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Project M for Michael Jackson and HOLLYWOOD POWER PLAYERS. Part 4

March 23, 2018

When you encounter the same people again and again and in most unexpected places too you react to this amazing fact by saying “it’s a small world”.

But if the world is a small place, the top tier of Hollywood executives must be the tiniest place possible, because over there you constantly stumble across the same handful of people who move from one film studio to another, take each other posts, leave and come back, join and break up, and much more of it.

Well, at least this is what it was like in the 1980-90s when Michael Jackson was trying to start a film career in Hollywood. Going into the movies was Michael’s lifelong dream and a kind of a passion as he thought that not his concerts or even records, but only the movies could secure him a solid place in human memory. 

Steve Knopper, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone writes about it in his book “MJ: The genius of Michael Jackson”:

“He admired Elvis Presley’s career greatly, and he felt that his career should be modeled against that,” says Rusty Lemorande, who wrote and produced Captain EO and worked closely with Michael on movie projects through the early nineties. “He felt Elvis Presley was more remembered because of his films than because of his performances.”

Rusty Lemorande said:

“He used to talk about Elvis Presley’s career and say, ‘If Elvis hadn’t made all those films, he wouldn’t be as remembered as he was.’ He really wanted a film career.”

And Michael was right – the videos he made for his songs are indeed a fascinating visual legacy to him. Without them much of his charm and phenomenal dance would have been lost. Now I really understand why he created a new genre of videos with a plot of their own, and why he insisted on calling them short films – all of it sprang from his craving for (and absence of) feature films proper and was the next best thing he could think of. His videos were sort of teasers to the movies never made and now we can only imagine what his King Tut movie could have been like if it had been made instead of Remember the Time video, for example.

Live action musicals were undoubtedly Michael’s most coveted dream and to see why this dream never came true we need to look at the handful of powerful players who were populating the tiny world of Hollywood executives back in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

His association with some of these people will explain a lot in Michael Jackson’s fate – even as far as the false allegations against him.


Initially my interest in the Hollywood top tier was sparked off by Darlene Craviotto’s book and her blunt portrayal of Disney executives as the angels who meant only the best for Michael Jackson, Steven Spielberg as the bad guy who ruined their beautiful Peter Pan project for MJ, and Jon Peters of Columbia/Sony as a nuisance to Michael who also wanted to lure him into a rival Pinocchio movie to be made by Francis Coppola at Columbia.

Something was not quite right about so black-and-white picture and the previous posts in this series already looked into many of Craviotto’s distortions. But out of all her half-lies the story about Pinocchio movie planned at Columbia while Disney allegedly wanted Michael for their own Peter Pan project seemed to be the silliest and kept me wondering why she told that lie about Columbia in the first place.

The thing is that the Pinocchio project really existed but it was started at Warner Bros. and stayed there for three years until the desperate Coppola took it to Columbia Pictures (here is more about it). But it happened only in 1994, and that year was already well beyond the time frame of Craviotto’s narration who is describing the period of February-June 1990 — so why did Craviotto change all the dates and build her story around Columbia and not Warner Bros. where the project actually began?

The lie looked silly and it is actually its absurdity that intrigued me more than anything else – the devil is always in the detail and Craviotto’s unwillingness to tell the simple truth must have had a reason.

When details don’t fit it is often a crucial factor and in this case the strange detail could be a cover for some power play around the name of Michael Jackson. And this power play could unwittingly reveal the identity of the sponsor and inspiration force behind Craviotto’s book and consequently point to the one who encouraged her to make sudden allegations about Michael at the very end of the book despite the peaceful flow of all her previous narration.

By now it is absolutely clear that smearing Jackson and stamping him with a bad label was actually the whole idea of that book.

So once you know that inspiration force, you will also know who orchestrated the smear campaign around Jackson and who can’t leave him alone even after his death.

In other words the detail was worth looking into, and this is what I’ve found.


Surprisingly, the cinema landscape in the US is dominated by only six film studios which are known by the name of the Big Six. Wiki describes them as follows:

The “Big Six” majors, whose operations are based in or around the Los Angeles neighborhood of Hollywood, are all centered in film studios active during Hollywood’s Golden Age of the 1930s and 1940s.

In three cases—20th Century FoxWarner Bros., and Paramount Pictures—the studios were one of the “Big Five” majors during that era as well. In two cases—Columbia Pictures and Universal Pictures—the studios were also considered majors, but in the next tier down, part of the “Little Three”.

In the sixth case, Walt Disney Studios was an independent production company during the Golden Age; it was an important Hollywood entity, but not a major. Metro-Goldwyn-MayerRKO, and United Artists were Golden Age majors that survive now only as relatively small independent companies or as a brand name.

Today, Disney is the only member of the Big Six whose parent entity is still located near Los Angeles. The five others report to conglomerates respectively headquartered in New York City, Philadelphia, and Tokyo.

The Hollywood BIG SIX in 2017

The six majors are not only involved in making movies, but their primary job now is distribution of films made by other, independent companies (“indies”). The role of majors in distributing the movies is so big that if indies want their films to reach a broad audience, they should be distributed by one of the Big Six by all means.

The Big Six major studios are today primarily backers and distributors of films whose actual production is largely handled by independent companies—the specialty divisions often simply acquire distribution rights to pictures in which the studio has had no prior involvement. The activities [of the Big Six] are focused more in the areas of development, financing, marketing, and merchandising.

Today, the Big Six majors routinely distribute hundreds of films every year into all significant international markets. It is very rare, if not impossible, for a film to reach a broad international audience on multiple continents without first being picked up by one of the majors for distribution. 

All of the above must be elevating the top executives of the Big Six to a position of nothing less than cinema gods. Having connections with them must be regarded as a ticket to paradise or at least a huge step on a path to success.

No wonder Michael Jackson was so enthusiastic about the Disney “Peter Pan” project for him which he never expected to be a sham. According to Craviotto this so-called “Project M” was initiated by Jeffrey Katzenberg himself who was the Disney studio head and the great Steven Spielberg, the future director of the movie, so from its beginning to end the project did sound to Michael Jackson perfectly genuine and not just a way to “keep him happy” which it actually was.

The executives mentioned in Craviotto’s book (scarcely though) belonged to two rival studios, both of which are members of the Big Six – Jeffrey Katzenberg was Chairman of Disney and Jon Peters, the one who was allegedly luring Michael into the Coppola project, was in a top position at Sony/Columbia/TriStar Pictures together with the other co-chairman Peter Guber.

While Katzenberg was simply a rival, Barry Diller was Jon Peters’ enemy – the two had a severe clash that even went physical after which Diller announced to those who attended the notable party that Peters “would never work in this town again.”

Barry Diller

A look into who Barry Diller was (and still is) left no doubt whatsoever that he really had all the power and means to do away with Jon Peters and his projects.

Peters was a novice to running a huge company – he was a self-made man who rose from a hair-dresser to a successful film producer known for Batman and other movies. He held the top post at Sony/Columbia/TriStar studios for two years only, while Barry Diller first headed Paramount Pictures and for ten years too, and then moved to 20th Century Fox where he became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Fox Corporation – a parent company of Fox broadcasting network and the 20th Century Fox movies, which is surely a much higher position than just the head of a film studio.

