The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks [NOOK Book]

Overview

For sixty years, since the birth of United Artists, the studio landscape was unchanged.Then came Hollywood’s Circus Maximus—created by director Steven Spielberg, billionaire David Geffen, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave the world The Lion King—an entertainment empire called DreamWorks. Now Nicole LaPorte,who covered the company for Variety, goes behind the hype to reveal for the first time the delicious truth of what happened.

Readers will feel they are part of the creative ...

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The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks

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Overview

For sixty years, since the birth of United Artists, the studio landscape was unchanged.Then came Hollywood’s Circus Maximus—created by director Steven Spielberg, billionaire David Geffen, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave the world The Lion King—an entertainment empire called DreamWorks. Now Nicole LaPorte,who covered the company for Variety, goes behind the hype to reveal for the first time the delicious truth of what happened.

Readers will feel they are part of the creative calamities of moviemaking as LaPorte’s fly-on-the-wall detail shows us Hollywood’s bizarre rules of business.We see the clashes between the often otherworldly Spielberg’s troops and Katzenberg’s warriors, the debacles and disasters, but also the Oscar-winning triumphs, including Saving Private Ryan.We watch as the studio burns through billions, its rich owners get richer, and everybody else suffers.We see Geffen seducing investors likeMicrosoft’s Paul Allen, showing his steel against CAA’s Michael Ovitz, and staging fireworks during negotiations with Paramount and Disney. Here is Hollywood, up close, glamorous, and gritty.

 

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
LaPorte's account is full of insider details, in the manner of Hollywood business potboilers, and the story—with screaming fits, White House sleepovers, and a death threat from Russull Crowe—rivals anything on the screen.
From the Publisher
"Want to know how business really works in LaLa Land? Read this book"
—Liz Smith, wowOwow.com

"LaPorte's lenghty narrative is the definitive history of the studio, an achievement of dispassionate reporting in the genre of corporate decline-and-fall...Hollywood, with its penchant for sunny publicity and an obsession for secrecy, is a notoriously difficult business in which to uncover the truth...Most reporters are not up to the task. LaPorte is... The Men Who Would Be King will be required reading for anyone interested in the story of DreamWorks."
L.A. Times

"A thrilling ride... The bumbling and infighting are just too good, and sad, to resist... We're privy to some serious dirt. LaPorte has clearly done her homework... The sheer scope and depth of The Men Who Would Be King impresses. No hissy fit escapes LaPorte's gaze. Every time Geffen has a meltdown or A-list stars like Russell Crowe throw trantrums, LaPorte is there to capture it."
Boston Globe

"Daily Beast contributor and former Variety reporter LaPorte penetrates the mysterious inner workings of DreamWorks. . . . LaPorte marshals an awesome body of research to vividly depict DreamWorks’ confused identity, the personality conflicts and ego clashes that raged behind the company’s friendly, low-key exterior . . . Behind-the-scenes glimpses at the productions of such signature DreamWorks films as American Beauty and Gladiator are wonderfully diverting Hollywood dirt, but the heart of the story is simple human ambition. Stories of Katzenberg’s toxic and litigious relationship with former boss and Disney honcho Michael Eisner, Geffen’s mission to destroy agent Michael Ovitz and the rivalry between DreamWorks Animation and Disney’s Pixar are fascinating for their insights into the ways petty personal issues are expressed in multibillion-dollar transactions. In Hollywood, it seems, business is always personal. A gripping account of money, ambition and the movies . . . same as it ever was."
Kirkus

"Nicole LaPorte has found a big story—this is the great part—that is even bigger than first appears, the story of DreamWorks being the story of modern Hollywood, which is the dream life of the world. She has climbed into the engine room with pen and notebook and been careful to record the details and dirt, then turned all that into music, the result being a gutsy saga filled with larger than life characters and incident. Read this book only if you want to know what makes our country, as Leonard Cohen sang, the cradle of the best and the worst."
—Rich Cohen, author of Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams and Lake Effect


