Magazine article American Libraries

Quick Bibs: Movie Moguls. (Collection Development)

Magazine article American Libraries

Quick Bibs: Movie Moguls. (Collection Development)

Article excerpt

Ever since I read Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon, I've been a sucker for books about the great movie moguls. The mix of art and commerce, glamour and street smarts, makes stories about Thalberg, Mayer, Warner, Goldwyn, et al., irresistible on multiple levels. Equally as fascinating as the story of the moguls, however, is the saga of the man who ended their reign. In a new hook called When Hollywood Had a King, Connie Bruck explains in riveting detail how Lew Wasserman came to California in the 1930s as a talent agent and set about destroying the moguls' fabled studio system. What did Wasserman do after bringing the moguls to their knees? Become one himself, of course; but a new kind of mogul, if anything a more powerful version--one king ruling an entire country rather than a group of princes with independent fiefdoms.

Reading the Wasserman book sent me back to some of my favorite mogul biographies, which, in turn, has led me to a couple of conclusions: First, a business tycoon's life is interesting in inverse proportion to his or her formal education. (There's nothing like an MBA to kill a good biography.) Second, the history of Hollywood as a business offers vivid proof of literary critic Harold Bloom's theory about the "anxiety of influence": Great artists, Bloom says, achieve greatness by the way they reinterpret, or misread, their predecessors. Sam Goldwyn, not nearly as educated as Bloom, put it this way: "Include me out."

When Hollywood Had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent into Power and Influence by Connie Bruck. 2003. Random, $29.95 (0-375-50168-1).

What a story! MCA agent Wasserman overthrew the moguls in the 1940s by negotiating deals that gave his clients a piece of the profits in their pictures, and then he became a mogul himself, taking over Universal and realizing ahead of time that television was a gold mine for whoever controlled content. Wasserman did just that for more than 40 years, thanks to backroom deal-making with, among others, Mob lawyer Sidney Korshak and a malleable Screen Actors Guild president named Reagan. Bruck follows Wasserman as Wasserman follows the money. It's some journey.

Goldwyn by A. …

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