Diller held that post for another eight years, from October 1984 to April 1992 and was in this capacity when the newly-appointed chairman of Sony/Columbia Jon Peters confronted him at that party, after which Peters himself and his passionate movie project Midknight, where Michael Jackson was supposed to play the main role, were doomed.

Jon Peters

As a short recap, the Midknight movie was actually the project Peters was working on at Columbia at the time when Disney was busy with their sham Peter Pan.

The movie was Michael’s own idea and when Midknight was already close to production strange things started happening around it – first its director Anton Furst suddenly jumped off a parking lot roof (or fell from it for some reason), then the movie producer Jon Peters was fired by his friend and co-chairman Guber, and ever since the media has been gunning for Peters for everything he did and didn’t do, so all we know about him now is that he is a bully, an illiterate hairdresser, a complete nobody and total has-been.

His recent plans to publish a tell-all book were killed by a leaked publication of his book proposal intended only for the publisher’s eye and the highly adverse publicity that followed. Now Jon Peters is still well-off, but lives in seclusion and rarely talks to the media.

We don’t know whether Barry Diller had anything to do with it, but his management style and power grip are legendary and earned him the name of “Killer Diller”. At least this publication mentions this nickname as “given to Diller by his detractors” and it also ranks him as number 3 on the list of 101 most powerful people in the entertainment industry in the year 1990.

Wiki echoes the same idea by having a special paragraph about Diller’s team, for whom he was a mentor and supporter when he was chairman at Paramount, and calls these kids “The Killer Dillers”, which evidently refers to their management skills acquired from their mentor and their common take-no-prisoners style.

Some of the names on the “Killer Dillers” list have taken me by surprise.

Diller is responsible for what the media dubs “The Killer Dillers” – people whom Diller mentored and who later became big-time media executives in their own right. Examples include Michael Eisner (who was President of Paramount Pictures while Diller was its Chairman & CEO, and went on to become Chairman & CEO of The Walt Disney Company), Dawn Steel (future head of Columbia Pictures and one of the first women to run a major movie studio, who worked under Diller at Paramount), Jeffrey Katzenberg (head of DreamWorks Animation, former head of Walt Disney Studios, and a head of production of Paramount under Diller), Garth Ancier, President of BBC America, and Don Simpson, who was President of Production at Paramount under Diller and Eisner.

So Katzenberg and Michael Eisner of Disney also belonged to Diller’s team and for some time took guidance from him? Yes, they did, and a closer look at the dates reveals that Diller and his team worked at Paramount Pictures until 1984 after which all of them left – Diller went to run the Fox Corporation, and Katzenberg and M. Eisner moved to head the Disney Studios.

The only one who remained at Paramount for some time was Dawn Steel, an extremely self-confident woman characterized by Katzenberg as “a determined tornado with a lot of passion and no room in her life for the words ‘no’ or ‘it can’t be done.’ ” Steel rose from a low-level marketing job at Penthouse magazine devising X-rated products (where she poked fun on the Gucci label by stamping it on toilet paper, followed by Gucci’s copyright lawsuit and out-of-court settlement) to the post of President of Production at Paramount, which she inherited from Jeffrey Katzenberg. After the new managers ousted her in 1987 she was taken to Columbia Pictures and made President there.

But when in 1989 Columbia/TriStar studios were acquired by Sony this Diller’s kid was replaced by the new chairmen we already know – Jon Peters and Peter Guber. And though the threesome did work side by side for several months there was certainly no love lost between them. In January 1990 she finally quit the job, calling it an escape from a cage rather than a resignation.

Dawn Steel Quits Columbia Pictures Post

January 9, 1990

”You don’t resign from these jobs, you escape from them,” Ms. Steel said. ”I feel like I’ve been let out of a cage.”

After leaving Columbia/Sony she joined her former colleagues Eisner and Katzenberg at Disney but something went wrong there too.

Though she remained for a time after Jon Peters and Peter Guber were handed the studio chairmanship reins, Steel was soon eased out. In 1990, she joined Eisner and Katzenberg at Disney, but this time as an indie producer. After wrangles over “Cool Runnings,” which was postponed, shelved and finally made, her relationship with Disney faltered.

Now if you mark these names on the chart of the Big Six film studios you will see a surprising picture that in the year 1990 described by Craviotto half of Hollywood studios were run by Barry Diller’s team.

Diller’s team in Hollywood in the ’90s

To be frank it was a shock to find that the Hollywood of that period was sort of monopolized by a mere handful of people and wherever you looked you saw the same old familiar faces circulating back and forth there. And the joke about “The Killer Dillers” didn’t make it any better but only worse.

At least in theory this kind of monopoly could result in a concerted effort of these people to influence the Hollywood trends and could help them present a unified front for or against some projects or people, should they, God forbid, fall into disfavor with these powerful players. A closely knit group like that could open many doors to friends, but what could happen to those who were not?

Now the fierce media ridicule of Peters and Guber for their lack of experience in running a film studio also finds an explanation from whatever angle you look at it. In the opinion of those who monopolized half the industry, the entry of newcomers to the top tier of executives must have indeed looked like a laughable episode in the history of then Hollywood.

And the level of education and expertise of the newcomers had nothing to do with it. The mockery of Jon Peters as a former hairdresser, for example, is irrelevant here Barry Diller and his star employee, Katzenberg, haven’t been to college either, but no one ever dares ridicule them for it.

Okay, but what was the situation like with the people running the remaining studios?


The two studios out of the Big Six majors not yet covered here were Universal Pictures and Warner Bros.

In terms of management the Universal studio looked like an example of stability as its Lew Wasserman and Sidney Sheinberg ran the company for more than 20 years. In 1995 the studio changed its ownership and was headed by Ron Meyer who is presiding over it even now and has been running it for 23 years already.

Universal is also special as it is a home place for Steven Spielberg. This studio was the first to discover the talented college dropout and sign a seven-year contract with him though all he had done by then was amateur short films. Spielberg created his own production company on the Universal lot called Amblin Entertainment where he enjoyed the comfort never enjoyed even by Michael Jackson in his Neverland home.

Nicole LaPorte who wrote a book about DreamWorks describes the conditions created at Universal for Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment production company as nearly surreal:

Amblin had been created to serve its star resident to an almost surreal degree.

Screenwriter Richard Christian Matheson tells the story of a jaunt around the Amblin campus with Spielberg: “Every once in a while, from a rock or a tree, you’d hear, “Steven, your two thirty is here.” Obviously, there were microphones among the rocks that talk, because you’d hear a voice saying, “Steven, do you want something?” He’d say,”Guys, do you want some Popsicles?” And then he would say to nobody, “Bring us three root-beer Popsicles!” The whole place was obviously tracking his whereabouts.” (“The Men Who Would be King” p.17)

The article dated 2010 calls the partnership between Universal and Spielberg the most successful studio/director partnerships of all time.

Steven Spielberg and Sidney Sheinberg

12/16/2010 by Bill Higgins

Spielberg and Sheinberg at Amblin on the Universal Studios lot in 2010. (Photo Art Streiber)

For four decades, Steven Spielberg, 64, has reigned as the king of Hollywood. As a director, producer, philanthropist and general mensch, he has no peer. But if there is one man to whom he defers, it’s Sidney Sheinberg, 75, the former MCA/Universal executive who first recognized the young filmmaker’s talent.

