By Patricia Sellers

(FORTUNE Magazine) – WHILE MICHAEL EISNER AND HARVEY Weinstein cop star billing in Disney vs. Miramax, one fellow who is their polar opposite--calm, even-keeled, and low ego--may be the savviest power player in this melodrama. Do you know Dick Cook? Probably not, if you don't work in Tinseltown. Cook, who chairs Walt Disney Studios and ducks the spotlight more than any other movie boss, has been Disney's key negotiator as it moves to sever its relationship with Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who sold Miramax to Disney for $70 million in 1993. "I didn't have any desire to be involved, but Michael asked me, to get it finished," Cook, 54, recently told FORTUNE. As this issue was going to press, Cook was quietly finalizing a split that allows Disney to say goodbye to the boisterous brothers (paying them $100 million or so to settle obligations related to bonuses and movie profits), while keeping the Miramax name and film library, estimated to be worth $2 billion.

This is a good deal for Disney, and it has taken a deft peacemaker to make such rowdy characters as Eisner and the Weinsteins divorce with civility. Patience has long marked Cook, who happens to be the only top-level Disney executive who has stayed through Eisner's tumultuous 21-year run. Joining the company out of college in 1970, he began as a ride operator on the steam locomotives and monorail at Disneyland and rose, with little fanfare, through Disney's film distribution business. Known for his common touch, the gray-haired Cook comes across more like a small-town cinema owner than a Hollywood mogul. In movie development meetings, which Eisner regularly attends, Cook sits practically mum, seemingly deferring to Eisner. "'Deferring' is the right word," says Cook. He lets Eisner go "unfiltered" in such group meetings, he says, but speaks his mind to the boss privately.

Cook pushes back when it counts--right now he's also trying to salvage Disney's lucrative partnership with Pixar. While Miramax has been a drag on Disney profits, Pixar, by feeding Disney an uninterrupted string of animated hits, provides 15% to 30% of the studio's operating income annually. Over the years the onus has been on Cook to smooth tensions between Eisner and Steve Jobs, Pixar's CEO. In 2002, after Eisner disparaged Apple Computer while testifying before Congress about movie piracy, Cook told Eisner that his potshot was inappropriate. Eisner figured that Jobs would get over it. Jobs did not--and has made it clear that he will not renew Pixar's partnership, which expires with Cars in 2006, if Eisner is in charge at Disney. Now, with the Disney board due to choose Eisner's successor by June, Disney has a chance to keep Pixar in the fold. Whoever Disney's new CEO turns out to be, you can be sure that Cook--whom Jobs is known to like--will be in the background, doing his diplomacy. -- Patricia Sellers