Los Angeles Times, May 5, 2004
By James Verini
In the new film “Troy,” there are two writers credited: David Benioff, a screenwriter and novelist in his early 30s who has of late become a very hot literary property in Hollywood, and Homer, the blind Ionian bard who, scholars think, died between 800 and 600 years before Christ, somewhere in the Mediterranean. Benioff, as you can imagine, has sterling representation. He’s handled by two agents at the William Morris Agency, and he has a manager and lawyer as well, as has become the custom.
But who is Homer’s agent? After all, he is the best writer ever, or at least the second best, behind that other bard, Shakespeare, who we know definitely had an agent (or patron, as they were called then).
Unlike other ancient authors in the limelight recently — St. Mathew comes to mind — Homer is big enough to get on-the-poster credit for any number of projects, and he composed the original script for “Troy,” a worldwide bestselling 15,693-line epic poem in hexameter verse known as “The Iliad.” His stuff is loaded with great action scenes and lots of sweaty male bonding for the important 18-45 demographic, but he also does emotional beats well, as he proved in his second blockbuster, “The Odyssey.”
Homer has worked indirectly with the likes of Kirk Douglas, Brad Pitt, Robert Wise, the Coen brothers and even the acclaimed actor Eric Roberts, who in the 1997 TV movie of “The Odyssey” played Eurymachus to Armand Assante’s Odysseus. Indeed, plugging “Homer” into the Internet Movie Database yields 20 hits — far more than Benioff.
With credentials like these, there must be someone in Hollywood representing Homer. If Benioff has two agents, Homer must have, like, 20.
Assuming that Homer would likely sign with someone who understood his antique tastes, I went first to the Mt. Olympus community off Laurel Canyon. I knocked on a few doors on Achilles Drive, and parked at the intersection of Hercules and Apollo for a while, but aside from a few girls in skimpy tunic-like tops, no one of note turned up.
Then it occurred to me: the Writers Guild. Every dreamer and hack who’s ever put pen to paper in this town has gone through the guild at some point. It claims over 11,000 members. And yet, when I called, they had no listing for a Homer, according to the operator. What about Homer the Bard? No listing. Homer of Ionia? Nothing. Homer, Singer of Songs, scribe to Athena’s muse? No.
There were, however, two listings for writers with the last name Homer. Could it be that the pagan poet had taken on a Christian name, maybe as a concession to contract law? The first listing was for a Joel K. Homer, with no credits to his name. The second, for one Mark Homer, was more promising. In addition to a number of straight-to-video thrillers, Mark Homer wrote a 1995 TV movie called “Sharon’s Secret,” about a teenage girl who is accused of killing her parents, a story line that sounded very Greek indeed. More Euripidean than Homeric, true, but still Greek. Unfortunately, the guild had no agent information for Mark Homer.
If the guild can’t help, I figured, the next stop is the agencies themselves. Given Homer’s clout, I started with Creative Artists Agency, one of the bigwigs. I was connected with the client information office. The operator sounded incredulous. “Homer? That’s all he goes by? There’s no listing at all,” she said. I got the same answer from International Creative Management and United Talent Agency.
William Morris was more helpful. “There’s no one listed under that name. Is he a musician?” Come to think of it, I said, some scholars do believe he played a lute-like instrument while reciting verse. I was connected to the music department. “He’s not a client, sir.” I tried other angles. I couldn’t find any organizing bodies for epic versifiers, and the National Assn. for Blind Artists, in Ohio, proved defunct.
I decided it was time to go to the Trojan horse’s mouth, so to speak, or at least the mouth next to the Trojan horse’s mouth, and get in touch with Benioff. The relationship between original writers and rewriters can be acrimonious, but this seemed like a special case. I called William Morris again and got connected to the office of Todd Feldman, Benioff’s agent. Feldman’s assistant referred me to a publicist at Warner Bros. I called the publicist, and his assistant referred me to a second publicist. I got the second publicist’s assistant. I was making progress: Anybody with this many people surrounding them (like a phalanx of Myrmidons, you might say, bronze shields together, spears drawn) must be pretty close to Homer.
But after repeated attempts, Benioff never called back. Neither, for that matter, did Eric Roberts.
When Eric Roberts doesn’t call you back, the message should be clear: Someone or something of Herculean proportions is in the way. Clearly, Homer’s agent did not want to talk. Without casting any aspersions on the fine profession of artist management, I had to say: The author of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” it seemed to me, was woefully misrepresented, in Hollywood anyway.
But what about in ancient Greece, I wondered? I called Katherine King, a professor of classical literature at UCLA and the author of the fine book “Achilles.” What she told me was not encouraging.
“We don’t even know if there was a Homer,” she said. If there was a single poet named Homer, she said, his reputation would have been upheld by his traveling around and reciting his poetry. He may even have had a school of disciples who did the same. Yes, but were there literary agents in the Bronze and Iron Ages, I asked? “Not that we know of,” King said.
King did say, however, that she was excited to see “Troy,” and thought Brad Pitt would make an excellent Achilles, who, contrary to popular belief, was not a swarthy, black-bearded type, but was fresh-faced and had long blond locks.