"Power, grandiosity, arrogance, and incomprehensible ego. It’s Hollywood, of course, and Nicole LaPorte’s exhaustive non-fiction narrative of DreamWorks and the bizarre triumvirate of Spielberg, Geffen, and Katzenberg is stunning. The book reads like a novel and the reporting is impeccable. If you pick up one book about Hollywood, make it this one."
—Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights and former coproducer of NYPD Blue


"Here is the brilliant, brutal, misguided, narcissistic history of DreamWorks in all its glory, with David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Steven Spielberg working unscripted, without handlers or publicists dimming the lights to a rosy glow. Nicole LaPorte has written a lively, cunning studio history that should be required reading for all students of modern Hollywood."
—Mimi Swartz, author of Power Failure: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Enron


"This book has all the right elements: deep-dish research, attitude to burn, page-turning readability, and a great subject. It belongs up there with the classics of Hollywood reportage."
—Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood and Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America

"Nicole LaPorte may never be able to eat lunch in Hollywood again, but her potential loss is our gain: The Men Who Would Be King is a riveting and honest portrayal of three of the most powerful men in the entertainment industry. I couldn't put it down and neither will you."
—William Cohan, author of House of Cards

Kirkus Reviews
Daily Beast contributor and former Variety reporter LaPorte penetrates the mysterious inner workings of DreamWorks, the audacious entertainment empire that promised to change Hollywood upon its inception in 1994. The brainchild of media titans David Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, DreamWorks positioned itself as a new kind of studio, dedicated to talent and free of the constraints of the prevailing Tinseltown corporate culture. Its true purpose, as emerges in LaPorte's lively account, was to serve the egos of its principles: Geffen, the wrathful and distant superagent; Spielberg, resident-genius director and avuncular nice guy; and Katzenberg, the tireless, micromanaging executive, eager to re-establish himself after a disastrous falling out with Disney, where The Lion King and The Little Mermaid had made his name as the man who revived feature animation. The story here is largely Katzenberg's, as Spielberg and Geffen preferred to hold themselves above the fray of studio politics and practical operations. Katzenberg, on the other hand, was a bear for this work-wags liked to joke that DreamWorks had been created to provide him with a job-and it was his animation projects that brought the faltering company its biggest hits (the Shrek franchise) and costliest disasters (Sinbad, The Road to El Dorado). LaPorte marshals an awesome body of research to vividly depict DreamWorks' confused identity, the personality conflicts and ego clashes that raged behind the company's friendly, low-key exterior and the staggering sums of money lost and won and outright wasted as the company repeatedly scaled back its grandiose plans to be all media to all people to focus on producing movies-in the process becoming just another studio. Behind-the-scenes glimpses at the productions of such signature DreamWorks films as American Beauty and Gladiator are wonderfully diverting Hollywood dirt, but the heart of the story is simple human ambition. Stories of Katzenberg's toxic and litigious relationship with former boss and Disney honcho Michael Eisner, Geffen's mission to destroy agent Michael Ovitz and the rivalry between DreamWorks Animation and Disney's Pixar are fascinating for their insights into the ways petty personal issues are expressed in multibillion-dollar transactions. In Hollywood, it seems, business is always personal. A gripping account of money, ambition and the movies . . . same as it ever was.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547487168
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/4/2010
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 324,375
  • File size: 522 KB

Meet the Author

NICOLE LAPORTE is a former reporter for Variety, where she covered the Hollywood movie industry for several years. She wrote "The Rules of Hollywood" column for the Los Angeles Times Magazine and has written for The New Yorker, the New York Times, the New York Observer, and W Magazine. She is currently a West Coast reporter for the Daily Beast.

