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From Barnes & NobleDavid Geffen and the Business of Hollywood
Barnes & Noble.com asked Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Hiltzik, author of the acclaimed Dealers of Lightning, to tear through Tom King's The Operator at lightning speed. That didn't turn out to be a problem for Mike, who delved into this delicious read with great delight. Here's his review.
A Review of The Operator
David Geffen has already let it be known that he considers his cooperation with Tom King, the author of The Operator, to be the biggest mistake he ever made in his life, and it's easy to see why. An uncompromising look at one of Hollywood's leading moguls—albeit one whose star has faded—The Operator paints Geffen in all his brash, petulant glory as a dealmaker with a style all his own: erratic, obsessive, and almost wholly amoral. Tom King's book is fascinating for the parade of entertainment luminaries who pass through, some owing their careers to Geffen, others cursing him for the affronts and breaches of faith that curdled their friendships and alliances.
There are Jackson Browne, Laura Nyro, and Joni Mitchell, whom Geffen made into pop stars; and the four unknowns he assembled into the Eagles. We also encounter Bob Dylan, whom Geffen assiduously courted for Asylum Records but who fled the label after only two albums, and Mick Jagger, caught in mid-rant at the junior mogul over his "egomania." Then there are the women and men who helped him along on his sexual journey, including Cher, perhaps his greatest heterosexual love, who broke off their affair over what she considered his completely implausible plans for marriage.
If there is a flaw in the book it is in the subject. David Geffen is not, in the end, a very interesting figure on his own, and from the reader's standpoint certainly not good company. At times he comes off as little more than a bundle of neurotic tics, and the litany of deals, betrayals, and reconciliations Geffen works on the agents, artists, and tycoons who populate The Operator eventually loses its power to enthrall. King portrays him as a superior wheeler-dealer, rather than an impresario unearthing new talent through superior powers of artistic discernment. The intuition that allows this aficionado of show tunes to perceive a future superstar in unheralded performers like Joni Mitchell remains a mystery; by the time Geffen Records scores its greatest successes it's obvious that the hard work of scouting for talent is handled by Geffen's deputies. Often left unspoken is the fact that Geffen must have some remarkable reserves of personal charm, or he would never have been able to bend to his will such polished barons of the entertainment industry as Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records or Warner Communications' Steve Ross.
Nevertheless, The Operator is an impressive tour of the entertainment industry during the past 40 years, as seen through the career of a man who never seemed content to be anywhere but at dead center.
—Michael A. Hiltzik
Michael A. Hiltzik has worked for the Los Angeles Times as a financial, political, and foreign correspondent and as a technology writer and editor. He and fellow Times reporter Chuck Philips were awarded the 1999 Pulitzer Prize in beat reporting for their coverage of corruption in the entertainment industry. Hiltzik's critically acclaimed 1999 work Dealers of Lightning, a gripping retelling of the history of the technology innovations at Xerox PARC, was recently released in paperback.