Spielberg still remembers the words Sheinberg offered him along with his first job: “Hopefully you’re going to have a lot of success in your career. And a lot of people will stick with you in success; I’ll stick with you in failure,” the older man — though, at the time, Sheinberg was only in his 30s — promised his new discovery. “I never forgot that,” Spielberg says. “It became almost an anthem to me.”

Their long-standing friendship — they still meet for lunch — began in 1968, when Sheinberg was president of Universal TV. Film librarian Chuck Silver showed him a quirky road movie made by a college student living nearby on Regal Place. “That’s the first time I saw Amblin’,” Sheinberg says of the short that became Spielberg’s calling card — and that would become the name of his first production company.

“I thought it was special because I’d been seeing a lot stuff that was very technical” Sheinberg says. “But this was a human story.” A meeting was arranged, and, as Spielberg recalls, he “was plucked out of Long Beach State and given a chance to sign a seven-year contract and direct TV.”

…By 1973, MCA chairman Lew Wasserman had made Sheinberg his right hand as president and COO, Spielberg was ready to graduate to features, and the stage was set for one of the most successful studio head/director partnerships of all time. During Sheinberg’s tenure, Universal released Spielberg’s Jaws, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park.

Together they transformed Universal from a second-string studio, dependent on its TV productions, into a major player. When 1975’s Jaws ran over budget, Sheinberg had Spielberg’s back — what skeptics dismissed as an overpriced B-movie became a horror classic that defined the new summer-blockbuster genre. (The $471 million it collected worldwide would be more than $1.9 billion today.)

Spielberg looks back on his earliest days finding his way around the Universal lot with a mix of fondness and angst. Sheinberg, he says, had “such a traumatic influence on me. The career hit me like a brick wall.” “I’d gone from making these 16mm amateur shorts, had long hair, and I’m a late-’60s college dropout,” Spielberg says. “And they saw a change in the paradigm of Hollywood.”

After leaving Universal Spielberg went into the adventure of co-founding the ambitious DreamWorks, the first new Hollywood studio in the last 60 years. DreamWorks was set up in 1994 by Spielberg, Katzenberg (who had just left Disney banging a door on his partner Michael Eisner) and David Geffen.

The joint project broke up in 2008 when Geffen abandoned it, Katzenberg split to run the DreamWorks animation offshoot and Spielberg was left on his own, struggling for some time with the help of first Paramount, then an Indian financier and then Walt Disney Co.

And in December 2015 Universal announced that Spielberg was coming back and that DreamWorks would now operate under the Universal umbrella. Their official statement said that they “couldn’t be more pleased to be back in business with Steven Spielberg” and the head of the company Ron Meyer made a comment rarely heard in the tough world of Hollywood: “Universal is, and always has been, Steven’s home.”

Steven Spielberg returns to Universal Pictures


DEC 16, 2015 | 7:09 PM

Steven Spielberg: Come home.
In true Hollywood fashion, the legendary filmmaker is returning to his longtime production home at Universal Pictures. The Los Angeles-based studio on Wednesday announced a five-year deal with Spielberg’s Amblin Partners, a new consortium of companies that includes DreamWorks Studios, Participant Media, Reliance Entertainment and Entertainment One.
Universal will market and distribute films produced by Amblin Partners domestically and in some international markets.
“We couldn’t be more pleased to be back in business with Steven,” [the Universal said in a statement.]  Spielberg, for his part, celebrated his homecoming.
“The same magnet that pulled me to Universal when I first wanted to make movies is bringing me home again to this new exciting relationship,” Spielberg said in the statement.

The company’s intention is to make movies under three banners: Amblin Entertainment, DreamWorks Pictures and Participant.
…Many in Hollywood were aware that Spielberg was interested in resuming his relationship with Universal. Spielberg’s DreamWorks offices have long been located on the Universal lot, off the Hollywood Freeway.
DreamWorks was founded in 1994 and eventually spun off its animation unit into a separate publicly traded company. Spielberg’s live action film unit experienced turbulence in the subsequent years. It was briefly owned by Paramount Pictures and later turned to Indian conglomerate Reliance for financing. Following a breakup with Paramount in 2008, DreamWorks reached a distribution deal with the Walt Disney Co., a pact that was due to expire next year.
The longtime head of Universal Studios, Ron Meyer, was involved in orchestrating the reunion with the celebrated director.
“Universal is, and always has been, Steven’s home,” Meyer said.

All of it sounds like a happy end in the best Hollywood fashion and the Universal studio in general and its head Ron Meyer in particular also sound like a safe haven, especially against the background of ego clashes and feuds ravaging at other Hollywood studios.

The media does not dwell on the reasons why the three founders of DreamWorks parted their ways. Spielberg wouldn’t comment, but the bits and pieces I picked here and there provide some colorful details without actually telling the whole story.

Despite the Oscar haul and Shrek’s monster box office, rumors continue that the privately held company is bleeding red ink. Financial stress may explain what the Sunday Times (London) described as “furniture-throwing” arguments involving the three principals. Indeed, Katzenberg has publicly complained that the films Spielberg has produced for other studios (megahits like Men in Black and The Mark of Zorro) were “more demanding than any of us had anticipated” and deprived DreamWorks of Spielberg’s full attention, which may explain the flying furniture without aid of special effects.

(Frank Sanello’s biography of Spielberg, page 295).

Kim Masters, a friend to both Katzenberg and Geffen (the one who co-wrote that hatchet book “Hit and Run” about Yetnikoff, Jon Peters and Peter Guber) sounds sad at the obvious DreamWorks’ failure:

As for DreamWorks, after launching with so much hope, it became clear that not even the mighty combination of Spielberg, Geffen and Katzenberg could overcome the hurdle of launching a studio without an income-generating library of films to get the company through the lean times.

In 2004, Geffen acknowledged the truth to The New York Times. “Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs,” he said. “We did what we could do. … The world has changed a great deal in 10 years.” 

And the New York Times just makes a cryptic statement that “Geffen is still a friend but not quite so close as he was only a few weeks ago.”

For some reason they end their article with the advice Spielberg and Geffen once received from another major Hollywood player – Steve Ross, the CEO of Warner Bros, who changed the old Chinese proverb “Keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer” into its opposite: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies far away”, thus leaving to us ample room for imagination.

David Geffen Makes a Sudden Exit


David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, 2004    (Photo Reuters)

Steven Spielberg actually stammered a bit in trying to explain his erstwhile business partner’s departure.

No, Mr. Spielberg said, he really did not know why Mr. Geffen was parting ways with DreamWorks after 14 years.

But yes, he hoped he and Mr. Geffen would remain close. “I know David will be in my personal life,” said Mr. Spielberg, who stood near the door of his office in a Southwestern bungalow complex on the Universal Studios lot.

Mr. Geffen’s departure originally was planned more than a year ago, after he negotiated new terms with Paramount.<> What Mr. Geffen did after negotiating the deal, Mr. Spielberg said, caught him by surprise: He told Mr. Spielberg that he did, in fact, intend to leave. And he expected Mr. Spielberg and Ms. Snider [DreamWorks CEO] to do the same.

“Where do we go?” Mr. Spielberg now recalls asking.

