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Wasted

Jay Moloney enjoyed wealth, power, and an exceedingly rich life -- everything Hollywood had to offer Mike Ovitz's heir apparent, except the ability to survive.

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All week, the whispering on both coasts grew louder: "Page Six" killed Jay Moloney. The onetime Hollywood superagent and recalcitrant drug addict had hanged himself two days after his 35th birthday and the very morning the New York Post reported he had crashed and burned yet again.

Well, the Post didn't kill Jay Moloney. Hollywood did.

The real blame lies with the entertainment industry's aberrant values system, which infects everything and deforms it: Power becomes a weapon. Wealth turns into greed. This is a town whose citizens pray for, make possible, and derive real pleasure from the failures of their own kind.

And while authentic tears were shed after Moloney's suicide, the truth is that he achieved success not merely by embracing Hollywood but by reveling in its dark side. He'd spent much of his brief adult life growing from foot-soldier-in-training to full-fledged Hollywood gangsta agent. He employed the tools (seducing, wheedling, and, if necessary, threatening, cheating, and lying) and enjoyed the spoils (the $1 million salary by age 30, the celebrity girlfriends, the Picassos, the Santa Barbara hideaways) of a Wilshire Boulevard conquistador. How fitting that Variety's postmortem likening of Moloney to a "youthful Jay Gatsby" was meant as a sort of compliment. Wasn't Gatsby, after all, a racketeer?

Was Moloney's death tragic, or was it karma? His former clients and co-workers will no doubt find such a question unnecessarily harsh because they knew Moloney to be "that great guy." And he was, so long as your name was Steven Spielberg, Bill Murray, David Letterman, or the like. But it was as if, from the moment he began working here, the town virtually conspired to steal his soul.

Take, for instance, when Moloney dropped out of USC to begin working full-time at Creative Artists Agency in 1986. He received a check for $10,000 from Mike Ovitz, then CAA's chairman and already Moloney's mentor, with a card that read: "Congratulations on your graduation. Now go buy yourself some Armani suits." As it turned out, according to the trainee's USC chums, Moloney was still short some credits and had not officially graduated. But Moloney didn't explain that; he cashed the check and did as he was told.

Over the course of six years, when he was at CAA and afterward, I spent 30 hours interviewing Moloney, trying to find out what made agents like him tick. He was a charter member of a close-knit group of five up-and-comers at CAA who, by the late eighties, had come to be known as the Young Turks -- hyperambitious, good-looking males, all in their twenties, who in 1995 would take over the agency from founders Mike Ovitz, Ron Meyer, and Bill Haber.

Son of a frustrated Malibu screenwriter, Moloney was the youngest Turk. If Jim Moloney taught his son anything, it was that you had to be someone big in the entertainment industry or it would crush you like a sand flea. With no real notion of what he wanted to be other than a member of the showbiz elite, Jay enrolled at USC, the best industry-networking school next to Harvard. After his freshman year, in June 1983, Moloney, thanks to veteran agent Marty Baum, who knew his father, landed one of CAA's plum internships.

As a "Summer Camper," Moloney didn't work in the office alongside the scions of Hollywood's rich and famous or Wall Street's Establishment offspring. Instead, he was a nanny at Ovitz's Brentwood home, watching the kids, changing diapers, and driving the chairman's wife around town. Eventually, Moloney was moved into the mail room. Charming, affable, loyal, he worshiped his boss and took every opportunity to kiss ass -- his words. His reward was being assigned to Ovitz's inner sanctum.

Moloney was quick to emulate Ovitz's ingratiating and manipulative ways, making contacts and promoting himself. He became Wolfgang Puck's unofficial reservations vetter, verifying for Spago's maître d' who was deserving of an A table on any given night. Other Ovitz assistants had been discreet team players who used their influence to protect or help their friends and co-workers; not Moloney.

Once, two of his college buddies showed him their screenplay about two young athletes trying to make it to the big time. "This is great," Moloney told them. "Let me see what I can do with it." Months went by and they didn't hear back. Years later, however, one was chatting with an acquaintance who had visited the set of a movie in production. "What's it about?" the screenwriter asked. Suddenly, the USC grad was hearing his own story line. "Wait a minute, let me tell you how it ends," he said.


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