I think I was twenty-five years old. Pretty young to have come to the conclusion that the man who’d helped me cross over the threshold into showbiz had to be shown the proverbial exit. My career was showing some lift and it was already painfully clear that the sweet old agent wasn’t going to be able to help me get any further down the road. It was time for me to move on. If only it were as easy as merely saying it. I’d been raised not to shy away from responsibility. To meet uncomfortable situations without ducking or passing the buck. A man needed to do what a man had to do. Thusly, I resolved to put on my big-boy pants and sack Harry Bloom.

A little back story first. Just three years earlier, I was a kid with an armful of scripts, tires so bald the steel belts were showing, and couch-surfing from San Diego to Los Angeles and anywhere else I could steal some power to plug in my salmon-red IBM Selectric II. Then Harry Bloom, this old time MCA agent and his assistant-slash-better-half read my stuff and signed me on to his dwindling client roster. In no time he was sending me into producers’ offices where I could pitch out my stories like some clueless nabob. In one of those rooms was a former studio boss who thought he saw a glimmer of talent and signed me to be his exclusive pet scribbler. What followed was a parking space at Warner Brothers, a converted office supply closet for an office, and a two-year paid education in the picture business. If I was grateful then, I’m even more so today.

Unfortunately, I had some contract issues. Conflicts over payments and exclusivity. Eventually, it became clear to me that dear Harry Bloom was cowed by the studio and my assigned producer. For over a year I watched him do little more than lob unreturned phone calls over the studio wall in hopes that one day they might get a secretarial return. If I was to move ahead in the game without getting squished, I needed stronger representation. Harry had to go.

Now, if you’ve ever fired someone, then read on and squirm as you watch me make one catastrophic mistake after another. If you haven’t, then you get to learn from my erstwhile errors.

I knew how Harry loved to tell stories over long, Beverly Hills lunches. The swanky old-style joints with vested, veteran waiters and linen table cloths were to his usual liking. My thinking was that, if I was going to let the aging agent down gently, it’d be best done over an expensive, middle-of-the-day meal. Of course, I would be paying. I owed him that and more.

The restaurant I chose escapes me. It was popular and posh and packed with industry heavy-weights. I could tell because as Harry entered the high-class eatery, he made several, glad-handing stops before he finally landed his five-foot-four frame at our center-cut table.

“How ya doin’, son?” said Harry, double-pumping my hand. “You been waiting long?”

“Just got here,” I said.

“All the way over from Warner Brothers,” he said. “Man, I still hate that drive over the hill.”

This is when Harry proceeded to launch into one of his million-and-one tales of old Hollywood. The halcyon MCA days.

“You know what?” said Harry. “In my day, producers used to love the movies they made. Now they’re lucky to like the movie, but wouldn’t pay to see it if it wasn’t their own.”

I’d heard that line before. From Harry, in fact. About five times. But that’s not why I was about to let him go. I needed to keep focused on my task. I didn’t want to get swept up in a conga-line of Harry Bloom adventures before I softly dropped the wood.

“Harry,” I said. “I gotta get to it. Why I asked you to lunch.”

“All good over at Warners?” he wondered.

“Okay,” I said. “But I’ve come to the very hard choice that I’m going to have to let–“

“You’re firing me?” interrupted my agent. “That’s what this is about. You came over the hill to fire me?”

“Sorry,” I said. “But I need to move–“

“You’re fuckin’ kidding me.”

“Really, Harry.”

“Who the hell are you? Barely wet behind the Goddamn ears and you’re firing me?”

Okay. So you remember the scene in Jerry Maguire? Agent Bob Sugar invites Jerry to lunch in a crowded restaurant, surrounded by other suited power-brokers, only to fire him. If you recall, Tom Cruise’s Jerry compliments Jay Mohr’s Bob on what a smooth move it was. A very public space. It would cause too much embarrassment to cause a scene. So Jerry was going to have to swallow and take the sacking without so much as a raised decibel.

Okay. I love that movie. And I love that scene. But it is flat out bullshit.

The dear, sweet, aging Harry Bloom proceeded to excoriate me without much concern for decorum or his reputation. He chewed me up and down and called me every ungrateful, derogatory name he could dredge up from his seventy years or so on earth. Some of it Yiddish, all of it scorching.

And the appetizers hadn’t even shown up yet.

In hindsight, I should’ve dropped a wad of cash and left. But part of me was as young and dumb as he’d described. So I sat there, stammered, rationalized, tried to explain myself, and pretty much took every drop of vitriol he could dish out. Part of me felt as if I deserved it for not sticking with him despite his clear lack of gumption when it came to facing down the studio. The other half felt his venom should sting only because I’d cocked up the whole plan to let him go.

I mean, what was I thinking? Fire somebody over lunch? After ordering and before the bread basket hits the table? Then, to add insult to my own self-injury, sitting across from the old man and watching him drop every pent-up fireball he’d never had a Hade’s chance to unleash on all the other clients who’d left him.

I seriously don’t recall how we made it through the meal. I do remember insisting on grabbing the check when it arrived.

“I got this,” I said to the waiter.

“You sure as hell do!” spat Harry. “And mark my words, sonny boy. When I’m done with you, you’re gonna owe me ten percent for the rest of your Goddamn life.”

