On way to Tigers post, Ausmus earned his managing stripes in Israel

Almost from the moment they met him, several officials and players with Israel’s national baseball team said they saw manager Brad Ausmus headed for the major leagues.

They cited his communication skills, command of the game and preparation — not to mention his 18-year playing career as a catcher that included winning three Gold Gloves and reaching the 2005 World Series with the Houston Astros.

“We knew that even though he’d never had any managerial experience, he’d go and be a major league manager,” said Nate Fish, the bullpen catcher for an Israeli squad that came up short in its bid for the World Baseball Classic. “The overall chemistry was at a very, very high level, and Brad was very professional. He created a very good environment in the clubhouse.”

Fish and the others proved prophetic: Ausmus, 44, was introduced Sunday as the manager of the Detroit Tigers, succeeding Jim Leyland.

Ausmus joins a short roster of Jews who have managed major league teams, which includes current Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin — both have Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers. The first was one of the earliest Jewish players, Lipman Pike, an outfielder-infielder who managed the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1877.

In the WBC qualifiers, Israel won its first two games before being eliminated by Spain in a 10-inning loss.

“Brad did a great job of managing the entire tournament, especially the [elimination] loss, which he handled with dignity and class,” said Gabe Kapler, who coached for Team Israel alongside Ausmus, his former Tigers teammate, and now is a Tampa Bay Rays consultant.

His age and long playing career helped Ausmus earn respect from the Team Israel players, officials and players said.

Ausmus was so refined in his attention to detail, said Peter Kurz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball, that the team practiced keeping on its caps for the playing of “Hatikvah,’ the Israeli national anthem, following Israeli custom.

In assembling the club, Ausmus compiled information on prospective players on his iPad and index cards. His recruiting effort also included calls to scores of candidates, as well as their parents.

His work not only before but during the WBC qualifying “made our team legitimate,” Kurz said. The experience apparently assured Ausmus, a Connecticut native educated at Dartmouth, that his post-playing career inclination was accurate.

“He told me he felt that he was not just the manager, but the general manager — that it was a lot of fun choosing his own players. It gave him the feeling he could do it,” Kurz said.

Ausmus is replacing a successful manager in Leyland, who at 68 was the oldest skipper in baseball. Leyland guided the Tigers to two American League championships in his eight seasons. In 1997, he had managed the Florida Marlins to the World Series crown.

Several members of Leyland’s staff will be staying on with Ausmus, including bench coach Gene Lamont. With Team Israel, Ausmus leaned on Kapler and Shawn Green, both former major league outfielders. It was an arrangement that developed unusually.

At a November 2011 meeting in Cypress, Calif., Kapler peppered team officials with questions, while Green and Ausmus “were very quiet,” Kurz recalled. The three ex-players were offered playing and field leadership roles and asked to select their preferred jobs.

“I thought for sure Gabe would be the manager because he’d managed one year in the minors,” Kurz said.

In a February 2012 conference call, the trio revealed to Israeli baseball officials their division of labor: Ausmus, manager; Green and Kapler, player-coaches.

“From then on, Brad came into his own” on the job, Kurz said.

That May, Ausmus and his wife, Liz, visited Israel, where the new manager ran baseball clinics for children, held a news conference, donned tefillin for the first time and went surfing in Tel Aviv.

Ausmus took great pride in meeting Israeli President Shimon Peres, said the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, who accompanied Ausmus to the meeting.

“The opportunity to lead the team struck him as fun and also novel,” Shapiro said of his conversation with Ausmus, who wracked up 1,579 hits –  fifth among Jewish players — while playing for four teams in the majors.

Ausmus has stayed in touch with his Team Israel players. He helped pitcher Alon Leichman deal with some mound struggles at California’s Cypress College and wrote letters of recommendation on his behalf when Leichman was transferring to the University of California, San Diego.

“It meant so much that … he really helped me,” said Leichman, one of three Israel-born players on the team – he was raised on Kibbutz Gezer – and now a pitcher at UCSD. “He owed me nothing, so I’m really humbled by it.”

One player on the Israeli team might even rejoin Ausmus in Detroit: Ben Guez, an outfielder for the Tigers’ AAA Toledo club. Three Team Israel members played in the major leagues in 2013: Nate Freiman of the Athletics, the Astros’ Josh Zeid and Josh Satin of the New York Mets.

Leichman already was a Detroit fan because his mother is a native. But with Ausmus as the Tigers manager, “I’m rooting for them even more,” he said. “Every baseball fan in Israel is now a Tigers fan.”