“Don’t worry, I will handle all of that,” Mr. Geffen said.

In any case, Mr. Geffen appears to have orphaned a small corps of associates who had come to view him as the central support for their own hopes and dreams.

…In describing Mr. Geffen’s role at DreamWorks, Mr. Spielberg likened it to a family relationship. “Jeffrey and I were like the kids,” he said, while Mr. Geffen built the house and saw that the bills were paid.

..By his own recollection, Mr. Spielberg was initially reluctant to join in creating the original DreamWorks studio, which was conceived by Mr. Katzenberg shortly after he was fired as chairman of the Walt Disney Company’s studio operation in 1994. But Mr. Katzenberg begged for a meeting, and asked to bring a friend. The friend was Mr. Geffen, who not only did all the talking, but insisted to Mr. Spielberg: “I am representing your best interests.”

That assurance was to become the theme of Mr. Geffen’s dealings with Mr. Spielberg, who describes Mr. Geffen’s efforts for him over the years as a kind of “altruism.”

At the time, Mr. Spielberg agreed to enlist with DreamWorks on the condition that Mr. Geffen become its third partner. He thus rounded out a tagline, “SKG,” that continues to identify the rebooted company, though now neither Mr. Geffen nor Mr. Katzenberg is involved.

…Just one other studio relationship has figured seriously in Mr. Spielberg’s life — that with Steven J. Ross, the Warner communications chief executive, who, before his death in 1992, had been an industry godfather to Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Geffen. From Mr. Ross, said Mr. Spielberg, he and Mr. Geffen had learned now-fading rules that once governed Hollywood. The most basic, he said, was to “keep your friends close, and your enemies far away.” Mr. Geffen, of course, is still a friend. But not quite so close, professionally speaking, as he was only a few weeks ago.

All these articles produce the impression of stopping short at telling the main thing, but I will refrain from any guesswork and will just state the plain fact that can’t be doubted and is relevant to our little research.

This fact is that in 2011 when Craviotto wrote her book about “Project M” Spielberg and Geffen had already parted ways and Geffen was not “quite so close” to Spielberg as he had been before.

The quest for details led me to author Nicole LaPorte who wrote a book about DreamWorks in 2010 and her article with a telling title “The spectacular rise and fall of DreamWorks”. The details disclosed by her sound more like the reciprocal rebukes thrown at each other by the studio founders. As a result Spielberg comes across as a capricious god, Katzenberg as a workaholic doing the bulk of the work and Geffen as someone who instills so much fear in people that no one agreed to give an interview for the author’s book.

Here is an excerpt from it – it is long, but very much worth reading:

The spectacular rise and fall of DreamWorks

It’s the film studio that brought us ‘Shrek’, ‘American Beauty’ and ‘Gladiator’, so where did it all go wrong for Steven Spielberg and his dream team, asks the author of The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks.

By Nicole LaPorte

09 Jun 2010

Geffen, Spielberg and Katzenberg promoting DreamWorks. 1996 (Photo SIPA PRESS/REX)

The coming together of Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen made headlines around the world. Each was a towering titan in his own right.

There was Geffen, the openly gay billionaire, who had worked, schemed and bullied his way from the mailroom at the William Morris Agency to the heights of the music industry. When Katzenberg came calling, Geffen’s days were spent flipping through his investment portfolios, dialling up President Clinton and flying the world in his Gulfstream IV, perpetually changing directions as boredom set in.

Then there was Katzenberg, the workaholic studio executive who had slaved for a decade at Disney, only to be unceremoniously fired and cheated out of a multimillion-dollar bonus. Katzenberg brought his adrenalin-charged ways to DreamWorks, where executives often found themselves sitting in the gleaming, all-white kitchen of his ‘business house’ in Beverly Hills at 7am on a Saturday or Sunday, to discuss film release strategies or a faulty storyline.

At the centre of DreamWorks was Spielberg, the Sun God around whom the company revolved, and the living mascot for the artist-friendly studio. The director of blockbusters such as Jaws, E T and Indiana Jones, Spielberg had been a Hollywood wunderkind for most of his life. But by 1994, the year he won his first Best Picture Oscar for Schindler’s List, he was ready for something new, something bigger. Not that he needed it – no one was more comfortably set up in Hollywood than Spielberg, whose $4 million ‘campus’ on the Universal lot, Amblin, felt more like a spa, equipped with all the latest gadgetry, a personal chef, jacuzzi and a masseuse named Julie.

As the celebrity of the troika, Spielberg provided DreamWorks’ sizzle; his name was the carrot held out to lure film-makers, money men, executives and actors.

Keep Steven Happy was the unwritten rule at DreamWorks, and the reason Geffen and Katzenberg pursued ideas and ventures even when they felt they were ill-advised, such as building a state-of-the-art studio on the marsh land at Playa Vista, west Los Angeles. There was no need for a physical studio (DreamWorks operated just fine out of Amblin), but Spielberg was enamoured of the old Hollywood dream, as defined by Thalbergs, Mayers and Warners, who had all driven through their own studio gates in the morning, and so he mapped out plans for a wildly hi-tech and ambitious studio situated on the edge of a lake. But in the end, like so many of Spielberg’s wished-for endeavours at the company, after much time and resources were ploughed into Playa Vista, it never came to pass.

Spielberg had no interest, no patience, for business details, something he made clear from the beginning. Nor did he have any tolerance, or ability to handle reality when it was anything other than rosy.

…It is this protective veil that surrounds not just Spielberg, but his partners, which caused people to warn me off writing a book about DreamWorks.

Not only were they insular, controlling and image-obsessed, but they could be vengeful, none more so than Geffen who is famous for his decades-long, and very ugly, feuds. Geffen did not play nice. He had already turned on another reporter, Tom King, who wrote Geffen’s at-first authorised biography, The Operator. But halfway through Geffen decided he didn’t like the direction the very candid book was going in, and tried to thwart its publication. King died tragically of a brain haemorrhage, at the age of 39, just a few years after the book came out. When I called a friend of Geffen’s and asked him if he’d speak to me, I was met with a heavy silence on the other end of the line. And then a deep-throated growl: ‘The last person who wrote a book about David Geffen is dead! And he was young. And healthy. And now he’s dead!’ Click.

Unsurprisingly, the DreamWorks partners made it clear from the beginning that they would not speak to me for my book, despite the fact that I had no intention of writing a hatchet job. <> I expressed this to Katzenberg in an email once, to which he responded something along the lines of: ‘Sounds fair enough but no thanks.’ No thanks, indeed. Katzenberg proceeded to call up dozens of potential sources and warn them not to talk to me.

Meanwhile, everyone around me assured me that I would never eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner in Hollywood again. Why? Besides the reputations of SKG, the story of DreamWorks was ultimately one of failure. Despite some memorable films, the studio’s ambition to be a huge multimedia venture came to nothing, in part because the economics of the company never made sense. In short, the dream was more of a nightmare.

… Now that my book has been published, the Dream Team has been remarkably quiet. There have been no lawsuits. No death threats. The statement everyone at the company is hewing to, and which I tend to believe Katzenberg crafted, is: ‘We’re not reading it.’