With that fatal flourish, Harry finally stood, tossed his napkin onto the table, and marched out of the restaurant. I paid the bill and limped back to the Warner Brothers lot.

“You fired him over lunch?” asked Sharon, D-Girl supreme and newly-minted wife to The Werth, my recently acquired lawyer. “Jesus.”

“Live and learn, I suppose.” Still singed, I flopped onto her office couch. “Says I’m gonna owe him ten percent for the rest of my life.”

“Not after my husband gets done with him,” said Sharon, already showing her protective claws. She’d been big-sistering me through the last ten months of my deal. Sharon always told me the truth and I’d learned loads from her in-the-trenches experience.

She was right, too. About Harry Bloom and that penance for life threat. He’d caved to The Werth’s demands in my favor in a heartbeat. It appeared, the only person Harry Bloom was capable of cowing was me.

Years have flowed by and I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’ve sacked a few agents since that awful day. And I’ve been retired myself a few times by producers and studios. It’s a skill worth acquiring that should be done with grace and dignity and never over a meal.

Like my blog? Then you’ll love my books. My latest thriller, BLOOD MONEY, is available as both a trade paperback and an ebook and costs less than that grande vanilla bean frappuccino with a caramel swirl you just ordered.

Buy it on

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Doug Richardson
Doug Richardson
Author and screenwriter. Books: THE LUCKY DEY THRILLERS: BLOOD MONEY, 99 PERCENT KILL, AND REAPER, THE SAFETY EXPERT, AND THE SMOKING GUN. Movies: HOSTAGE, BAD BOYS, DIE HARD 2.
  • Ohh…cringe-worthy. Thanks for the visceral tip…don’t fire in public. But I sure love that Jerry Maguire scene.

    • I do too. It’s one of my favorite pictures. Glad my public sacrifice may save others from the same stupid fate. Thanks Susette.

  • david

    any postscript? what happened to Bloom?

  • Great story as always, Doug. Good lesson too: firing people is an unfortunate art we all have to learn in business. I love the Jerry Maguire scene too, but the best one to learn to fire someone from? Brad Pitt in Moneyball.

  • Linda Mair

    After reading some of your blogs I think that you and Carsten were twins separated at birth and are now living out your lives in parallel universes, and that includes the salmon red IBM Selectric II.racylph

  • Now you’ve got me wondering and worrying about the time I fired my agent. I sent a polite email note containing not a shred of dissatisfaction. Was that form too impersonal or disrespectful?

    • Dunno, Gabby. I’m sure some would prefer to be informed via email. Not that there’s any way to receive that kind of news where it’s any less hurtful.

  • Oof. Well intentioned but oh so painful to live out! I have never had to fire anyone, but I will make sure there’s no breaking bread involved if I ever do. Great tale. And great to hear you were true to yourself.

  • Thomas Ballard

    Just read your article in Writer’s Digest, robotic competitions? Do tell. Also, saw you working on your next book 99 Percent Kill. Have you completely gotten out of screenwriting?

    • Hey Thomas. Yes. Robotic competitions. But only as a supportive parent. My genius son is a burgeoning engineer and has captained his high school’s robotics team for the past two seasons. Read more about the next generation of NASA geniuses http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/frc.

      Though 99 PERCENT KILL is the next novel on my laptop, I’m still writing and developing both film and television projects. It just depends on the week that you bump into me.

  • New depth to the term ‘last meal.’

    As you observed, people often vent far more than had to do with you…one reason I don’t miss retail.

    • If it had truly been my last meal I’d be a lot lighter.

  • Wow, reading this, I felt your pain. As director of a successful live theater group, I have had to, *ahem*, “replace” actors mid-rehearsal schedule, for various reasons (and I don’t enjoy being involved in these conflicts).

    You say that you’ve had to sack a few agents since that day – it never gets comfortable or easy, deep down, does it? I think that we only get a little better at it with practice.

    What I’ve learned for myself, with practice:
    Better word choices. (“You know, this isn’t a good fit …”)

    Better choice of timing of the news. (Evenings work best for me – that way both parties can very soon sleep on it, and the effect of the news is slightly less painful by morning.)

    Better choice of “place” for the revelation – somewhere that we can both depart from quickly, without a public scene. (Can’t say I’d ever want to do the meal thing – that would make for an awkward dinner companion and a big gut full of indigestion, probably for us both :-/).

    Once again, a very entertaining post, Doug. 🙂 Thank you! Your writing always leaves me looking forward to more. Oh, and BTW, great interview that you did over on Writer’s Digest, too!

    • Thanks Dianne. I’ll send anybody who wants to fire somebody else to you. You appear to be an expert. Oh. If you like the blog, try the book.

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  • Michael

    Hey Doug —

    Is there a contact address to write an e-mail to you? I simply have a few questions about the potential for an interview.

    Thanks,
    Michael

  • James Hornsby

    Great read. I think what hit him hardest was feeling like he was in his element ( I’m assuming possibly The Ivy or Mr Chow’s ) and when getting the slam it was more an ego thing than anything else. I have recalled how some agents I’ve worked for in the past have reacted.

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  • Pertinax

    Too bad he didn’t use some of that piss and vinegar on the studios vice you. He may have had your business longer.