Leah Remini played the role of ringmaster to a succession of managers and publicists forced to jump through hoops in a three-ring circus that swirled around her rise from obscure bit-part actress to TV sitcom star.
Remini gained a reputation for firing people randomly, once reportedly going through three publicists alone in eight months. Managers fared little better. Worse, several had to battle for the fees they said she tried to avoid.
“She would always treat me with such disdain,” recalled Kathy Oliver, one of Remini’s first managers. Oliver was responsible for landing some of the 1991 roles, including that of Stacey Carosi on Saved by the Bell, that put Remini’s career in motion.
“It takes a lot to get a brand-new actor working and recognized and visible in the industry,” Oliver said, adding that at the time she started managing Remini’s career, a strike in the industry had left many actors out of work. Despite getting Remini cast in an ongoing series, Oliver recalled, “She said something to me like, ‘What am I paying you for?’
“She was ugly in the way she behaved to people, in the way she treated people. Always trying to rip them apart. I saw that she was treating other people in that put-down, condescending, actually very evil way. And I looked at that and I went, ‘I’m not going to work with somebody like that.’”
In testament to Oliver’s words, Remini would later admit in her own hand: “I was cruel to Kathy which resulted in her finally quitting on me.”
Oliver is not just one of a number of industry representatives who say they were abused by Remini, but also one of the first forced to chase the actress for the money she was owed. After Remini and Oliver parted ways, Remini tried to get out of paying her fee, writing that Oliver had not helped her career.
“The only acting client I ever had a problem with was Leah,” Oliver said.
— ATTORNEY BRYAN FREEDMAN TO THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
For Leah, withholding money—hundreds of thousands of dollars in at least one case—became a pattern. Attorney Bryan Freedman, representing The Collective Management Group in a lawsuit against Remini in 2012, commented to The Hollywood Reporter: “History doesn’t lie. Her pattern and practice of failing to pay representatives speaks volumes. This excuse is just another one of many she has created to attempt to avoid paying what is clearly owed.”
One management company, Handprint Entertainment, had to sue Remini for commissions they claimed she owed them after they helped her land her star-making role in The King of Queens.
The legal battle had its roots in 1998, when Handprint reps had to convince Remini to take the role of Carrie Heffernan. The series would run for nine seasons, until May 2007. Yet, less than a year after the show premiered, Remini fired Handprint, which sued her for nonpayment of commissions, breach of contract, declaratory relief and other causes. The case was settled in September 2000.
Relationships with publicists were also contentious. By 2001, Remini was represented by publicists Kane & Associates, who were trying to capitalize on her new name recognition with endorsements and appearances. In reply to a request forwarded to Remini from a client with whom Remini had a contract for publicity purposes—a national automotive products company—Leah wrote:
“I need to make myself clear; I will NOT even consider flying anywhere to ‘make an appearance’ at a trade meeting. Nor will I ever debase myself and what I have accomplished in my life, in order to do such a thing….I am not a circus act.”
A few weeks later, Remini decided she no longer wanted to work with that publicity client, and sent a fax to her management saying she wanted out of the contract. “They are rude, obnoxious and classless,” she said of the well-respected company.
After Nancy Kane of Kane & Associates received a series of noxious faxes from Remini, ultimately severing their relationship, Kane wrote the actress: “Every client has a right to voice his or her concerns, but no one has the right to attack without justification or provocation, over and over again….
“The tone in your recent faxes was unnecessary, indulgent and downright cruel. I can honestly say that I have never experienced from friend, client or enemy, the treatment that these faxes displayed.”
— ROGERS & COWAN PUBLICIST TO LEAH REMINI
Leah took little notice of the rebuke. Her next publicist, Arnold Robinson of Rogers & Cowan, lasted just a short while. In dismissing Remini as a client, Robinson wrote:
“I have to admit that I am at a loss. I don’t really know what to say to you at this point, as I feel that anything I say to you will be rebuked. I sincerely feel that I need to be able to speak to you openly and honestly…without feeling that you are going to cut down everything that I say.”
By late summer of 2001, Remini’s management team detailed how she had major blowups with assistants and representatives due to being hypercritical, antagonistic and extremely “difficult” to work with.
“She has stated that she is having problems with her publicists, her costars on her TV show, the producers and writers on her TV show, her assistants, her makeup artist, and myself and my office staff,” adding that Remini “admits or demonstrates very little responsibility for having created any of these ‘problems.’”
Remini terminated her management. More than a year later, they were still looking to recover commissions owed by the actress: “Leah has utilized every justification she can to get out of paying commissions.” The matter was eventually settled, with Remini reportedly paying the arbitrated commission amount.
In November 2011, Remini signed with another talent management firm, The Collective Management Group. The agreement—a standard talent management contract—called for 10 percent of all compensation generated from the projects Remini “discussed, negotiated, contemplated, or procured/booked” during their representation.
—KANE & ASSOCIATES TO LEAH REMINI
While under the agreement, Remini was cast on a new ABC sitcom, Family Tools. All 10 episodes of the first contract year of the series were shot in 2012, with the series to launch in 2013. Remini was paid $100,000 per episode, or $1 million for her work. Leah fired the agency in October 2012, then refused to pay them the 10 percent they were owed for the Family Tools contract.
On December 18, 2012, The Collective Management Group sued Remini in Los Angeles Superior Court for breach of oral contract, loss of expected revenues, declaratory relief and accounting. The suit, by all appearances, was eventually settled out of court.
“This case is about Leah Remini’s choice to purposefully disregard her contractual obligations to those who furthered her career,” read plaintiff’s introduction to the complaint. “Remini’s behavior will not be tolerated.”
Few industry professionals who have had to jump through Remini’s hoops have tolerated it.
When Nancy Kane of Kane & Associates received the memo from Remini severing their relationship, she authored a reply expressing sentiments that have trailed Remini in the industry.
“I can state with utter assurance that we are pleased and relieved not to be representing you anymore,” Kane wrote, adding, “The tone, innuendo and blatant accusatory, condescending and insulting statements about myself and my company, have caused me enormous relief in knowing that we will not waste any more precious time on someone who mistreats people in an abusive and destructive manner.”