Wow, that was impressive. First I was amazed to see again that “keep Steven happy” idea which we have heard from Craviotto on numerous occasions, only with regard to Michael Jackson. Now it is clear that it is a universal motto in Hollywood and their very specific phenomenon when a company placates their star with various niceties and promises, not necessarily true ones, to keep hold of him and make sure he doesn’t leave for a rival.

And the second astonishing thing was of course that reaction of Geffen’s friend to a request for an interview. This person was so mortally afraid to speak that the only thing he could growl is that the young and healthy guy Tom King, who was the last to write about Geffen, was dead. Click.

Tom King indeed wrote Geffen’s biography titled: “The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys and Sells the New Hollywood”. According to all book reviews, what was supposed to be an authorized bio eventually turned into portraying Geffen as a monster, “repeatedly bullying, outmaneuvering and crushing men who are in his way as he scampers nimbly upward from the William Morris Agency mailroom, into the lower echelon of the TV industry, then into the recording and film industries….Monster though King often makes Geffen out to be, he is clearly not alone in the moral tar pits of the entertainment industry,” as one of the reviews says.

And Tom King did indeed unexpectedly die when he was only 39 …. however the story of that book and its author will have to be left until some other time. At the moment we are interested in the Big Six film studios and the place of Geffen among the other key Hollywood players in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Indeed, we’ve heard about almost everyone on the top of Hollywood at the time, but where was David Geffen?


From what I’ve read about that period David Geffen was everywhere and nowhere as he preferred to stay mostly behind the scenes.

There is no adequate word to describe how influential Geffen was. Others couldn’t express it either same as explain what Geffen was actually doing. The New York Times article dated 1985, for example, stated that he was at the top of the “A” list of producers, and clarified that he didn’t actually produce anything and just talked on the phone and said yes and no.

California magazine, listing the most important people in Hollywood, recently ranked Geffen at the top of the ”A” list of producers, just behind studio heads and ”foolproof talents” like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. But Geffen doesn’t produce movies. He doesn’t produce records. He is nominally a producer of Broadway shows, but not in any sense of the word Karl Marx would recognize.

So what does David Geffen do? He talks on the phone. He says yes, he says no. He is an entrepreneur who mediates between the interests of businessmen in making money and the interests of artists in doing good work.

Looking back at the ‘80s and ‘90s we see that Geffen’s influence was over the entire Hollywood and included people like Barry Diller at Fox Corporation who was and still is one of his bosom friends. His other friends were at Disney – the young Jeffrey Katzenberg had been his long-time ally since the moment he worked as Barry Diller’s assistant at Paramount and impressed Geffen by meeting him at the airport and whisking him through the customs so quickly that Geffen had no time to blink.

Eric Eisner, the son of Michael Eisner, the second top figure at Disney, worked for ten years as President of the David Geffen Company until it was sold in 1990 and Eisner sued Geffen for the unpaid bonus, so for at least some time Geffen was friends with both of them too.

On the other hand that friendship didn’t stop him from arranging a feud between Michael Eisner and Katzenberg, which led to the latter’s loud dismissal from Disney. However the sympathetic Kim Masters who was in close contact with all three of them explains that it was probably unintentional harm on the part of Geffen.

Kim Masters is a journalist who was covering Hollywood for Vanity Fair in the ‘90s, was also a staff writer for the Washington Post, and is also the co-author of the Hit and Run book about the horrible Sony/Columbia management in early ‘90s under the horrible guidance of Yetnikoff, Peters and Guber whose names were ripped into pieces in her book. So if Kim Masters says that the harm done by Geffen was unintentional, we can probably believe her that it was.

Here are some excerpts from Kim Masters about the war between the two top executives at Disney:

The Epic Disney Blow-Up of 1994

by Kim Masters  April 09, 2014

Twenty years ago [in 1994], Frank Wells, Disney’s No. 2, died in a helicopter crash, and war broke out in the industry. It was Eisner vs. Katzenberg, the dominoes started to fall, and Kim Masters was in the middle of it.

…By the time of the helicopter crash, I was covering Hollywood for Vanity Fair but also was a staff writer for the Washington Post — living in the nation’s capital and covering political issues while flying to Los Angeles for Vanity Fair when events warranted. I was on good terms with both Eisner and Katzenberg, but perhaps because of the distance, I had no inkling of the tension that had long been simmering between them.

For some time — encouraged by his friend and mentor, Geffen — Katzenberg had been pushing hard for a promotion.

…The spectacle that unfolded following Wells’ death 20 years ago laid bare the reality that may not be taught in business school — how irrational personality conflicts and jealousies can transform an entire industry.

….Eisner told the Los Angeles Times, “This is not a Shakespearean tragedy,” but it did have its Shakespearean qualities. I had quoted a source in my Vanity Fair story describing Geffen as “the Iago” of the Disney drama — a reference to the whispering villain in Othello. The idea was that Geffen had been behind the scenes, pushing Katzenberg to push Eisner, and the strategy had backfired spectacularly.

The insult drove Geffen wild, and he set out to discover who had said it. (Among his guesses: Eisner and Diller.) He failed.

I’ll tell you who said it now, but only because he’s dead and left no wife or children. It was Don Simpson, who knew the players well and had watched the whole spectacle with fascination — and who was really the only one with the erudition to make the analogy in the first place.

At one point he told me in a panic that Geffen had demanded to know if he’d been the source of that quote. “What did you say?” I asked, to which he replied, “I lied!” Years later, well after Simpson’s death in 1996, I told Geffen the truth, expecting him to laugh. He was livid, presumably because Don was dead and he couldn’t kill him again.

…It turned out Geffen, Eisner and Ovitz were the last of their breed. Anyone old enough to remember has to miss the days, not so long ago, when rampaging beasts roamed Hollywood and the action behind the scenes was as dramatic and improbable as anything on the big screen.

So here is a new character, Don Simpson, entering the scene. However, we’ve heard this name before – Wiki referred to him as one of those “Killer Dillers”, and this is just another of those cases when you see familiar faces all over then Hollywood.

Don Simpson

When Don Simpson first worked at Warner Bros. he got fame as “vice-president for Clint” – a nickname derived from his ability to “keep Clint Eastwood happy” (their standard practice as we know).

Then Simpson was stolen by Paramount and its Barry Diller and Michael Eisner who among other things “loved his flamboyant fierceness, his exuberant routine of looking to lay every woman he met, and enormous capacity for fun, money, debauchery and drugs”. By 1981 he was president of production at Paramount.

According to Wiki both Geffen and Katzenberg attempted to get Simpson to go to rehab for his drug use, but nothing worked and he continued to be a “party animal”.

When he died in 1996 the doctors found 21 different illegal substances in his body and to this day, his body was the most toxic ever examined in the state of California (however the media talks only about MJ, who didn’t have a single narcotic drug in his system).

Despite Simpson’s cocaine addiction he managed to produce wildly successful movies like Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop and the nature of his films makes me think that Eddy Murphy’s character of a streetsmart cop from Detroit finding himself in Bel-Air must be a replica of Simpson himself.

So Don Simpson was really in the midst of that crowd and if he said that Geffen had played the villainous role of Iago in the war between Eisner and Katzenberg, we can believe him too. It is also interesting that Kim Masters dares disclose Don Simpson’s revelations only because he is dead and “left no wife or children” – a remark that adds a somewhat chilling touch to Geffen’s portrait.

