By Steve Thorpe
Attorney Michael Novak was a trusted and valued legal counselor to famous entertainers and those just starting out, but playing the drums was his passion.
“Mike’s true love was music, but the law got in the way,” says his close friend and colleague Lee Wulfmeier of the law firm Giarmarco, Mullins & Horton. “I loved to watch him play the drums with my son, who’s also a musician. He was immensely talented as both a lawyer and a musician.”
Novak, 57, a prominent Detroit entertainment attorney, died suddenly Sunday, Jan. 27, at his Grosse Pointe Shores home.
His high-profile clients included Bob Seger and Kid Rock, along with actor Jeff Daniels and his Purple Rose Theater.
He also represented Detroit television and radio personalities like Bernie Smilovitz and Drew and Mike and the noted music impresario Punch Andrews.
Novak also was a board member of the Purple Rose Theater and a member of the Detroit Institute of Arts Cinematic Arts Council. He was a sought after lecturer on entertainment law at law schools.
A lifelong Detroiter, Novak attended Our Lady Queen of Heaven school and was president of his class at the city’s Osborn High School. After receiving a film studies degree from New York University, he graduated from Wayne State University Law School in 1980.
Novak became well known in the entertainment community as attorney for Detroit promoter Brass Ring Productions in the 1980s.
Considering the famous names he could drop, Novak had a reputation for helping those who were just starting out, whether in entertainment or the law.
“Mike was Freedom Hill’s attorney when I worked there as an intern,” says attorney Joseph Bellanca of Hertz Schram PC. “Since that time, Mike and I had a professional relationship and a friendship. He treated me the same from the time I was an unpaid intern to when I was a law student and then an attorney.”
“For many of his clients, he wasn’t just their lawyer, he was their friend,” says Wulfmeier. “He was opening whatever doors could be opened, whatever level they were at in the business.”
Novak’s easygoing personality and ability to build bridges served his clients well in a business that can get rough.
“Everyone liked him so much, certainly to the benefit of his clients,” says Wulfmeier. “He got along with management and the artists. Mike was always the guy who was making the good deal for his client.”
Best selling author and scriptwriter Lowell Cauffiel, a former Detroit News reporter now living in Los Angeles, was the lead guitarist in a band with Novak.
“Mike was the original drummer in the Progressive Blues Band when we first got together in the ‘70s,” Cauffiel says.
“One night he said, ‘I’m leaving the band to go to law school.’ I said, ‘You just don’t strike me as a lawyer. You’re a drummer, man!’ “
Cauffiel turned out to be wrong about Novak’s legal chops and is glad he was. He talks about Novak’s legendary reputation as a mentor for talent.
“The thing I remember the most about Mike was that he invested in an artist’s future, rather than exploiting them when they’re on the way up and needed an attorney the most,” Cauffiel says. “Rather than billing someone who was struggling, he’d say, ‘I’ll catch up to you when you hit the big time.’ Then he would always add, ‘And … I … know … you …will!’”
Novak is survived by his wife, Loretta, a sister and two brothers.
Entertainment attorney had reputation for helping young talent
By Steve Thorpe
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