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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Michael Eisner's career has spanned 30 years of popular culture. So his autobiography, Work in Progress, serves as a window on the decision making behind many of this generation's popular television and motion picture creations. It also chronicles the spread of the Walt Disney Company from theme parks to retail stores to the Internet to Times Square.
Growing up on New York's Upper East Side, Eisner learned from his mother how to charm people into doing what he wanted and inherited from his father a trait for not cutting corners. A family man in Hollywood, he serves as both chief executive officer and chief creative officer of the company he's led since age 42. His hands-on style extends to active participation in the 'anything goes' brainstorming sessions known at Disney as 'Gong Shows.' He's not too proud to 'stoop for excellence,' Disney parlance for bending to pick up the trash from the ground at a theme park.
The executive's drive for creating things 'bigger, better, faster, and cheaper' is coupled with a childlike wonder at the company's output. Eisner expresses a soft spot, for instance, for the theatrical version of Beauty and the Beast and confesses to sneaking into the balcony for weekend matinees and 'sharing the enchantment' with the sea of children seeing it for the first time.
For me, there will always be something special and intensely personal about 'Beauty and the Beast'. In many ways, it represented a homecoming — the closing of the circle. I'd grown up with theater in New York. When I took my first job, I left theater behindandfollowed the audience to movies and television.
Interwoven throughout the book are Eisner's feelings about his brush with death during a 1994 emergency bypass operation, which occurred just months after the death of his close confidant and executive partner Frank Wells, who was killed in a helicopter crash.
Don't expect dish. Eisner covers the highly publicized executive fall-outs with Jeffrey Katzenberg and former Creative Artists Agency chairman Michael Ovitz. But the book ignores, for instance, any treatment of the astronomical severance package Ovitz collected just one year after being hired as president of Disney.
Eisner and his co-author, journalist Tony Schwartz, who also co-wrote Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal, devote a separate chapter to each of the developing Disney enterprises. The end result is an impressive body of work.
Although Disney and its recent acquisition, Capital Cities/ABC, have seen better times, the fact is that in 1984, the company's revenues were billion and $98 million in net income. In 1997, revenues reached $22 billion, and net earnings were nearly $2 billion. The company's market value jumped from $2 billion to $75 billion, and the stock price increased thirtyfold. That's not Mickey Mouse.— Laurie Petersen