In When Hollywood Had a King, the distinguished journalist Connie Bruck tells the sweeping story of MCA and its brilliant leader, a man who transformed the entertainment industry— businessman, politician, tactician, and visionary Lew Wasserman.
The Music Corporation of America was founded in Chicago in 1924 by Dr. Jules Stein, an ophthalmologist with a gift for booking bands. Twelve years later, Stein moved his operations west to Beverly Hills and hired Lew Wasserman. From his meager beginnings as a movie-theater usher in Cleveland, Wasserman ultimately ascended to the post of president of MCA, and the company became the most powerful force in Hollywood, regarded with a mixture of fear and awe.
In his signature black suit and black knit tie, Was-serman took Hollywood by storm. He shifted the balance of power from the studios—which had seven-year contractual strangleholds on the stars—to the talent, who became profit partners. When an antitrust suit forced MCA’s evolution from talent agency to film- and television-production company, it was Wasserman who parlayed the control of a wide variety of entertainment and media products into a new type of Hollywood power base. There was only Washington left to conquer, and conquer it Wasserman did, quietly brokering alliances with Democratic and Republican administrations alike.
That Wasserman’s reach extended from the underworld to the White House only added to his mystique. Among his friends were Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, mob lawyer Sidney Korshak, and gangster Moe Dalitz—along with Presidents Johnson, Clinton, and especially Reagan, who enjoyed a particularly close and mutually beneficial relationship with Wasserman. He was equally intimate with Hollywood royalty, from Bette Davis and Jimmy Stewart to Steven Spielberg, who began his career at MCA and once described Wasserman’s eyeglasses as looking like two giant movie screens.
The history of MCA is really the history of a revolution. Lew Wasserman ushered in the Hollywood we know today. He is the link between the old-school moguls with their ironclad studio contracts and the new industry defined by multimedia conglomerates, power agents, multimillionaire actors, and profit sharing. In the hands of Connie Bruck, the story of Lew Wasserman’s rise to power takes on an almost Shakespearean scope. When Hollywood Had a King reveals the industry’s greatest untold story: how a stealthy, enterprising power broker became, for a time, Tinseltown’s absolute monarch.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: When Hollywood Had a King|
|Release Date: 06-03-2003|
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|Publisher: Random House Publishing Group|
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When Hollywood Had a King
The two caesars
On a spring day in Chicago in 1922, two young men stood deep in conversation on the sidewalk outside the headquarters of Local 10, a branch of the American Federation of Musicians union. They might have conferred inside the building instead-one of them, James Caesar Petrillo, was the local's vice president-but he thought the walls had ears, and the message he wanted to deliver was confidential. He had sent word to his companion, Jules Caesar Stein, that he wanted to see him. Stein was a recent medical school graduate who booked bands on the side, and, in his relatively short career, he had already run afoul of the musicians union, and gotten caught in the crossfire of Chicago's ongoing, internecine labor wars. It seemed, moreover, to be Petrillo's fire that had caught Stein; the bombs that had recently exploded at several Chinese restaurants where Stein was booking bands were Petrillo's handiwork, Stein was convinced. At one of them, the Canton Tea Garden on Wabash, the damage had been especially severe. But the nature of the band-booking business-and more, of the city itself-was such that Stein had little recourse. If he wanted to continue in this business, he had to make his peace with this, the dominant musicians union. So he was eager to hear what Petrillo had to say.
Stein had entered this business at a young age-he was only seventeen when he began assembling and booking bands as a means of putting himself through school-but he had grasped the power of the union from the start. In the first few years, he had booked bands mainly in summer resort areas, always employing members of the Federation (AFM). But one summer, unable to fill an