Norman Brokaw’s career as a long-time talent agent and Chairman of the William Morris Agency (now William Morris Endeavor) spanned the evolutions of entertainment. Behind his legendary success was an unshakeable optimism that compelled him to look beyond limits and pursue infinite opportunity for his clients and his company.
As an agent, Brokaw defined diversity and dynamism. The list of his past clients – including Marilyn Monroe, Loretta Young, Clint Eastwood, Danny Thomas, Andy Griffith, Mary Hart, President Gerald R. Ford, Mrs. Betty Ford, Dr. Armand Hammer, General Alexander Haig, Dr. C. Everett Koop, Caspar Weinberger, Tony Orlando, Priscilla Presley, Tony Randall, Donna Summer, Hank Aaron, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Kim Novak, Juliette Lewis, Marcia Clark, Chris Darden, Brooke Shields, Malcolm Jamal Warner, General Claudia Kennedy, Senator James Jeffords, Lt. Shane Osborn and Bill Cosby – is so varied it reads like a catalogue of the trends and leaders of twentieth century cultural, social and political history. Brokaw’s philosophy of talent – that it could be found in every area of human public pursuit – changed the very nature of the agenting business.
As Chairman, Brokaw carried this tradition of service and sagacity to the newest generation of young and creative agents as the William Morris Agency nurtured the talents of the next century. As an industry leader, he joined the ranks of those most remarkable men, such as Abe Lastfogel, Jules Stein, Lew Wasserman, Charles Feldman and Myron Selznick, who shaped the image of the modern agent.
While Brokaw was best known for helping American talents realize their dreams, his own story was a Hollywood fairy tale come true. He began his career in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency and rose through the ranks to head the world’s largest agency from the chairman’s office.
Brokaw began working for the William Morris Agency in 1943, the very first trainee in the legendary mailroom that later became the launching ground for myriad stellar entertainment agents and executives. He was fifteen then, newly arrived in Los Angeles from New York, and his knowledge of the entertainment business consisted primarily of the savvy it took to return neighborhood milk bottles for the spare change needed for the trolley to Broadway.
Despite his youth, Brokaw’s affirmative attitude, optimism and belief in opportunity helped him parlay a love for entertainment into a lifelong career.
Brokaw rapidly ascended and before the age of 18 had become the agency’s first “Junior” agent, working with Ben Holzman, who represented Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor.
Having experienced nearly every area of entertainment agenting – and having pioneered others – Brokaw was elected President and Chief Executive Officer of the William Morris Agency in February 1989. In February 1991, he was elected Chairman and CEO. In addition to the artistry of his clients, he guided the talents of countless members of the William Morris Agency staff.
A committed philanthropist, Brokaw served on the Board of Directors of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and St. Jude California Foundation. He was President and founder of the Betty Ford Cancer Center and a longstanding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
On October 29, 2016, twelve years after receiving The Heart Foundation’s Steven S. Cohen Humanitarian Award, Norman Brokaw passed away at the age of 89. He left behind his wife Marguerite Longley, six children, and four grandchildren.
Norman once said, “There are four chambers in the human heart. In my heart, there are really three. They are the most important elements of my life – my family, the William Morris Agency, and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Therefore, I will always treasure receiving the Steven S. Cohen Humanitarian Award in acknowledgement of my three decades at Cedars-Sinai.”