Hollywood powerbrokers past and present officially said goodbye to one of their own Sunday.
Bert Fields, who died August 8 at the age of 93, was celebrated today by clients, family and colleagues at a memorial service in Santa Monica. Jeffrey Katzenberg, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Estrich and Michael Ovitz paid tribute to the Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP partner and industry consigliere in front of a well-heeled crowd that included Fields’ widow Barbara Guggenheim, Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen Moonves, Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and David Geffen among many others.
Individually, Katzenberg, Hoffman and Ovitz remembered a man who was clearly as much their friend as he was their lawyer.
“Like the greatest of gladiators, he loved to take on formidable foes,” said Katzenberg of Fields, who represented him in the late 1990s during Katzenberg’s multimillion-dollar payout battle against Disney. Calling the attorney a “kind, loyal and generous friend,” and a “superhero,” the former DreamWorks Animation boss got a chuckle from the packed crowd at the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage by noting Fields’ “wicked sense of humor.”
Later, an emotional Hoffman spoke of Fields’ “fearless” nature — a quality that was repeated again and again this afternoon. The Oscar winner called Fields “a man who I will always think of…forever in his prime.”
Longtime Fields clients Tom Cruise and hilariously heartfelt Elaine May appeared virtually during the three-hour memorial of mostly masked attendees to offer their condolences and memories of the man.
The Mission: Impossible star spoke of meeting Fields for the first time through Hoffman during the making of Rain Man. Declaring that he was “grateful” for Fields’ friendship, Cruise called the attorney “the most fascinating person I’ve ever met.” Cruise went on to add that Fields was “a person I knew I could always count on.”
“He loved Davids, he hated Goliaths,” said former CAA chief Ovitz to the audience.
Starting out with a clip from an old Dragnet episode featuring a matinee idol-like Fields playing a courtroom attorney, the memorial Sunday began with a video tribute to the attorney’s life, career, family and sense of the absurd.
Also speaking today at the memorial emceed by Rich Eisen were Fields’ colleagues, his god-daughter Ali Hoffman, and other relatives including the attorney’s grandchildren Michael and Annabelle Fields.
But the remarks that clearly owned the day belonged to Fields’ widow Guggenheim. In loving, tearful, Shakespeare-referencing and rollicking but always poised remarks, Guggenheim closed out the memorial with an intimate overview of the life of the man to whom she was married for more than three decades.
“He was always so kind to everyone,” she said in a speech that often saw her voice break with emotion. Giving insight into Fields’ writings of the lives of Richard III, Shakespeare and Elizabeth I among other books he wrote, Guggenheim also had some news for the crowd. She said before he died, Fields completed a final work, about William the Conqueror and the history of the house of Plantagenet.
Praising her prolific husband’s “fighting spirit in all aspects of life,” Guggenheim promised the work would be released.
A natural-born bon vivant and raconteur as much as he was an attorney, Fields took pride in his literary endeavors as well as his litigation — a fact that only enhanced his reputation in high-profile circles when you consider that Fields kneecapped Disney and Michael Eisner to win a $250 million payout for former studio boss Katzenberg back in the late 1990s. Mythologized over the decades as a Jeffrey vs. Goliath face-off, Fields’ systemic legal methodology and somewhat prophetic embracing of technological prospects for the entertainment industry, left Disney lawyers reeling.
Other clients included Cruise, the now pariahs Harvey and Bob Weinstein, Avatar kingpin James Cameron, Madonna, Hoffman, Warren Beatty (against Paramount over cuts to the acclaimed Reds), the Beatles, Michael Jackson, The Godfather author Mario Puzo and his estate, Star Wars creator George Lucas, Bruckheimer and Steven Spielberg.
However, never hesitant to take off the white gloves, Fields was also drawn into the underbelly of Hollywood. Specifically, the attorney’s association with disgraced P.I. Anthony Pellicano, who served a decade-long stint behind bars and was released in 2019, proved problematic. In 2008, Fields testified in the FBI’s case against Pellicano, who he had hired on numerous occasions. Ultimately, Fields’ skill on the stand and Teflon skin left him relatively unstained by the courtroom drama and Pellicano’s actions.
While those events were mentioned fleetingly during the memorial, today’s gathering of heavyweights made it clear those dark days are now but a footnote in Fields’ career.