The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'Entourage's' Ari Gold meets Ari Emanuel

June 18, 2008 |  4:50 pm

"Entourage's" Ari Gold is obviously a caricature of Endeavor's Ari Emanuel, but having been out to lunch with the real Ari several times, I often came away with the feeling that the real Ari--the brash, endlessly competitive and bravado-filled Hollywood agent provocateur extraordinaire--is a caricature too. So let's give credit to Charlie Rose (who can be something of an all-too-talkative talk-show host caricature himself) for offering us a glimpse of the amazing Emanuel family Monday night. (It took a while for a link to the show to appear--if the video above doesn't work, trying going here to watch.)

To see the three Emanuel brothers around the same table--telling tales, laughing, finishing each other's sentences and reliving old arguments--was like seeing a new chapter of Neil Gabler's "Empire of Their Own'' come to life. Rose gave everyone a chance to talk, eldest brother Ezekiel (top-flight oncologist, bio-ethicist and author of a new text, "Healthcare Guaranteed") giving way to middle-son Rahm (former Clinton operative turned Illinois congressman and chair of the Democratic House Caucus) followed by baby brother Ari, whose smarts and hustle have helped make Endeavor into Hollywood's No. 2 talent agency, behind CAA.   

If Ari is ever having trouble pitching a new film, he should try selling the story of his own family, which offers a compelling modern-day twist on the fabled Jewish immigrant success story. The three brothers' (they also have a sister) grandfather was a union organizer who built a synagogue with his own hands. Their father, a talented doctor in his own right, emigrated to Chicago from Israel in 1959 and led an early campaign to get lead paint out of inner-city tenement housing. Their mother was an ardent civil rights activist.

When Rahm and Ari were boys, they had to share a room because their mother had brought in a foster brother, who needed a room to himself. As this exchange from the show attests, they were taught not to just talk the talk, but walk the walk.

When Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in 1968, Rahm says their mother required them to wear armbands to school in the conservative Chicago suburb of Wilmette the next day. "And trust me," Rahm says, "there was nobody else in Wilmette wearing a black armband. We all looked at each other and said, 'Here we go!' You couldn't say, 'Mom, this isn't allowed at school. They won't understand it.' "

Rose : "What if you did take [the armband] off?"

Rahm (visions of his mother's wrath still in his head): "What are you--out of your mind!"

At the dinner table, everyone had to defend their views, almost to the death. Rahm recalls a violent family argument in 1968 (the year George Wallace launched an independent presidential bid) over the other Wallace--Henry Wallace, who'd left the Democratic Party in 1948, which culminated in "Grandpa throwing Mom out of the house."

As Rahm explained: "Normally a swear word is associated with an epithet. In our house, it was a term of affection." Ari added: "I was on the phone with someone in the entertainment business and we were arguing--I was screaming and she was screaming--and I said, 'You could've been my sister!' "

When Rose asked why the brothers (well, at least the two elder ones) ended up becoming so involved with public service, Rahm responded: "It's the immigrant culture. You have the sense that you were lucky to be in this country. It's a great country and you had to leave your mark in some way."

It's a great half-hour of TV. It also puts Ari in a different light. In the world of showbiz, he's the Prince of Hustlers, always in the center ring. But seeing him with his older, more accomplished brothers, you almost feel a pang of sympathy for him, since it's so obvious that when the three boys were growing up in Chicago in the hotly combative Emanuel clan, Ari was clearly not the prince but the pea.

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