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3.0 out of 5 stars A Respectful Look at Lew Wasserman, July 25, 2003
This review is from: When Hollywood Had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent into Power and Influence (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.
Another concern is that the author can't quite decide the direction of her book. The depth of research indicates a scholarly tome, but the voice seems more "popular" in nature.
Taken as a whole, however, Bruck offers a respectful look at Wasserman and a homage to the system when, to paraphrase a popular expression of today's younger crowd, "Hollywood ruled."
--- Reviewed by Ron Kaplan
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