From When Hollywood Had a King
On Lew Wasserman:
“He helped me become president, he helped me stay president, he helped me be a better president.” —Bill Clinton
“If Hollywood was Mount Olympus, Lew Wasserman is Zeus.” —Jack Valenti
“At a time when the general image of business executives is not sterling, Lew Wasserman is the gold standard.” —Barry Diller
“I’m a very simple man.” —Lew Wasserman, to President Lyndon Baines Johnson
When Hollywood Had a King succeeds at the daunting task of nailing down people who by their very nature were slippery as eels. Even so, however, it is not so much about Wasserman's life as it is about an era, one in which the art form of film and the public trust of the airwaves were effectively seized by men willing to flout laws and ignore ethics -- enabled by a relatively naive legal establishment that became a more-than-willing accomplice. John Anderson
Connie Bruck, the author of books about the junk-bond impresario Michael Milken (The Predators' Ball) and Steve Ross and Time Warner (Master of the Game), has now chosen to explore a far more complicated figure. Her fascinating book, When Hollywood Had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent Into Power and Influence, is a methodical portrait of an often secretive mogul whose vindictiveness, cunning and temper matched his shrewdness and prescience. — Bernard Weinraub
Until his death last year, Wasserman was one of the last survivors from the corporate side of Hollywood's golden era. Having started as an agent at MCA, he eventually became the firm's president, but not before he'd turned the talent agency into a powerful film and television studio, buying out Universal in the process. Wasserman's story is inseparable from that of MCA, and this book appropriately begins with an account of the company's founder, Jules Stein, who began booking bands from his Chicago office in 1924. This put Stein, and MCA, in contact with the local musicians' union, which then linked him to organized crime-the first of several such links the book explores. Wasserman helped shift the balance of power to Hollywood, remaining with the firm despite being widely sought after by rival agencies and movie studios. He also helped extend MCA's political influence, through extensive fund-raising and a longstanding connection with former client Ronald Reagan. New Yorker staffer Bruck (Master of the Game) is strong on Wasserman's corporate tactics, as well as later buyouts of Universal by foreign investors. But she also demonstrates extensive familiarity with the business's underside, exploring Wasserman's connections with mob lawyer Sidney Korshak, which assured a comfortable relationship between MCA and Hollywood's unions. Much more than a celebrity-studded tale, Bruck's work offers a look at the corporate machinations behind the film industry's myths. 8-page photo insert not seen by PW. (On sale June 3) Forecast: Crown published Dennis McDougal's The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood just four years ago; it received positive reviews. Bruck's version might appeal to readers who want a second opinion on Wasserman, and ads in the New Yorker and radio drive-time interviews could find readers who missed McDougal's book. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Although Lew Wasserman's name may not be immediately familiar, he was one of Hollywood's most powerful players. A shrewd and driven man, he helped build an empire that reached into almost every branch of the entertainment industry, and his rise from agent to president of the renowned Music Corporation of America (MCA) made him a legend. Bruck, a staff writer at The New Yorker and author of Master of the Game, chronicles this singular tale of success, along with that of the MCA itself and its enigmatic founder, Jules Stein, a medical student whose tenacity turned a 1920s booking agency for bands into an industry force. Bruck's research is outstanding (it includes original interviews with Wasserman, who died last June), and her approach is thorough. The result is a remarkable volume about high-level wheeling and dealing set against startling stories of the business and social interconnections between Wasserman and almost everyone everywhere-from the White House and major corporate entities, to famous members of the Hollywood community, to unions and the underworld. Those who are interested in comprehensive details about the inner workings of the entertainment industry-its history, business, customs, people, and gossip-will find this a fascinating read and a solid resource. For large circulating libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/03.]-Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The story of MCA and its unrivaled influence on the culture and business of entertainment under perhaps the most powerful man about whom most Americans know nothing. Following MCA founder Jules Styne and his band-booking business from Chicago to Hollywood in the mid-1920s, New Yorker staff writer Bruck (The Predators’ Ball, 1988, etc.) shapes the conduit opened between Tinseltown and Styne’s sub-rosa associates, the Chicago mob. Roots on the rough side would make MCA "too aggressive, too smart, and too street-wise" for most contenders in years to come, she notes. But it was the hiring 12 years later of a former Cleveland movie usher named Lou (later self-amended to Lew) Wasserman that put what was by then a multitalent agency on the road to forging Hollywood history and, for decades, uncontested dominion. Who knew there were so many deals of the century? But Wasserman sat in on them all: breaking the back of the old studio-mogul empire by getting Jimmy Stewart the first star’s piece-of-the-action deal from a house that didn’t have cash up front; turning MCA into a production outfit that rushed in to "save" nascent TV networks then, in no time, dictating entire program lineups. He did business with presidents too: Lew dined intimately with LBJ at the White House; in 1950 he had turned to his client and Screen Actors Guild president Ronald Reagan to push a touchy labor situation MCA’s way, then, 30 years later, just as handily got "Ronnie," as US President, to call off the FCC, a supposedly independent agency, from enforcing nonsyndication rules against TV production firms. Eulogies in June 2002, proclaiming him a pillar of strength, wisdom, and integrity, Bruck avers, skirted a broadertruth. A monumental piece of work, stuffed to the gills with both clean and dirty secrets, certain to be de rigueur poolside reading in Beverly Hills this summer.