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Read an Excerpt

THE EMPEROR IN AUGUST
In “the industry,” there are the pictures, and then there is the big picture: the movie-like drama of ambition and retribution that is Hollywood life. In the course of this performance, skinny kids from the outer boroughs are transformed by force of will and sleight of hand into moguls and billionaires. Kings leave the stage against a backdrop of subtle maneuvers. Fathers and sons wage war. Deals and negotiations become dramas staged by players adept at manipulating realities. What motivates them? Of course: money and power. But there is more. They crave the special kind of recognition that comes with ruling their world.

In the fall of 1994, during the warm, dry months when Hollywood's most ambitious project in decades - a new superstudio called DreamWorks - was in its inception, a monarch was preparing for his bows. For much of the previous half century, Lew Wasserman had been chief of MCA/Universal, the town's most formidable entertainment conglomerate. The onetime theater usher was inextricably linked with the myths and the memories, the scandals and the lore that define Hollywood. His grandeur had both intimidated and inspired. Jack Valenti, former president of the Motion Picture Association of America, would refer to him as “Zeus.”
 Many of Wasserman's would-be heirs had modeled themselves after the slender man with the bright-white pompadour and signature black-framed glasses. These men had waited in the wings for the old king's inevitable drift from center stage. That moment seemed near at hand. The old guard was fading. For Sale signs announced opportunities. Foreign investors were calling. Ownership had become the obsession. It was not enough now to occupy the corner office; it was necessary to own it, the building, the lot. This was the New New Hollywood. The dealmakers had replaced movie stars as the jet set. Americans consumed box-office rankings with more interest than reviews. Vanity Fair and The New Yorker gave studio executives' exploits the scrutiny once lavished on Elizabeth Taylor's romances and the latest Kennedy rumors.
 At the talent agencies, there were whispers: superagent Michael Ovitz, who had built Creative Artists Agency (CAA) into the ruling talent agency, was now positioning himself for his own starring role. He wasn't the only one.

On the morning of October 10, a rare trio - Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and Jeffrey Katzenberg - drove up the long driveway off North Foothill Road in Beverly Hills. Their destination: the glass-walled mansion where Lew Wasserman lived with his wife, Edie, Hollywood's first lady. It was located, fittingly, next to Frank Sinatra's old place. Here, where the palms sheltered perfect fl owers and the license plate on the white Mercedes roadster read MCA 1, it was almost possible to hear the voices of Old Hollywood, the patter of Bob Hope, the crooning of Bing Crosby. The halls were lined with paintings by Degas and Matisse. But the art most remarked upon by visitors was the portrait of Wasserman by Bernard Buffet, a gift from Alfred Hitchcock.
 Walking toward the entrance, the three men would have missed the backyard's ornamental pond, home to hundreds of brilliantly colored Japanese koi, which reliably spawned after visits from President Bill Clinton, for whom the Wassermans had held fundraisers. “You have the same effect on fish as you do on women,” Wasserman once told his friend. (Later, when Clinton asked what could be done to get more movies made in Arkansas, Wasserman replied, “Not much.”)
 The visitors were on a diplomatic mission requiring deference and grace. They hoped to present to Wasserman - godfather, benefactor, friend of popes, mobsters, Reagans and Monroes - their plan for the first new Hollywood studio in sixty years. Wasserman's ways were writ large in this town and few had taken more cues from him than the three men now making their approach. Schooled in the arts of éminence grise, they understood what was to be gained through observation of and counseling by the elders, the Lears, Prosperos, and Don Corleones, who tended to exact both obeisance and gratitude in complicated ways.
 Wasserman, whose brass knuckles had long been replaced by polished fingernails, was the undisputed Hollywood paterfamilias. Yet time was finally having its say. Eighty-one years of age, he had been hospitalized for cancer, but the state of his health was not the only thing under scrutiny by observers. Once the master of the negotiating table, Wasserman had been slipping since 1990, when he had, albeit reluctantly, sold MCA to Japan's Matsushita. Call it a disaster - “the dumb thing I did,” Wasserman admitted. It took time for those accustomed to his flamboyant imperiousness to adjust to the fact that Lew Wasserman and his deputy, MCA president and COO Sidney Sheinberg, were lacking what Hollywood most prized in its patriarchs: absolute control.
 Wasserman's guests hoped to inherit part of his legacy. They had large ambitions that had only recently converged on the idea of creating, together, a company, and their joining forces in this new venture would have a major impact on Hollywood, and major implications for Wasserman. Geffen's and Spielberg's respective music and film companies, Geffen Records and Amblin Entertainment, were under the MCA/Universal umbrella. Spielberg, who called Wasserman his “guardian angel,” had barely left the Universal lot since, as a college kid self-conscious about his “schnoz,” he'd sneaked past the gate using a briefcase as a prop. Anything vaguely resembling a defection on Spielberg's part would not be welcome news to the studio. There was enough trouble with the Japanese.