Hyler begins to heal

Talent Manager and producer Joan Hyler is on the slow road to recovery. After a devastating accident that nearly killed her last Friday Aug. 15, Hyler has undergone multiple surgeries to assess and repair damage to her organs, arms and legs. After being struck by a car on the Pacific Coast Highway, Hyler sustained severe injuries, which reportedly included a collapsed lung, internal bleeding and broken legs. There was initial concern that Hyler might not survive the weekend.

But doctors became optimistic on Tuesday, after a CAT scan revealed that brain swelling was minimal. When Hyler responded positively to a reduction in her sedation level, it was determined she could undergo surgeries to repair her legs.

Following a successful surgery last Friday morning, doctors are increasingly optimistic that Hyler is responding well to treatment.

Yesterday morning, Hyler underwent a six-hour surgery during which doctors attempted to repair a badly broken right leg by inserting a pin in her tibia bone. During that same surgery, they also inserted a screw in her left ankle. Doctors had planned to repair damage to her right upper-arm, but decided to delay further procedures and allow Hyler to rest. Hyler has since been taken off of sedation, but continues to receive a morphine drip for pain.

Her progress will be closely monitored throughout the weekend.

Hyler is a prominent player in both Hollywood and the Jewish community. A former vice president of William Morris Agency, she once represented clients Bob Dylan, Madonna and Andy Warhol. Today, Hyler is a prominent talent manager and producer, representing A-list actors, including Oscar-winner Diane Lane.

Hyler has also exhibited a steadfast commitment to the Jewish community and its causes. As president of Women in Film, Hyler created the Morning Star Commission, an organization founded by Hadassah to promote more diverse portrayals of women in media and entertainment. She also co-created the Jewish Image Awards, which celebrates outstanding portrayals of Jewish heritage in film and television.

After it was reported that Hyler went through 40 units of blood last weekend following her accident, friends and colleagues in both the Entertainment and Jewish communities began organizing blood drives on her behalf. Endeavor Talent Agency held an in-house blood drive last Wednesday, where 82 people contributed 61 units of blood. IKAR, a spiritual community in which Hyler is involved, is also encouraging people to donate blood tomorrow, Aug. 24 (see details below).

The latest report on UCLA’s carepages:

Last Friday night was the lowest of all low points. Since that point we have measured time in 12 hour and 24 hour increments. This is going to be a long difficult struggle. Still, at this point, one week later, we have made only progress, with no emergencies and no setbacks.

Joan rested comfortably during the night. She tolerated the surgery well. The swelling in her face has greatly decreased. At various times she has appeared to recognize familiar voices and has started to fleetingly open her eyes in response. They had suspended feeding her [intravenously] while she was waiting for the surgery; that feeding is now resumed.

The third part of yesterday’s surgery—the part that was not completed—the insertion of a plate and screws to repair the humerus—is now scheduled for this coming Friday.

The action for today is for Joan to undergo an MRI and a C-T scan. The ICU is prepping her for these even as this is being written. Joan had been in a support collar from the beginning and they are now thinking of removing it, hence the MRI, to see if they can proceed. Relative to the C-T scan, Joan had suffered a substantial impact to the head, and while there was no fracture, there had been an internal bleed. The C-T scan will give us an up to date picture of where we are on this front.


IKAR blood drive:

Sunday August 24

9 a.m.-Noon

Children’s Hospital

4650 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

Donate anytime:

UCLA Medical Center

757 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles

(310) 825-9111

The Bighearted Showbiz Dealmaker

Once, when Bernie Brillstein’s career as a Hollywood manager was already so well established that people tried to hustle him, rather than the other way around, Lorne Michaels sent Bernie a gift.

The present was a Langdon Clay photograph of Broadway near 42nd Street in New York, a location that held much significance for Brillstein. It was not the block he grew up on — as a child he lived in the El Dorado building at 90th and Central Park West. Nor was it the place where he saw his first show or signed his first client. Rather, it was the location that established the basis for his business ethos.

On this block, Brillstein stole a carton of balloons when he was 14. Then, at his father’s urging, Brillstein gave the balloons back. The incident made him appreciate the value of integrity over stealthy, dishonest victories. The lesson has served him well over 51 years in show business, as a manager and producer. Brillstein’s ethics and ability kept actor Chris Farley as a client even after Farley lost the promised title role in “The Cable Guy” to Jim Carrey. And it’s why puppeteer Jim Henson handed Brillstein a $7 million check with the promise of another $3 million and $500,000 a year for life to be his manager. In Hollywood, where navigating deception and ego is usually the job of a ruthless shark, Brillstein’s modus operandi of candor and caring made him worth a lot of money.

It also earned Brillstein the sort of respect that will bring him out of the dealmaking background and into the public eye this month when he receives the Visionary Award at the opening gala of the Israel Film Festival on Nov. 30.

