Cohn in 1984
May 11, 1929|
|Died||May 6, 2009
New York City
Cohn has been described as one of the most powerful agents in the 1970s and 1980s, and had an extensive client list that included top stars in theater and film. Some of his most well-known clients included Paul Newman, Woody Allen, Meryl Streep, Liza Minnelli, Whoopi Goldberg, Dianne Wiest, Jackie Gleason, Dame Maggie Smith, Robert Altman, and E.L. Doctorow. Time magazine called Cohn "the first superagent of the modern age".
Cohn was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania. His father, grandfather and uncle operated a company called Independent Oil Company of Pennsylvania that marketed refined petroleum products, and was later sold to Standard Oil of New York.
Cohn attended the Culver Military Academy in Indiana, and earned a bachelors degree in English and German literature from Princeton University. He enrolled in Yale Law School, but put his legal studies on hold to join the Army and served in Japan at the end of the Korean War. He completed his law degree in 1956.
He worked his way up through the television industry with stints as a television producer, as a lawyer at CBS, and as a lawyer and business executive at Goodson-Todman, producer of game shows including The Price Is Right. He was also a lawyer for a small agency, General Artists Corporation, which, through a series of acquisitions and mergers, evolved first into a larger agency called Creative Management Associates, and then, in 1974, into ICM.
A lengthy 1982 profile by Mark Singer in The New Yorker (reprinted in a later book by Singer) described Cohn's career and personality in detail. Cohn was known for lunching at New York's Russian Tea Room almost every day, his habit of eating paper, and his strong preference for New York over Los Angeles, which is unusual among major motion picture agents. Cohn was also famously difficult to reach on the phone. His obituaries in the two leading entertainment industry trade newspapers both mentioned that he was "the most difficult man in the business to get on the phone", and in his New Yorker profile, Singer repeated an industry joke that Cohn's tombstone would read, "Here lies Sam Cohn. He'll get back to you."
Cohn's client list and influence waned in later years, and in 1999 he left his position as the head of ICM's New York office. He remained a member of ICM's board of directors until 2005, and continued to work at ICM until retiring in early 2009. The Variety article reporting his retirement noted: "Hanging onto his trademark ways to the very end, Cohn did not return a call from Daily Variety for comment."
- Weber, Bruce (May 6, 2009). "Sam Cohn, Powerful Talent Broker, Dies at 79". The New York Times. Retrieved May 7, 2009.
- Andersen, Kurt (September 6, 1993). "Requiem for a Heavyweight". TIME. Retrieved May 7, 2009.
- Singer, Mark (January 11, 1982). "Profiles: Dealmaker" (fee required). The New Yorker. pp. 40–84. Retrieved May 9, 2009.
- Singer, Mark (2005). "Professional Doppelgänger". Mr. Personality. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 144–181. ISBN 978-0-618-19726-2. Retrieved May 7, 2009.
- Stewart-Gordon, Faith (1999). The Russian Tea Room: A Love Story. Simon and Schuster. pp. 211ff. ISBN 978-0-684-85981-1. Retrieved May 7, 2009.
- "Celebrity Obituaries". The Daily Telegraph (London).
- Saperstein, Pat; Fleming, Michael (May 6, 2009). "ICM veteran Sam Cohn dies". Variety. Retrieved May 7, 2009.
- Barnes, Mike (May 6, 2009). "Legendary agent Sam Cohn dies". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved May 7, 2009.[dead link]
- "Film Obituaries: Sam Cohn". The Daily Telegraph (London). 2009-05-12. Retrieved 2011-05-27.
- "Ephron, Aykroyd Catch Cohn on Film". New York. February 17, 1992. Retrieved May 7, 2009.
- Fleming, Michael (February 3, 2009). "Legendary Cohn retires from ICM". Variety. Retrieved May 7, 2009.