Mr. and Mrs. Hollywood: Edie and Lew Wasserman and their Entertainment Empire

Mr. and Mrs. Hollywood: Edie and Lew Wasserman and their Entertainment Empire

by Kathleen Sharp
     
 

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From Hollywood back lots to the Oval Office, here is the full, authoritative story of how superagent to the stars, Lew Wasserman, and his politically savvy wife, Edie, built and refined an entertainment empire that determined the course of America's popular culture for nearly seven decades. They came from Cleveland -- high school sweethearts, they married during the…  See more details below

Overview

From Hollywood back lots to the Oval Office, here is the full, authoritative story of how superagent to the stars, Lew Wasserman, and his politically savvy wife, Edie, built and refined an entertainment empire that determined the course of America's popular culture for nearly seven decades. They came from Cleveland -- high school sweethearts, they married during the Depression -- but they conquered Hollywood. At the peak of cinema's Golden Age, while Edie socialized with such actors as Jimmy Stewart, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, and Jane Wyman in clubs and salons near Sunset Strip, Lew wooed stars into the stable of talent agency MCA. By the end of the 1940s he had become chief of the town's biggest talent house.

During the Blacklist, on Edie's advice, Lew steered clear of controversial movie projects. Then, as the film studios began to crumble, he raced to produce shows for the new medium of television. Sharp dealings with Hollywood unions by Lew and his boss, Jules Stein -- including a secret land gift to Ronald Reagan, then president of the Screen Actors Guild -- insured that MCA would be the only agency permitted to produce TV programs. Soon the undisputed master of the small screen, Lew introduced Americans to the Beaver, The Virginian, Columbo, and Rockford. Other coups would follow -- transforming Universal Studios, Inc., which Lew had bought, into a multifaceted purveyor of popular culture that produced hit records, best-selling books, blockbuster movies (Jaws, Animal House, E.T., Jurassic Park), and the first studio-tour-cum-theme-park. Lew's political fundraising prowess would in the meantime provide Hollywood with a mother lode of government gifts and favors, while Edie's own particular genius would cultivate such political stars as Bobby and Ted Kennedy, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, Jimmy and Rosalind Carter, Ronnie and Nancy Reagan, and, especially, Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Not that Edie and Lew wouldn't be hounded by antitrust prosecutors and criminal investigators -- they were. Not that they wouldn't be betrayed by proteges, dogged by rivals, and nearly ousted from their realm -- they were, more than once. Still, they would assemble a Hollywood court of inside players, unify the town's fractious studios and some sixty-six unions, and consolidate their place atop the world's leading entertainment corporation. For everyone interested in movies and television and the entertainment business, this first dual biography of Edie and Lew Wasserman, Hollywood's preeminent power couple, is essential reading. For anyone who wonders how power is really wielded in America, it is full of revelations.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As a top executive at MCA, Lew Wasserman was one of the biggest agents in the movie industry, then topped that by becoming one of the most powerful studio heads ever, orchestrating the gradual takeover of Universal Studios starting in 1958. His wife, Edie, was equally powerful in the realm of the "Hollywood Wives," throwing parties where other executive spouses mixed with starlets like Janet Leigh. Sharp, the Boston Globe's Hollywood correspondent, covers much of the same territory as Connie Bruck's recent Wasserman bio, When Hollywood Had a King (Forecasts, Apr. 28), but the attention she gives to Edie adds celebrity gossip to the mix as well as a new facet on the matter of MCA's ties to organized crime. She also sheds light on new aspects of Lew's career, like his guiding hand in the development of early videodisc technology. The book clarifies the frosty relationship between Lew and Ronald Reagan while revealing how Reagan may have colluded with MCA while heading the Screen Actors Guild, depriving SAG members of potentially lucrative residual benefits. While Bruck remains a better source on MCA's early years, Sharp offers additional insights into how Wasserman transformed a talent agency into a studio that produced nearly half of all prime-time programming in the late 1970s, then found creative ways to keep all the profits for itself. Drawing upon more than 450 interviews, Sharp blends corporate maneuvering and personal scandals into a gripping portrait of the original power couple. 16-page photo insert not seen by PW. (Dec.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A Hollywood biography more dramatic and enthralling than most of what its subjects produce. Although they were the quintessential Hollywood power couple, Edie and Lew Wasserman never cared for publicity-and with good reason, as they came from different sides of the same crooked coin. Born in Cleveland in the early part of the 20th century, Edie to a wealthy German-American Jewish family and Lew (then Louis) to dirt-poor Russian-Jewish immigrants, they each had roots in organized crime. Edie's father was an infamous fixer for the Cleveland Syndicate, while Lew booked nightclub acts into Mob-owned joints in Cleveland, then Chicago, for the nascent MCA talent agency. Boston Globe Hollywood correspondent Sharp (In Good Faith, 1995) begins her narrative in 1958, when the couple were already king and queen of Hollywood, judiciously ladling in the juicy background info later. By the late '50s, Lew was not only running MCA, the mega-agency that locked up most of the Hollywood talent just as the studio system began to crumble, he had recently bought the land that cash-strapped Universal sat on, becoming the studio's landlord and ultimately its owner for a mere $12 million. After that, the coups rat-a-tat, as Lew courts up-and-coming politicos JFK and Reagan, sidesteps a Justice Department antitrust investigation, maneuvers MCA's (and then Universal's) TV division into a profit powerhouse, introduces the modern blockbuster with Jaws, and so on, before passing away in 2002. Not surprisingly, Edie is often shoved to the background here, but Sharp ably depicts her conniving ways as the queen bee of Hollywood society, somebody who wasn't afraid to use any means at her disposal to get ahead, just likeher husband. The author is alternately enraptured and horrified by the Wassermans, as most anyone would be when confronted by such a staggering amount of guile, ambition, and cold-blooded genius. Lavish and extravagant, gossipy yet even-handed, maximizing a great story: likely to become the standard text on the Wassermans.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780786712205
Publisher:
Da Capo Press
Publication date:
10/25/2003
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
6.36(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.96(d)

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