“I was always told that Bernie was the epitome of honesty and straightforward business dealings, and that was a huge allure to me,” said comedian Martin Short, a Brillstein client. “You don’t last as long as Bernie has in the position that Bernie has without being fair and kind to people.”

In his publicity photos, the 75-year-old Brillstein, who will receive the Visionary Award at the opening-night gala of the 21st annual Israel Film Festival, appears etched in gravitas, with a Sean Connery-esque piercing gaze and well coiffed hair. In person, Brillstein comes off as avuncular and cuddly, like a grandfather who reads stories to his grandchildren by the fireplace.

The back mantelpiece of his spacious office is covered in framed photographs, like those of John Belushi and Gilda Radner. In a glass case is “Bernie Muppet” — a Brillstein-inspired puppet that Jim Henson made for him, complete with beard, the bushy eyebrows and ever-present phone at ear.

There’s no computer: “I’m not mechanical,” he explained.

He dresses casually: a blue V-necked sweater stretched over rolls of belly, black, thick-rimmed glasses and striped socks. Throughout most of his career Brillstein eschewed power dressing because his girth didn’t allow it. On his first day in show business, as a 24-year-old punk in the William Morris mailroom, he wore a suit because, as he wrote in a memoir, “Even a newcomer has to look as good as possible, which in my case, being so heavy, was never that good, or that possible.”

But as he put it in another book, “No one is ever scared of a fat man.” Which gave him a leg up and also the wisdom to exhort people to accept who they are and use it to their advantage.

From his early years, as a preteen prowling the top New York nightclubs, to his later years as a Hollywood mogul, Brillstein always looked for an edge. Like a Sammy Glick with heart, Brillstein was aggressive, hardworking, with a peripheral gaze that could identify opportunities to pounce on. His trajectory is almost clichéd, starting with that first job in the mailroom.

“I am a lot of things, but I am not tough,” said Brillstein in an interview. “I go through life with a smile. It is much easier for me.”

It’s a slightly disingenuous statement coming from a man who fights tooth and nail for his clients, walks out of deals he doesn’t like, and screams with the best of them when his clients’ interests are on the line.

“He is the kind of guy who can explode with someone on the phone, and at the same time, while you are in his office, turn and wink at you,” Short said.

But the necessities of business have always been secondary to his affection for performers and their craft.

“Without a question, the high point of our relationship is our relationship,” said actor Rob Lowe, a Brillstein client who spoke with The Journal from London, where he is appearing in a play. “There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t talk to him, and it is usually two or three or more times a day…. Bernie loves the show of business more than the business of show. He is passionate. He loves artists.”

Bernie Brillstein grew up as the prototypical striving Jew who dreamed of show business. Brillstein and his parents, Moe and Tillie, lived with his uncle, Jack Pearl, an NBC radio comedian. They had a Christmas tree and didn’t keep kosher, but Yiddish was spoken, and Moe Brillstein was passionate about Israel and the Millinery Center Synagogue, a temple he founded on Sixth Avenue between 38th and 39th streets, so that people in the garment district would be able to say Yizkor.

Moe and Tillie had a volatile marriage, full of shouting and arguments. Tillie was a depressive, who spent her life in bed, doped up on pills. Uncle Jack took 10-year-old Bernie under his wing, bringing him to East Side clubs and restaurants, like the Stork Club, and Toots Shor’s. Moe took Bernie to the West Side clubs, like the Copacabana and the Latin Quarter.

“At Toots Shors I met Joe DiMaggio,” Brillstein said. “I met great politicians. I met Frank Costello for God’s sake. New York — I saw it at its best. I really saw it for what it was. And if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”

As a teenager, Brillstein already knew that if he slipped in through the kitchen, he could watch shows for free. If the maitre d’ happened to walk past, $5 would secure his viewing perch.

“When I was 16, I saw Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and that made me decide to go into show business,” Brillstein said. “They were fantastic. And I saw them 21 nights in a row at the Copacabana. I could do their act. I thought I would never see anything like that again — and I never have, really.”

During his stint in the Army, Brillstein told a lieutenant that he had been “producing shows all my life!” and secured a gig producing morale-boosting productions. It was after his soldiering that Brillstein got his mailroom job at William Morris, and quickly moved up.

“You politicize. You walk around. You’re charming. You do what you are supposed to do. You ingratiate yourself to some of the agents,” Brillstein said. “I ingratiated myself to the head of publicity because I knew that his assistant was leaving. He did, and I got the job.”

Brillstein became head of publicity, and later, an agent in the advertising department. He took his job seriously, refusing to treat commercials as inferior to television and movies, which was the prevailing view at William Morris. Although he was Jewish, he charmed the “white bread of white bread” female executives at the Madison Avenue advertising firms. He took them to the clubs he was so familiar with; they took him to museums. And they brought him business. When they needed to book a celebrity for their commercials, they had Brillstein do it so that he could get the commission.

