Ever since the announcement that MGM was pulling its United Artists brand out of mothballs and handing it over to the world's most famously unemployed actor, the headlines (and all the stunning UA watertower designs) have inevitably focused on Tom Cruise, not longtime producing strongwoman (and former agent) Paula Wagner, the person who will actually be charged with the responsibility of interpreting requests like, "Hey, let's do one where I sprint through the streets with perfect posture, and then maybe later I dangle from an airplane landing gear or something cool like that" into actual movie projects. The LA Weekly's Nikki Finke looks to bridge this yawning attention gap by filing us in on Wagner's personal history:
OK, here goes: she started out as an actress. After working in New York theater, Wagner moved to Los Angeles and hoped-for stardom, but had to settle for a few bit parts of television. Her agent, Susan Smith, had seen some of the best in the business (Sally Field, Kathleen Turner and Glenn Close) because of her acumen for spotting talent, and Smith quickly recognized that, as an actress, Wagner was only mediocre.
After a year of trying to jump-start Paula's career, Smith finally called Wagner into her office. "Go away over the weekend and think about what I say to you. You have three choices: either you must leave the agency because I don't know how to do it for you., or you have to go to regional theater and remember what acting is about again, or, and this is the one I recommend, you give up acting and let me train you to be an agent, because I think you could be terrific." As Smith talked, tears streamed down Wagner's face. That Monday, Wagner began her training as an agent.
That couldn't have been an easy day; no one with dreams of making their way in Hollywood in front of the camera wants an agent to summon her to the office, close the door gently behind her, and say, "Kid, let's face it—this acting thing ain't happening. That dream dies here. But you know what? You've got moxie, and I think you're one hell of a liar. How'd you like to spend your life making money from people doing a thing you'd like to do, but that you're no good at? No? Yeah, whatever. You start Monday, kid." But it's exactly moments like that in which future studio bosses are born.