Picture a sunny California day with Steven Spielberg whizzing through the Universal lot. His sports car hits a speed bump and he bangs his head. By the next morning, all the speed bumps on the lot have been removed. The vignette, perhaps apocryphal, suggests the lengths to which MCA/Universal had been willing to go to make Spielberg feel protected and at home. The director was closest with Sheinberg, who got him his first directing job (on TV's Night Gallery), in 1969. But according to Connie Bruck's When Hollywood Had a King, the director maintained that it was Wasserman who had saved him when guest star Joan Crawford found out he was a first-timer. “I could tell,” recalled Spielberg, “that Joan was going to . . . raise hell. Lew had been her manager, he was the one who got the call.”
 Wasserman told his diva to behave, as it was she who was in danger of being replaced. “From that day on,” said Spielberg, “Joan Crawford treated me like King Vidor.”
 Wasserman, who believed in investing in the best, had been prescient. Since his beginnings, from Jaws and E.T. on, Spielberg had brought in billions. As a director, he alternated between extraterrestrial fare (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), thrill rides (the Indiana Jones series), and dramas (Empire of the Sun, The Color Purple). As a producer, he offered family fun (Back to the Future, The Goonies, Gremlins). His maturation held further magic: the previous year, his movies had won ten Oscars, three for the year's highest-grossing film (Jurassic Park), and seven for the most acclaimed (Schindler's List). Never had he been more revered.
 Spielberg called MCA his “homeland,” and so Wasserman and Shein berg had made it, building a $4 million complex on the Universal lot to house his production company, Amblin. Homey and eucalyptus- shaded, it was modeled on George Lucas's Skywalker Ranch, and was similarly awash in splendid gadgetry. Spielberg, seemingly satisfied and quite productive, rarely left home. His life was as comfortable as his stonewashed jeans; his contracts were off the charts, and included an enormous portion of back-end grosses, a percentage of a movie's ticket receipts. On Jurassic Park, he took no money upfront, but received 15 percent of the first-dollar gross, or fifteen cents on every dollar off the top that went to Universal.
 No money upfront was risky, but Spielberg fl ops were rare. E.T. and Jurassic Park remain among the top twenty of the highest- grossing movies ever. Because of this track record, he and Universal basically split the profits on films he produced. When Jurassic Park grossed $914 million worldwide, Spielberg took home about $300 million, as much as Universal. Spielberg also received extraordinary revenues from ancillary rights (namely, home-video profits) and merchandising. And in a deal unheard of anywhere else in Hollywood, he was granted 2 percent of ticket receipts from Universal theme parks, which amounts to $30 million a year.
 But so much was changing, for all the men. Spielberg knew that the Universal of Wasserman and Sheinberg was fading. Yet his own future was still filled with the promise of further ascension.