However some speak of Geffen with genuine gratitude. The head of Universal Ron Meyer, already mentioned here, calls him a dear friend and Geffen did indeed do him a huge favour in 1995 by recommending him to the new owners of Universal as an ideal candidate to run the studio. The deal was a momentous one – Geffen just talked on the phone with one man and then with the other and the deal was made.

Here is a short excerpt from the recent book by James Andrew Miller about the easy way it happened:

Ron Meyer, President of Universal (PR Photos)


APRIL 2016

EDGAR BRONFMAN JR.: [the new owner of Universal] …Then I got a call from David. At that point, he hated Mike and liked me—then, not now.

DAVID GEFFEN: Ron is a very good friend of mine, and I said to Edgar, “I’ve got the perfect guy for you.” He said, “Who’s that?” I said, “Ron Meyer. Ron Meyer is the guy you should get. Ron Meyer is a guy who you can work with, who you can trust, who isn’t greedy, and everybody loves him. And he knows everybody.” So he said, “What would he cost me?” I said, “Send me a contract and Ron will sign it. He won’t negotiate it at all.” He said, “Are you serious?” I said, “Absolutely.”

I called up Ronnie, and I said, “I can make a deal for you to become president of Universal.” And Ron said, “You’re kidding.” I said, “No, I’m not. I told him that whatever he offered you there’d be no negotiation. You’d sign the contract as it was.” He said, “Count on it.”

RON MEYER: … One of the things that had happened since Mike had blown the deal with Bronfman a few days before was that David Geffen had been kind enough to say very good things to Bronfman about me. David is a really dear friend, and obviously his words were meaningful. I said yes right away.

Mike who “had blown the deal” is Michael Ovitz, one of the founders of Creative Artists Agency (CAA) which represents actors, directors, screenwriters, etc. and negotiates their terms of employment with the studios.

Michael Ovitz (Picture: Twitter)

He acted as an agent for Spielberg and other movie celebrities, and was considered another of Hollywood gods. For some reason he was also the object of Geffen’s deep hatred and it was top important for Geffen that Ovitz shouldn’t get the post of President at Universal as he wanted, and this probably explains his ardent support for another candidate when Ovitz “had blown the deal”.

The NY Times article published in 1993 described Hollywood of that period as the Balkans with two emperors – Geffen and Michael Ovitz, with respects to be paid to both of them.

Geffen’s friends would not comment on the feud and would only make an observation that Geffen preferred to control and manipulate things by “sitting there in the darkness”. They also say that if you are Geffen’s friend “he will do anything for you”, but if you are his enemy, “you might as well kill yourself”.

“David will do anything for you if you’re his friend,” says Howard Rosenman, a movie producer and, yes, a friend. “But if you’re his enemy, well, you might as well kill yourself.”

One of David Geffen’s closest friends says that Hollywood is like the Balkans. “There are duchesses and dukes and a court of sychophants,” the friend says. “And David is one of the emperors. There’s Mike Ovitz and there’s David. Two emperors.

“And you have to pay your respects to both of them,” he goes on. “And David sort of sits there in the darkness. Very quiet. You don’t know what he’s doing except controlling and manipulating. Sort of like the original-cast album cover of ‘My Fair Lady.’ That’s David.

Not quite sure what Geffen’s closest friend meant by the original-cast album cover of “My Fair Lady” I looked it up and saw a picture of someone big manipulating a smaller figure as a puppet of his and via that puppet manipulating still another one.

“THAT’S DAVID” (The cover for “My Fair Lady” by artist Shelly Manne)

I don’t know about you but this picture told me more about Geffen’s modus operandi than any stories from his foes or friends. Some pictures speak louder than words.

What impressed me most about it is that the puppets don’t even know that they are being manipulated.

The final note here is that there is a wide-spread opinion in Hollywood that it was Geffen who crushed Ovitz’ career. And this isn’t any malicious gossip, but a fact of life Geffen himself isn’t too shy to talk about.

This fine piece from Nicole LaPorte’s book gives us in insight into what happens (and how) if a person like Geffen turns on someone whom he perceives as his enemy.

…Both Geffen and Katzenberg are known to have long memories when it comes to keeping score, and when an enemy is declared, the war is no mere skirmish.

…Ovitz undoubtedly had a hand in his own fall, but Geffen fuelled the process, trashing Ovitz for years and creating the perception that he was very damaged goods; the result of these effective theatrics was estimable. As Ovitz himself loved to say of Hollywood: “Perception is everything.”

Similarly, when Geffen turned on Bill and Hillary Clinton, after years of serving as the former president’s biggest Hollywood donor and champion, it was not pretty. Or private. “Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it’s troubling,” Geffen told New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd. Down neglected to question her source’s own credentials as an arbiter of integrity. Not to mention that some speculated that should Geffen buy the Los Angeles Times (a possibility at the time), she would be one of his first hires.

Few people in Hollywood are willing to cross these men, for fear of risking a premature close to a career or some other form of revenge.

… Media relations in Hollywood often involve unspoken trade-offs. If the powerful get buffed and polished, they give: beneficial “friendships,” exclusive scoops, trips on the private jet or yacht. But just as easily as VIPs can bestow favors, so can they take them away.

…Katzenberg made dozens of calls, warning sources not to talk to me for this book. As a result, many of the more than two hundred people I interviewed only felt comfortable under the veil of anonymity, and even they were anxious. I got used to nervous glances toward restaurant entrances, quick exits.

…Geffen nursed a vivid spectrum of resentments against the CAA chieftain – from the superagent’s supposed homophobia to a brouhaha over the first feature film that Geffen produced, 1982’s Personal Best, which had cost Geffen millions.

… Battling Ovitz kept him hungry. According to producer Howard Rosenman, Geffen fumed of Ovitz: “I’m gonna kill that motherfucker. It may take me years, but I’m going to destroy him. Watch me.”


While Geffen was always on his own and worked behind the scenes, rarely coming into the open, he still had a notable connection with one of the Big Six studios – Warner Bros.

Two years after Geffen started his first records company called Asylum, Warner Bros. bought it from him for $7 million (“the biggest number Geffen could think of”) and after merging it with Elektra kept him as its chairman.

When Geffen Records label was established in 1980 it was also distributed by Warner Bros. Records.

And when Geffen set up a film company and produced three dark-tinged comedies, these movies were not only distributed, but also financed by Warner Communications.

The 1985 NY Times article explains Geffen’s exceptional luck with Warner Bros. by the role of Steve Ross, chairman of Warner Communications who bankrolled Geffen’s ventures for almost 15 years. Steve Ross indeed sounded like a godfather to Geffen judging by his confidence in him and unconditional support. This support was so monumental and unwavering that Ross even agreed to buy from Geffen the film “Personal Best” that was to be a flop even in Geffen’s opinion.

Steve Ross was evidently so mesmerized by his employee that at some point he even made him Vice-chairman of Warner Bros. pictures, however a year later Geffen left in disgust saying that it was a “nightmare” which nevertheless didn’t turn Steve Ross away from him – until Geffen turned away from Steve Ross himself, of course.

The reason for it? Some sources says Ross didn’t inform Geffen about the Warner Bros. merger with the media Time Corporation that took place in June, 1989 which transformed Warner into a mega conglomerate called Time Warner Inc. Geffen was furious about not getting the stock options he felt he deserved from the Time Warner merger.

