A lot of wonderful things have happened in my life, and oftentimes some of the most special events just appeared and weren’t necessarily planned. These events were either happenstance, serendipity, kismet, or just plain ole’ good luck. Do you believe in serendipity?
It started when I was a speech and theater major in college at what was then Monmouth College, which is now a University in Long Branch, NJ. Whilst in my senior year I applied for a job working for a contract packaging firm in Edison, New Jersey, called Packaging Plus. It was owned by an extraordinary man, Paul Von Till, my first and only real boss. I got the job and learned what a multi-billion dollar business looked like from the inside out, beginning in the fall of 1971. Packaging Plus was allied with a New York firm, Cal Industries. After a while, I wound up working part-time in Edison and part-time in New York City. I’ll never forget my first-day leaving work at 28th & Madison as I was leaving the building I saw a taxi cab hit a pedestrian and watched the body fly into the air and then hit the pavement, lifeless.
That was my first working day in NYC. I never forgot this feeling of fear that was instilled in me. Fortunately, I wasn’t that unlucky person, and I survived and thrived for over forty years in the city.
But that was my first day at work in the NY office of Cal Industries back in 1972. In that I had been a speech and theater major and performed in a Summer stock at the Parkway Playhouse in Burnsville, North Carolina, I wound up having a circle of friends, several of which were living in my oldest brother Robert Miller’s brownstone, at 329 W 88th St. My roommate, a former college classmate, actor and playwright in a shared studio apartment there, Mike Coyne, was a good friend. He introduced me to Molly Winston, who lived on West 72nd Street who was a neighbor for a composer and musician, Carl Eugster, who had written an off-broadway musical, Olio. I’ll always remember that one of the musical numbers in the musical play was called “No One Loves an Agent But His Mother.” Unfortunately, I didn’t take the advice. The good news is my mother truly loved me as I loved her and still feel my compassion for her to this very day.
I met with the composer’s lawyer, Kenneth J. Lapatine, who would later become Barbara Streisand’s entertainment lawyer. When I met with Ken, he suggested I meet Al Zuckerman, who was producing a Broadway musical called Zing as he thought we should know one another. After meeting Al, as circumstances would unfold, and in that I knew a lot of authors and playwrights. Al never produced Zing and I never produced Olio, but we did become partners. Al and I wound up forming a literary agency in the fall of 1972, Writer’s House, Inc. I was a junior partner with 49% of the stock.
Al was a former writing instructor from Yale University and a published author. Little did I know then that he was the son of a gangster, who was close with Meyer Lansky and Al wrote a novel about it, The Head of The House. I will always remember the first line of the film, Once Upon a Time in America, “The Italians brought the mafia to America, and the Jews made it profitable.” Within a year and a half or so, Al and I successfully represented some sixty books and created a new and growing Agency. The office we started in at 42nd and 8th Avenue was so small you had to go outside to change your sport coat or flip on a sweater. I was fairly broke back in ’72, so I took on odd jobs bartending, painting apartments, and even had a job in an antique store for a while. And yet, I loved the concept of being a literary representative and felt that I had a new home even though I wasn’t receiving any compensation. Al was a good teacher and partner at first and I had a natural talent for connecting the dots and back then publishers threw parties for almost every book that was being published.
I tried to attend as many of these events as I could. Oftentimes free drinks, for hor d’oeuvres and sometimes more substantial food or invitations to dinner parties. After a year and a half or so, Al aced me out of the business, and for a paltry sum of $3,750, bought me out of any future commissions I would’ve earned on the library of books we successfully represented together. I went off on my own to form an agency and never looked back. I am grateful for Al and the experience but I always felt that Al treated me unfairly and essentially stole from me. The truth is that I thank him for his wrongdoings and tribute it to my success today.
After these events, I started my own agency in the bedroom that I occupied on the fourth floor of my brother’s brownstone. I never looked back, and the Peter Miller Agency later became the Peter Miller Agency, Inc. In 1991, I formed PMA Literary & Film Management Inc. as a sister production company, which became 21st Century Lion, Inc. I was falsely sued by 20th Century Fox for infringing on their brand, but that is an entirely different story. I then changed the name to Millennium Lion, and continued with my literary management work until I formed Global Lion Intellectual Property Management Inc., which was the sister company to PMA. Fox paid me $5,000 to change my name and the attorney I used to settle this only charged me $500.
Back when I left Al, he told me to go to California, saying I could make it in Hollywood. Well, I did go to California and have been successfully making trips there ever since. I have connected the dots on many movie, tv, and cable deals and have been responsible for several movies being produced.
Sometimes things happen in your life and you never look back. There are always mountains and valleys, but I don’t regret my pursuit of being a literary manager and an intellectual property developer and am grateful to every author who has given me the privilege of managing their work and in some instances their careers.
Writers, Right On!
Blessings, Peter Miller.