Sitting in the luxurious den overlooking the sloping backyard, Wasserman listened as Spielberg described a studio of the future that produced movies, TV, music, and more. The perpetual wunderkind was forty-seven years old, bespectacled and with a lightly graying beard. Wasserman took it in, but to him there was presumably something more noteworthy than the new studio. He must have been surprised by Geffen and Katzenberg's seduction of Spielberg, whose interests had never previously involved the risky business of ownership, in an industry of volatile change.
 Geffen's involvement with the venture was easier to discern. Like Wasserman, he had started out as an agent. The child of a depressive father and a mother hospitalized for emotional problems after the loss of her extended family in a concentration camp, Geffen was known for his way with talent. The high-voltage currents of artists seemed compatible with his mercurial intensity. He took care of those he represented (Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne), while screaming down disbelievers and aggressively cajoling the record executives he wrangled into submission. These days, he moved companies (his record label had gone to MCA for 10 million shares of MCA stock, valued at around $545 million). But Geffen had never stopped respecting talent, the soul of the industry, and connecting with those driven souls who possessed it. With the help of Katzenberg he was suddenly in business with the most commercial talent in town: Steven Spielberg. It was a triumphant moment.

Spielberg told Wasserman that he wanted to go beyond formulas and films made to order by marketing departments. MCA was the inspiration, of course, said the director. But MCA was not, at least these days, known for its artistic innovations. Spielberg wanted to go Wasserman one better. He wanted to go everyone one better. He was, after all, Steven Spielberg, accustomed to advancing the game.
 The new partners were thinking state-of-the-art, so cutting edge they couldn't quite articulate as yet all that the new enterprise would entail. But it would all come together. Failure wasn't written into the scripts these three worked from. Their falls from grace had been quickly erased from Hollywood's collective memory. They were the glory boys, whose world was part ruthlessly pragmatic, part romance. From themselves they expected, as did many others, only further spectacular feats.

How many callers had Wasserman seen arriving at his gates? Now, here he was, the waning patriarch, shifting into that most unrewarding of roles: benevolent good sport. So he turned up the enthusiasm, taking what was later described as delight in what he was hearing. After being given assurances of the partners' loyalty, and a discussion of MCA/Universal making a distribution deal with the new company, the old tough guy seemed to drift a bit. He showed the men keepsakes, like his drawings by Walt Disney, and began to speak tenderly, nostalgically, about the old days, when defeat was unknown to him, and Hollywood was Hollywood.

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Table of Contents

A Note to Readers xi

I Starting UP

1 The Emperor in August 3

2 The End of Magic 9

3 Mr. Spielberg Will See You Now 14

4 Geffen Slept Here 21

5 The Announcement 28

6 E.T., Phone Home 36

7 Animated Characters 44

8 Live Action 60

9 Show Me the Money 69

10 Culture Clash 85

11 The Unthinkable Occurs 101

12 George in Slovakia; Jeffrey in Extremis 108

13 The Not So Long Goodbye 123

II Rolling

14 Of Men and Mice 133

15 Slaves to the Rhythm 148

16 Saving Spielberg 159

17 Bug Wars 180

18 Harvey Baby 196

III Rockin'

19 Unexpected Beauty 217

20 The Battle for Oscar 232

21 Nobody's Bitch 247

22 Sword Fights 262

23 Shreked 276

24 Rock and Roll 293

25 Golden Glow 303

IV Close-Up

26 The Motorcycle Diaries 321

27 Harvey II 335

28 What Sinbad Wrought 349

29 Naked in Public 362

30 In a Snicket 375

31 No White Suits! 382

32 The Geffen Express 401

Epilogue: Three-Way Split 432

Bibliography 447

Notes on Sources 449

Acknowledgments 475

Index 478

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 9, 2013

    Terrific reporting on the creation and early years of DreamWorks

    Terrific reporting on the creation and early years of DreamWorks Studios.  I’m a sucker for these behind the curtain scoops on the entertainment industry and wasn’t disappointed in LaPorte’s detailed reporting. Of course, there are a couple juicy nuggets of celebrity gossip and in-fighting, but the majority of the book focuses on the business details of the three men who helped build DreamWorks (Spielberg, Geffen, and Katzenberg) and the inevitable conflicts between art and business, ambitious dreams and practical realities, and the battling egos of ambitious industry pioneers. Recommended for anyone interested in the backstage business of Hollywood. 

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