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When Hollywood Had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent into Power and Influence Paperback – July 13, 2004


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When Hollywood Had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent into Power and Influence + The Mailroom: Hollywood History from the Bottom Up + The Hollywood Assistants Handbook: 86 Rules for Aspiring Power Players
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (July 13, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812972171
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812972177
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #952,327 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Lew Wasserman arrived in Hollywood in 1939 to help Jules Stein transform MCA from a band-booking company into a talent agency for movie stars. He did that and a whole lot more, as award-winning business reporter Bruck makes clear in this absolutely riveting account of power-broking in Tinseltown. Wasserman's career possesses a kind of epic symmetry: by freeing the stars of the 1940s from the servitude of studio contracts, he effectively ended the era of the movie moguls, only to become the greatest mogul of them all. But, as Bruck explains in painstaking but absorbing detail, Wasserman redefined the role of the mogul. In the days of Warner, Mayer, et al., the moguls operated their individual fiefdoms, largely independent of one another; Wasserman wanted it all, and eventually, as MCA morphed into Universal Studios, he got it--not a fiefdom but the whole empire. Television, we learn, was the key. Whereas the old guard saw TV as a threat and attempted to close ranks against it, Wasserman saw it as the future and sought to dominate it. Long before content became a buzzword for the Internet generation, Wasserman bought Paramount Pictures' film library for peanuts and peddled it to the networks for millions. With the gusto of Howard Cosell at ringside, Bruck reports on business coup after business coup, showing not only how Wasserman roped his dopes but also how he acquired the leverage (Mob lawyer Sidney Korshak helped) to do so. This is the most revealing look at the business of Hollywood since Robert Evans growled his way through The Kid Stays in the Picture (1994). Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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A well written bio of one of the most powerful men in Hollywood and so much more.
Amazon Customer
His connection to the mob and to American presidents, such as Johnson and Nixon, is terribly interesting, as is the continuing fascination of Hollywood with power.
David Schweizer
One of the most fascinating men of modern time, Lew Wasserman became the most powerful figure in the entertainment industry.
Tom Bookey

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on July 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Cinema fans of a certain age will no doubt recall the grand films of the 1940s and 1950s with a wry thought of "They don't make them like that anymore." The current boffo box office consists of pyrotechnical sequels starring beefcake (and cheesecake) performers, not matinee idols like Peck, Hepburn, Bogart and Lancaster.
But in the old days . . .
Connie Bruck, a veteran writer for The New Yorker, has compiled this fulsome biography of Lew Wasserman, one of the most powerful movers and shakers of an era when movies were virtually the only form of popular entertainment. The power wielded by Wasserman and his contemporaries could mean the difference between professional (and sometimes personal) life and death. (Bruck often discusses the Hollywood "gang" in terms of organized crime. Indeed, there was a great deal of dubious dealings with labor unions, often considered under the concern of the gangster trade.)
Wasserman was the type of leader who drew a mixture of respect and fear. He was "an entertainment mogul without peer," according to one admirer. To another, "he had an aura. He was my god." And like many such men, "his explosive tirades were legend."
Most of the book concerns the wheelings and dealings of the industry. For such a potentially juicy subject, Bruck dishes very little dirt/gossip. Instead she seems more concerned with the financial aspects, which readers will either find fascinating or tedious. There is often too much background that detracts from the overall sense of entertainment a book like this would seem to merit. In fact, Wasserman isn't even mentioned until well into the first chapter. Even the title is a bit hard to get through.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
When Hollywood was King and MCA ruled through aggressive, imaginative, creative, dirty, underhanded, political ways. This is not my favorite Hollywood book as I found "Showman, the life of David O. Selznick" by David Thomson and Peter Biskind's "easy Riders, Raging Bulls" far more entertaining. But Connie Bruck's book is more epic, covering as it does the business careers of Jules Stein and Lew Wassermann from the 1920s into the 21st Century in addition to telling the history of their company MCA and the industry they "ruled". Note I reference business careers because these individuals did not seem to have a personal life that did not revolve around business. There is not much surprising celebrity scandal that unfolds, except some strong hints that Ronald Reagan was a charming empty suit who received many sweetheart deals from the industry and he gave back in return. In some ways the Wasserman life story told here is one of the rise and fall, the young mans glory being used by younger students against him. And even though MCA associated with the mob and the mob with them Wasserman gave heavily to his industry and charity. A book for anyone interested in the history of Hollywood as a business in the 20th century.
An epic work that I highly recommend.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Long ago, I recall someone suggesting that diplomacy is "letting others have it your way." (I forget who said it.) As I read Bruck's holograph (it's more than a portrait) of Lew Wasserman, I was reminded of that observation. According to her account, Wasserman had a special talent for achieving his objectives while preserving cordial relationships with a wide and diverse range of potential antagonists. For example, with the heads of various studios with whom he aggressively negotiated on behalf of MCA's clients; with James Hoffa from whose union Wasserman hired 15,000 members; and with other talent agents after MCA became a major producer of films and television programs. As I completed reading this book, I felt gratitude for the brilliant presentation of the material about Wasserman but I was also favorably impressed by Bruck's demonstration of skills which we normally associate with a cultural anthropologist. As we all know, "Hollywood" is far less significant (if significant at all) as a place than it is as a state-of-mind. Bruck appropriately establishes Wasserman as the gravitational center of her book but she also probes deeply into basic sources of power and influence within the evolving culture of the entertainment industry, sources which remain long after Wasserman was no longer actively involved. For me, the entertainment value of Bruck's book is derived much less from the glitz and glamor of stardom of "Tinseltown" than it does from her examination of all manner of business issues, relationships, and conflicts. It is impossible to understand who Wasserman was and to appreciate what he achieved without correlating his personality and career with the history, economics, art, politics, and psychology of the empire over which he reigned for so many years.Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By William Hare on July 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
When Lew Wasserman was growing up in his native Cleveland the Horatio Alger books were popular. They traced the rise of often penniless young men to the high pinnacles of economic and social power. I do not know if Wasserman read any of these stories in his boyhood, but he certainly ended up living them.
Beginning as a theater usher and later becoming a musician, Wasserman hooked up with Jules Styne and began booking musical acts. The dynamic duo recognized that the swing era of bands, which was their bailiwick, would have a limited life span. The Music Corporation of America then expanded into the world of motion pictures, retaining the name of an organization that sounds like and began as a company rooted in the movie field. One of Wasserman's clients in the late thirties was a young actor under contract to Warner Brothers by the name of Ronald Reagan. He would later be in a major position to assist Wasserman and MCA both as president of the Screen Actors Guild and beyond that as U.S. President. Reagan would always remain a bit miffed, however, that Wasserman, who developed solid relationships with presidents Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton, would retain his reputation as a loyal Democrat and hence supported Reagan's opponents. The firm was crafty, however, in keeping a foot in each camp, with Jules Styne and Taft Schreiber supporting Republicans assiduously. This factor helped when Reagan and Richard Nixon were in office.
Connie Bruck has provided an impressive body of research, including numerous interviews with the late Wasserman as well as those who worked with him and knew him well. Her industry pays off in the form of a fascinating study of a man who rose meteorically through the agent's ranks to become the supreme giant of the motion picture industry, the man others feared and envied, often at the same time.
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