The suits at William Morris started disliking Brillstein’s radical style. For one thing, he didn’t wear a suit. And it was unorthodox when he booked nonagency talent for gigs, even though he also made sure the agency got the commission. And he sold a TV show on his own. After 10 years, he quit.

“It was not the place for me,” he said. “It was not aggressive.”

He became a talent manager, signing young comedians. He moved out to California in 1967 to start infiltrating the television business. When he couldn’t sign the big stars, he concentrated on writers, directors and producers.

“Bernie helped create the role of manager in Hollywood,” said William Morris CEO Jim Wiatt. “He is old school, making it work in a contemporary environment.”

An early labor of love was the career of Jim Henson, who’d been a client at William Morris. Three months after Brillstein left, Henson joined him. Brillstein negotiated the deal with Henson and the Children’s Television Workshop, which resulted in “Sesame Street.” He also persuaded Henson to license his puppet characters (which brought in millions in income). And Brillstein persevered in pitching “The Muppet Show,” even after the networks told him that a frog couldn’t host in prime time.

At The Brillstein Company, his stable eventually included “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels, Norm Crosby, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Chris Farley and Phil Hartman.

“I figured that if I represented five comedians, what the first one couldn’t do, maybe No. 4 could,” he wrote in ” Where Did I Go Right?: You’re No One in Hollywood Unless Someone Wants You Dead” (Warner, 2001) “But on the most basic level, my reason for having multiple clients is that I simply don’t trust show business.”

His calmness as a septuagenarian Hollywood survivor belies his early insecurities. He worried perpetually about losing his income, even when he made enough to own a Beverly Hills mansion and to travel on the Concorde once a week to catch “The Muppet Show” in London. One day when he couldn’t get through to Jim Henson on the phone, he had a panic attack and passed out on a chair near the pool of his London hotel.

As Brillstein’s career was soaring, his personal life was dipping and diving. He divorced his first wife, Marilyn, six months after their first child, Leigh, was born, in the late 1950s. His started dating his second wife, Laura, while she was still married to her first husband. Once they married and moved to California, things turned sour. According to Brillstein, Laura “behaved abominably” to his daughter, Leigh, and she also didn’t know how to handle his clients. His next marriage, to Debbie, lasted 20 years. They had two children together and also reared two children from Debbie’s first marriage. Debbie, he said, finally left him for a man she met on the Internet.

“I’m amazed it lasted that long, since I was usually so buried in business that I didn’t give my private life a fair shake,” he wrote.

Now Brillstein is married to Carrie, whom he describes as “fantastic.”

His business also brought periodic heartbreak. Belushi and Farley, who were clients as well as friends, died of drug overdoses. Radner succumbed to ovarian cancer; Henson to bacterial pneumonia.

“I was overwhelmed with the finality of it all,” he wrote. “It was like burying my own children.”

Brillstein’s current gig is founding partner at Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, which he formed with Brad Grey in 1992. It represents, among others, Brad Pitt and Adam Sandler, and produces TV shows, including “The Sopranos.”

Brillstein, who also wrote the recently released “It’s All Lies, and That’s the Truth” (Gotham Books), still manages 16 clients personally — including Michaels, Lowe and Short. And he’s producing the television show, “Heist,” for NBC. For the most part, the difficult times are over for Brillstein. He can relish the skills of his clients and the challenges of his craft as dealmaker and manager without the anxiety that once plagued him.

“People don’t expect me to do the shlepping,” he said. “I can be creative and have fun.”


Samuel Neaman

Samuel Neaman, philanthropist and former department store chain retailing manager, died in Oceanside on Nov. 13. He was 89.

The Israeli-born Neaman, who grew up in London and served in the British Army during World War II, ran such store chains as McCrory’s, J.J. Newberry, S. Klein, Lerner’s and Best & Co. His controversial business philosophy, which demanded that department store staff put their work ahead of their personal lives, was the subject of Isadore Barmash’s 1976 book "For the Good of the Company."

Neaman became a chief benefactor of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, where he endowed the Samuel Neaman Institute for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology in 1978.

"He was not just passionate about Israel but passionate about its future," said Phyllis Hoffman, director of American Technion Society’s (ATS) San Diego chapter.

He was also the president and board vice chairman of the ATS and for five years served as deputy chairman of the institute’s international board.

"Most people who met Sam were in awe of him," Hoffman said. "He never liked small talk. But he adored people. He loved to laugh."

Neaman is survived by his brother, Yfrah, who lives in London.