And Nicole LaPorte says that Geffen finally managed to drive Ross past forgiveness when he abruptly sold Geffen Records to MCA (Music Corporation of America) severing all ties with him and Warner Bros.

Whatever the reason, Geffen was so furious with Steve Ross that he never talked to him again, and blasted him in the media even when he was undergoing chemo for prostate cancer and was already on his death bed.

More about the unique Geffen-Ross cooperation in the 1985 New York Times article, already partially quoted here:

The Geffen Film Company, whose pictures are financed and distributed by Warner Communications, has released only three films to date, but they’ve already established Geffen’s taste in movies. Robert Towne’s ”Personal Best” concerned sex and friendship among female athletes. Paul Brickman’s comedy hit ”Risky Business” portrayed a suburban high-schooler who turns his parents’ house into a brothel for one night. And Albert Brooks’s ”Lost in America” is an offbeat comedy about a married couple who drop out of corporate society to tour the country in a Winnebago. All three are the work of writer-directors, the film counterpart of Geffen’s singer-songwriters, and they champion sex, money and individual achievement – subjects of great personal interest to him.

Geffen’s balance of taste and judgment has earned the confidence of Steve Ross, chairman of Warner Communications, the entertainment conglomerate that has bankrolled his ventures for almost 15 years. This convergence of taste and judgment, not to mention power and money, in one person has created a mystique around Geffen – a mystique that sometimes makes it hard to say exactly what he does.

…One year after Asylum released its first record, Warner Communications bought the company for $7 million. Geffen stayed on as a highly paid executive and merged Asylum with Elektra Records (another Warner subsidiary) in 1973, and watched his custom label turn into one of the parent company’s most profitable entertainment ventures.

After 10 years in the music business, he was tired of kid stuff and asked Steve Ross for a job in the movies. In 1975, he became vice chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures and immediately threw himself into movie production.

Geffen proved gifted at casting and clever about signing artists, but he was naive about the movie business. At the end of one year, he quit. ”It was a nightmare,” says Geffen. ”I hated those meetings, everybody afraid to be responsible.”

…When he discovered that the tumor removed from his bladder in 1976 was not a debilitating cancer but a harmless growth, Geffen got on the phone with Steve Ross and Mo Ostin, president of Warner Bros. Records, and he was back in business. A string of splashy signings (Donna Summer, Elton John, John Lennon and Yoko Ono) put Geffen Records on the map, but he wanted to do more than repeat past successes. So when Robert Towne, an old friend and the Oscar-winning screenwriter of ”Chinatown,” asked for help financing ”Personal Best,” his first film as director, Geffen agreed. He didn’t foresee that he would wind up the sole producer of an arty, controversial film originally budgeted at $7.5 million that, through various mishaps, finally cost $16 million.

”In order to do something with the movie,” says Geffen, ”I went to Steve Ross and said ‘Help! I want you to buy this film from me.’ He said, ‘Do you think it’s a hit?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ He said, ‘Why should I buy it from you?’ I said, ‘Look, if you buy this film from me and it flops, it will be just another flop picture; you have many of them. But if I don’t sell this to you, it will obsess my life. I’ll lose a fortune. I won’t be able to work.’ ” Ross agreed to take the film if Geffen would sign an exclusive five-year deal setting up his own company with backing from Warner Bros. Pictures. ”The first picture I made under that deal was ‘Risky Business,’ from which they’ve made $20 million-$25 million profit, so I feel I’ve paid back.”

The Chicago Tribune dated 1987 informs us that during his deal with Warner Bros. Geffen had a $150-million line of credit to make any kind of picture he wanted – which is a condition unique for a producer. The Warner Bros. were ready to finance any Spielberg’s project too, but Spielberg was a film director making blockbusters and was a welcome guest at any studio of his choice. But giving similar terms to a producer was totally unusual.

The Chicago Tribune article speaks about that arrangement under the mysterious title “David Geffen’s Good Works”.

David Geffen`s Good Works

The Secret Of A Hot Hollywood Producer? He Gives The Public What He Likes

February 08, 1987|By Gene Siskel, Movie Columnist.

…Dressed in blue jeans, gym shoes, and a wrinkled blue shirt the diminutive, excitable Geffen currently has a $150-million line of credit at Warner Bros. to make any kind of picture he wants.

Eleven years ago, he turned his back on one of the most prestigious jobs in Hollywood, quitting in disgust after a year as production chief at Warner Bros. He hated the lack of quality control, he said.

He was only 32 years old, and he proceeded to retire for four years. During his retirement he acquired an internationally famous collection of Tiffany lamps, only to sell them when he came out of retirement in 1980 and reestablished his relationship with Warner Bros., but this time as an independent contractor. “I decided I wanted to live according to my taste, not according to my wealth.”

Geffen`s record of success has been linked primarily with one company, Warner Communications. “I`ve been in business with Warners for 17 years, and I`ve made money for Warners for 17 years.“So part of my success,“ he said, “is that I`m given a certain latitude that is not given to others. Virtually no one in the movie business has long-lasting relationships anymore. Everyone out here today is a freelancer who will work for anyone who will hire them.

“But I only work with Warner Bros. That, in turn, means I don`t have the attitude of a lot of people who are in it for the quick buck, saying, in effect, `OK, if it flops, I`ll go to Universal or Paramount.` There`s a totally cavalier attitude in Hollywood today that is completely different from the old days.“

“David`s deal with us is unique among producers in Hollywood,“ said Robert Daley, the Warner Bros. chieftain. “Steve Spielberg is a special case, but he`s a producer-director. David, however, is alone in our industry as a producer in having the contractual right to make any kind of film he wants for us.

Geffen`s reason for quitting in 1976 after a year as production chief at Warners stemmed, he said, from his unwillingness to make a slate of movies he didn`t believe in.

“I don`t think David likes to delegate authority,“ said Robert Daley of Warners. “And David is much better working just on what he loves.“

So the specifics of Geffen was that he as a producer worked only on the projects of his choice and was given a free hand by the Universal chairman to do any movie he liked.

But considering his preference for “championing sex, money and individual achievement as subjects of great personal interest to him” as the NY Times told us, I am not at all sure that he could be inspired by sweet and family-oriented films like Pinocchio, Peter Pan or even Midknight (for example). His interests lay more in the sphere of Broadway “Cats” or movies like Risky Business where a teenager turned his parents’ house into a brothel.

Steve Ross, Warner Bros. chairman

In 1992 Steve Ross died. Geffen’s only comment on his cooperation with his mentor was that he had been nothing but an asset to him, and not a father figure as everyone thinks, and that “Steve didn’t have an easy life”.

May 2, 1993

…In 1975, its chairman,Steven J. Ross, named Geffen vice chairman of Warner Brothers, the company’s Hollywood studio. The job’s corporate and bureaucratic restrictions left him stifled. He quit in 1976, wealthy and unhappy.

It is common lore in Hollywood that Geffen was constantly in search of father figures, and found one in Steve Ross. Actually, the man who proved to be his mentor was Ahmet Ertegun, head of Atlantic Records. “Ahmet took a fatherly interest in me,” Geffen says. “Steve never took a fatherly interest. I was an asset of his.”

