Bert Fields, a highly respected entertainment lawyer who throughout his career represented Hollywood heavyweights including Tom Cruise, The Beatles, Edward G. Robinson, Jeffrey Katzenberg and more, has died. He was 93.
The Harvard-educated lawyer with his firm Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger died Sunday night at his home in Malibu with his wife Barbara Guggenheim by his side, a family friend and a representative for his firm told TheWrap.
Guggenheim told TheWrap that Fields had been working up until about three weeks ago, but ultimately succumbed to the long-term effects of COVID, which he contracted in March 2020. Fields, she said, had Bell’s Palsy as an aftereffect of the virus, which led to gradual paralysis of his body, starting from his larynx downward.
“Bert led 10 lives,” she told TheWrap. “All interesting.”
A “who’s who” of an entertainment lawyer, some of Fields’ other clients included Mel Brooks, Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty and many more. He also represented many in the music space including musicians such as Michael Jackson, George Harrison and Van Morrison.
Though Fields was known as a brilliant litigator, he was an equally shrewd negotiator and used subtle threats to get results, often ending his correspondence with concise lines rather than verbose legal arguments. “You’re all wet” was one of his favorite dismissals in his legal letters.
Among the many industry-shaping deals Fields helped negotiate and landmark cases across entertainment, sports and communications, Fields represented George Lucas in contract negotiations with The Walt Disney Company regarding Disney theme parks.
He also represented Paramount Pictures in its appeal of the Buchwald v. Paramount case over “Coming to America.” He represented Katzenberg in a landmark action against Disney when the film executive left the company after rebuilding its animation business, and also obtained a multimillion-dollar judgement for George Harrison against his former business manager. Representing DreamWorks SKG and Steven Spielberg, he defeated an application for an injunction against the exhibition of “Amistad.”
And throughout Cruise’s career, Fields was a steadfast friend, mentor as well as legal shield to the movie star of decades. Guggenheim said Fields regarded Cruise as a “surrogate son” to whom he felt fierce loyalty and whose work ethic mirrored his own.
But beyond his career as a lawyer, Fields was also a prolific writer, publishing two books on Shakespeare, as well as others on Napoleon and Josephine, Queen Elizabeth I and his own personal and professional memoir. Fields even helped “The Godfather” author Mario Puzo finish Puzo’s book “The Family” after his death, with Fields used Puzo’s notes on The Borgias in order to complete the book.
Many of Fields’ clients and friends, including Cruise, Katzenberg and Brooks, issued statements upon news of his passing.
“Bert Fields was a gentleman; an extraordinary human being. He had a powerful intellect, a keen wit, and charm that made one enjoy every minute of his company. I loved him dearly and always will. It was a privilege to be his friend,” Cruise said in a statement.
“Watching Bert was like watching a skilled surgeon,” Katzenberg added.
“Bert was a positive and wonderful guy. I always loved sharing his company. He was blessed with a wonderful sense of humor. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him,” Brooks said.
“Bert Fields, my lawyer, dear friend and trusted confidante for over forty years, was one of the most extraordinary men I have ever met…Bert was that rare person who could achieve just about anything. He was a brilliant litigator, a scholar, lecturer, historian, and author. He was extremely witty and charming with all the elegance of a true gentleman. But he also had the determination and grit of a street fighter. Bert Fields was a heavyweight. He accomplished it all with dignity and gusto and his indomitable zest for life and adventure. I had the honor and privilege of knowing this remarkable man and, for that, I will be forever grateful. Hollywood has lost one of its legends and I have lost a dear friend,” producer Jerry Bruckheimer said.
“For forty years, we were graced with Bert’s brilliance, decency, and charm,” said Bob Baradaran, managing partner of Greenberg Glusker. “Bert was a beloved colleague, friend, and mentor who trained a generation of outstanding lawyers. We were blessed to know and work with such a truly remarkable lawyer and human being.”
“I have lost my dearest friend, colleague, and mentor Bert Fields,” said Greenberg Glusker partner Pierce O’Donnell. “An American original, Bert was simply the greatest lawyer of his era in the same league as Clarence Darrow and Louis Nizer. Ever a gentleman, Bert lived life his way on his terms. Indefatigable, Bert was truly a Renaissance man: author, actor, raconteur, and a music enthusiast who knew every Cole Porter lyric. I will miss Bert more than words can express.”
Bertram Fields was born on March 31, 1929 in Los Angeles, California. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. After serving as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, he began the general practice of law. He taught at Stanford Law School and lectured annually at Harvard.
Fields is survived by his wife, Barbara Guggenheim, a nationally known art consultant; his son, James Elder; his grandson, Michael Lane; and his granddaughter, Annabelle. Guggenheim will be receiving well-wishers at the Malibu home she shared with Fields from Wednesday to Friday of this week.
Sharon Waxman contributed to this report.