book: “He is brief and to the point. He has looked over some books I have authored, found them to be fair and straightforward, and would like to meet with me to discuss my project.”

Immediately following a March meeting, Slater writes, Ovitz agreed to cooperate with him, and in the next several days put together a list of 70 Hollywood names to contact.

The former Time magazine reporter started calling the names on the list including Tom Cruise, Sean Connery and David Letterman. He placed more than 20 calls in a single afternoon.

That sent the mercurial Ovitz through the roof; he was furious that Slater had called so many people so quickly. Ovitz told Slater that the author made him look like he was out to promote himself.

“That was the worst moment between us,” said Slater. “I never thought I’d hear from him again.”

But a month later, Ovitz did call and gave him the green light.

Slater, who mostly wrote the book in Jerusalem where he has lived for the past 25 years, flew to Los Angeles several times to meet with Ovitz.

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