In his fears of growing increasingly isolated, Geffen is haunted by the specter of Ross, the chairman of Time Warner who died of cancer last year.Geffen had broken furiously with Ross, his one-time boss in the late 1980’s, after a sharp disagreement over the value of his music company. The breach never healed, even as Ross lay dying.

“He did not have an easy life, Steve,” says Geffen, cryptically. “He didn’t make it easy for other people but he sure didn’t have an easy life.”

Spielberg and Geffen showed their feelings to Steve Ross in remarkably different fashions. Author Nicole LePorte says about it:

“Geffen’s vilification of Ross in the press, even as the older man lay dying of prostate cancer, offended Spielberg, the good son, who remained at Ross’s side, attending the funeral along with Quincy Jones, Paul Simon, and Barbra Streisand, who sang at the service. Geffen received no such invitation. Nor was he asked to the less private memorial – the guest list was several thousand names long – at Carnegie Hall, though he attended anyway.” (p.23)


Indeed, what does all of the above have to do with MJ?

Probably not much, except that we’ve learned about the most powerful players in Hollywood in ‘80s and ‘90s and that “keeping people happy” is a universal method there to keep a star on their hook by saying yes to his every wish, but probably never meaning it.

Now we also know that Steven Spielberg and David Geffen parted ways in 2008 and at the time Craviotto wrote her book they weren’t as close as they had been before.

We also learned about Geffen’s scope of influence in Hollywood and his modus operandi, and the fact that if you are his friend “he will do anything for you”, but if you an enemy (or he perceives you as such) “you might as well kill yourself”. This valuable knowledge should be added to what we already knew about Geffen – that in the ‘80s-‘90s he was one of Michael’s closest advisors and had Michael’s ear for everything he said.

But what we didn’t know yet is that Geffen forced his way into Michael’s inner circle by promising him roles in the movies, and this is where the mystery of his so much power over Michael evidently was.

Remember the New York Times article which said that Geffen does nothing but talks on the phone and says yes and no? That article was written in July 1985 and besides explaining how Geffen went about his business, it also revealed the invaluable fact that sometime in 1982 Geffen said to Jackson: “Let’s make a movie” and this is actually how he “got” him, probably in an effort to lure him to his own Geffen Records label.

Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson and David Geffen at a party in Los Angeles in 1982 (Photo: FilmMagic).

And indeed, by 1985 Michael had received his first movie project from Geffen, which was “Captain EO” to be made at Disney for its theme park – the project was arranged via Geffen’s connection with his friend Katzenberg of course.

So here is the final piece about Geffen’s “Let’s make a movie” suggestion.


By Don Shewey
Published: July 21, 1985

…This September, Geffen will release the new Martin Scorsese film ”After Hours.” By then, the new film version of ”Little Shop of Horrors” will be in production, to be followed by a new movie musical by the screenwriter and lyricist Dean Pitchford. And he recently scored the coup of the year – a deal with Michael Jackson to play his first starring role in the movies.

Thursday: Lunch with Frank DiLeo, Michael Jackson’s personal manager, at the Palm, the kind of Holly-wood steak joint where rock musicians in rooster haircuts mingle with lawyers and agents. Geffen schmoozes with everyone at the door, table-hops, banters and boxes with people in the parking lot afterward. DiLeo, a former CBS promotion man suddenly catapulted into the big time, hangs back shyly. But Geffen keeps an eye out for him. If he is going to be making a movie with Michael Jackson, it wouldn’t do for the manager to feel threatened or left out.

Saturday: Meeting with Michael Jackson to discuss movie projects. Anyone in Hollywood would love to be in business with Michael Jackson, but Geffen got him because he said ”Let’s make a movie” three years ago, before Jackson’s ”Thriller” sold 20 million albums.

Geffen’s ability to present himself as someone who can get things done without going through a corporate bureaucracy is contingent on his alliance with bigger sources of power and money – Steve Ross, Mo Ostin, Bernie Jacobs of the Shubert Organization, co-producer in all his Broadway ventures. They are, in a sense, his bosses. But it’s important to Geffen that he be seen as an equal partner rather than a subordinate. This sometimes amuses them. Ross doesn’t say it in so many words, but implies that the $100-million credit line attributed to Geffen Films is one invented by Geffen. The big guys indulge him because they value his instincts; in return, they get his loyalty. It’s called bonding for power, and it means Geffen can spend less time on boring money matters and more time on the phone dreaming up projects.

The more you look into it, the more discoveries you make and the longer this story gets. So all that hype about the many-million credit Geffen allegedly had with Warner Bros. was actually Geffen’s invention as Steve Ross implies? But how did he manage to convince the media that the $150 million credit for his movies was real?

And what if he convinced Michael Jackson of the same? What a vast new field for research…

In the meantime you can go over this circus once again and judge for yourself the true worth of that 1990 top-secret “Project M” for Michael Jackson, as well as ponder over the reasons why Ms. Craviotto never spoke of Jon Peters’ Midknight and why the name of Warner Bros. was not to be mentioned either.



9 Comments leave one →
  1. March 25, 2018 9:37 am

    Dear readers, sorry, but at the moment I am unable to answer your messages via “Contact me”. The ones already received will be answered later.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Epistles to the King permalink
    March 25, 2018 4:27 pm

    …and people wonder why he preferred the company of kids. At least they didn’t lie (for the most part); they didn’t cheat, manipulate him, or endlessly and obsessively talk about ‘deals’ that were geared toward nothing else but taking advantage of him. This is all very depressing. Thanks for all the work you do on this. This research is extraordinary.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. March 26, 2018 6:05 am

    Thanks for your exhaustive research, Helena. I can confirm that, when I used to visit LA in the mid-late 70s and 80s and stay at the apartment of my friend Cyndi who worked in a number of Hollywood studios, this kind of power play between studio heads was well known by even the lowly staffers, and anyone who kept up with the inside gossip via the Hollywood Reporter etc.


  4. Epistles to the King permalink
    April 1, 2018 11:25 am

    For the record…I’ve fixed my blog’s address so it’s not showing up as “deleted” anymore 🙂 and I can link up to your blog, Helena, and spread the knowledge. Sending love out to you and all fellow fans of this great human being named Michael Jackson. 🙂


  5. ranja schildt permalink
    May 10, 2018 10:53 am

    I agree with Epistles to the King 100%.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. ranja schildt permalink
    May 13, 2018 4:58 pm

    Now more than ever we need Micael Jackson.He travelled the world.and was known all over the world.US has become uncharitable and toxic.


  7. Epistles to the King permalink
    May 13, 2018 6:22 pm

    Thanks Ranja ♥


  8. May 18, 2018 10:40 am

    Sure Michael had to take care of his finances like everybody has. Still, that was not where his heart was.


  9. May 26, 2018 6:35 pm

    You are of course aware of the pedophile rumors surrounding G, K and S? I had heard mention on another blog that they may have been the ones to plant any such evidence at Neverland, if indeed anything was really found there. I had not paid attention to the rumors at the time, but I’ve been dwelling on MJ this past week.

    Forgive me, but I only just found your blog, and I think it will take me a couple years to catch up due to how indepth you are 🙂 You may have already touched on this elsewhere, but the accusations have been growing louder this year in regards to S and G especially.


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