Michael Allan Levine, lawyer, agent, film and television producer, philanthropist (born April 1943 in Toronto, ON). Michael A. Levine is widely known as Canada’s “super-agent” and foremost entertainment lawyer. He has represented many of the country’s media personalities, including broadcaster Lloyd Robertson, artist Robert Bateman, and authors Mordecai Richler and Rohinton Mistry. He has also produced film and television projects such as The Terry Fox Story (1983) and Republic of Doyle (2010–14) and book projects such as the 18-volume series Extraordinary Canadians, also a documentary series. A powerful force behind the scenes in the Canadian entertainment industry, he is also a philanthropic supporter of the arts community and various heritage initiatives.
Education and Early Career
Levine was born into a family of British and Eastern European Jewish descent in Toronto, Ontario. The family owned one of the largest uniform manufacturing companies in Canada. His father, Murray David Levine, supplied uniforms to private schools and the Canadian military. Levine grew up in the city’s wealthy Forest Hill neighbourhood and attended Forest Hill Collegiate Institute before studying political science and economics at the University of Toronto. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1965 and completed a law degree at the university three years later.
Motivated by a desire to make a difference, Levine and his first wife, social worker Carol Cowan-Levine, decided to give back through international service. In 1969, the couple lived for a year in Tanzania, where Cowan-Levine taught high school French and Levine worked as a transport economist for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
After returning from Africa, Levine began his law career in Toronto. He contemplated going into either labour law or politics, but his idealism and his commitment to Canadian culture led him to the burgeoning field of entertainment law. In 1971, he joined Rosenfeld Schwartz, one of the few law firms in the country that dealt with the entertainment industry. He became partner in November 1973, and remained with the firm until 1982, when it merged with Goodman Phillips & Vineberg (now Goodmans LLP), a leading Canadian law firm with a strong entertainment division. He retired from Goodmans LLP in December 2010.
In 1973, Canadian journalist and interviewer Brian Linehan became his first celebrity client. Levine also established lasting associations with many of the country’s well-known cultural and entertainment figures, including writer Peter C. Newman, scholar and former Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff, media mogul Moses Znaimer and the Bronfman family as well as a number of on-air talent and journalists.
Levine created connections and cultivated clients across television, film, journalism, performance art and literature to become a key figure in entertainment law and the entertainment industry. He became especially well known for his deal-making prowess. His signature negotiation style is non-confrontational and carefully managed. As he told journalist Marc Glassman, “I think people have a sense of dignity, a sense of need, a sense of entitlement. Unless you can negotiate in a way that honors that […] you get less.”
Westwood Creative Artists
In 1994, Levine joined Westwood Creative Artists, Canada’s largest literary agency, and established the group’s film and television department. One of Westwood’s central aims is to make Canadian artistic works both more profitable and better known internationally. As the chairman of Westwood Creative Artists, Levine represents people in front of and behind the camera as well as numerous authors and journalists.
He has negotiated some of the country’s most high-profile entertainment deals. In the early 1990s, Levine negotiated the book contract and television rights for former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s autobiography, a sought-after contract believed to have gone for some $600,000. Conrad Black chose Levine as the agent for his memoir, A Matter of Principle (2011), which detailed his time in prison. Levine has handled the film and television rights for the Mordecai Richler estate for many years, and was instrumental in helping bring the musical adaptation of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz to the stage in 2015.
Film and Television Production
In 1980, Levine was deeply affected by Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. He negotiated the rights to the story, and worked behind the scenes to get the film into theatres and on television. Levine was listed as an executive producer on The Terry Fox Story (1983), which won six Genie Awards, including Best Motion Picture. It was one of his first production credits and secured his position as Canada’s top entertainment dealmaker. His numerous other production credits include documentaries (Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies and the American Dream, 1998) and television series (Republic of Doyle, 2010–14).
Levine has a proven track record of taking Canadian artists, and their art, and turning them into internationally successful media products. This has sometimes meant removing some of what makes the material Canadian, thus crafting material that is more accessible to international audiences. Levine has been criticized for his business-first “export nationalism,” which some have argued has undermined the country’s cultural industries, particularly publishing and film production.
Levine has also been involved in celebrating Canadian heritage through such initiatives as the Heritage Minutes, which were conceived as an innovative, accessible way to present Canadian history and identity, and show Canadians “that they have a part and a stake in the country.”
“Mr. Conflict of Interest”
Levine has earned the nickname “Mr. Conflict of Interest” for his habit of representing both opposing parties in a business proceeding at one time or another. For example, he represented Margaret Trudeau during her divorce from Pierre Trudeau, and then negotiated the book contract for the latter’s memoirs. While this has caused some frustration amongst his clients and criticism from various industry insiders, most feel that Levine is skilled at getting the best deal for everyone involved. His deal-making dexterity and prime status in the entertainment sector has been acknowledged by press outlets such as Maclean’s, which ranked him seventh on its “Enrichers” list of the “50 Most Influential Canadians” in 2002.
Philanthropy and Community Involvement
Levine has long been involved in philanthropy supporting the Canadian arts scene and heritage projects. Driven by the desire to show that Canada has artists that “can make us hold our head up to the rest of the world,” he has sat on the board of directors for numerous organizations, including the National Screen Institute, Institute for Canadian Citizenship, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Canadian Film Centre, The Festival of Festivals (now Toronto International Film Festival) and The Corporation of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall.
Levine was instrumental in establishing The Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation, named for his friend and first celebrity client. The foundation provides support to a variety of actors through not-for-profit entities, such as The Stratford Festival, the Canadian Film Centre, Soulpepper Academy, Canadian Stage, the National Screen Institute and the Segal Centre. He is also chairman of BravoFACT (Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent), which presents Canadian producers and directors with grants to complete short scripted productions. In November 2010, he was named Historica Canada’s executive vice-chairman.
Levine has acted as a mentor to students at a number of universities, including the University of Toronto and junior fellows at Massey College, where he also participated in the school’s University College Roundtable Series. In 2011, he became a Distinguished Scholar in Residence in the Faculty of Communication & Design at Ryerson University.
In recognition of his philanthropic work, Levine has received several honours. In 2009, he received the Arbor Award for his contribution to the University of Toronto community, and in 2012 the university named him one of their Alumni of Influence.