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When Hollywood Had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent Into Power and Influenceby Connie Bruck
Synopses & Reviews
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, Wasserman 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.
"[A] thorough, balanced and insightful biography, which is likely to stand as the definitive account of Wasserman's remarkable career....
"Much more than a celebrity-studded tale, Bruck's work offers a look at the corporate machinations behind the film industry's myths." Publishers Weekly
"[An] absolutely riveting account of power-broking in Tinseltown...the most revealing look at the business of Hollywood since Robert Evans." Booklist (Starred Review)
"A monumental piece of work, stuffed to the gills with both clean and dirty secrets..." Kirkus Reviews
"He helped me become president, he helped me stay president, he helped me be a better president." Bill Clinton
"[Bruck's] exhaustive and balanced portrait will be remembered as the definitive one....Despite its ponderous pace at times, When Hollywood Had a King tells that story remarkably well." Boston Globe
"Those looking for gushier or more tinseled fare will be happier with a star bio; this is down and somewhat dirty from Page One." Detroit Free Press
"When Hollywood Had a King succeeds at the daunting task of nailing down people who by their very nature were slippery as eels. Even so, however, it is not so much about Wasserman's life as it is about an era..." The Washington Post
"Ultimately, Bruck's tome is a hollow epic; though packed with detailed reporting that methodically colors in the context of Wasserman's era, it still leaves readers wondering about the man behind this enormous myth." Newsday
"[F]ascinating...a methodical portrait of an often secretive mogul whose vindictiveness, cunning and temper matched his shrewdness and prescience....Bruck's research is impressive, and so are the results." Bernard Weinraub, The New York Times Book Review
"[O]ffers all the elements of a Jackie Collins novel: ambition, power, corruption, money and glamour....It's unlikely that the extremely private Wasserman would have enjoyed seeing the details of his business deals and marriage in print." San Francisco Chronicle
"Bruck has done a superb job in creating a word picture of Wasserman and his world. She's a wonderful writer, and the words just flow. There's not a comma out of place in this book." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Bruck has written the sort of elegy the old man would probably have liked — not a swooning romantic portrait in Fitzgerald's starstruck manner, but a neatly totaled, double-entry ledger..." Richard Schickel, The Los Angeles Times
"Bruck's research is outstanding...and her approach is thorough. The result is a remarkable volume about high-level wheeling and dealing....[A] fascinating read and a solid resource." Library Journal
About the Author
Connie Bruck has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1989; she frequently writes about business and politics. In 1996, her profile of Newt Gingrich won the National Magazine Award for reporting, her second. Bruck is the author of Master of the Game and The Predators' Ball. She lives in Los Angeles.
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