November 7th, 2012
David Geffen
About: Inventing David Geffen

“I’ve always thought that each person invented himself… that we are each a figment of our own imagination. And some people have a greater ability to imagine than others.”

–– David Geffen

David Geffen’s far-reaching influence — as agent, manager, record industry mogul, Hollywood and Broadway producer, and philanthropist — has helped shape American popular culture for the past four decades. Notoriously press and camera-shy, Geffen reveals himself for the first time in the new two-hour documentary.

American Masters: Inventing David Geffen, premieres nationally on Tuesday, November 20, 2012 on PBS (check local listings). It’s an unflinching portrait of Geffen, who narrates his unorthodox rise from working class Brooklyn boy to billionaire entertainment power broker in extensive interviews.

American Masters explores the highs and the lows in Geffen’s professional and personal life through more than 50 new interviews with his friends, colleagues and clients, as well as other media luminaries. Irving Azoff, Jackson Browne, Cher, David Crosby, Clive Davis, Barry Diller, Maureen Dowd, Rahm Emanuel, Nora Ephron, Tom Hanks, Don Henley, Arianna Huffington, Jimmy Iovine, Elton John, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Calvin Klein, Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels, Mike Nichols, Yoko Ono, Frank Rich, Steven Spielberg, Jann Wenner, Neil Young, and many others illustrate Geffen’s riveting story.


Starting out in the William Morris Agency mailroom in 1964, Geffen channeled his ambition by devoting himself to his work and perfecting the art of the deal. He launched the early successes of Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jackson Browne, the Eagles, Tom Cruise in Risky Business (1983), and Guns N’ Roses through his companies Geffen/Roberts Management, Asylum Records, Geffen Records, and Geffen Pictures. In 1994 he co-founded DreamWorks SKG with Spielberg and Katzenberg, the first new Hollywood studio in more than 50 years, which went on to release Oscar®-winning Best Pictures American Beauty (1999), Gladiator (2000) and A Beautiful Mind (2001), as well as animated features, including the Shrek franchise. Geffen also produced the Broadway musicals Cats (1982) and Dreamgirls (1981), and helped realize the Golden Globe-winning 2006 film adaptation. Witty and self-aware, Geffen admits, “I have no talent except for being able to enjoy and recognize it in others.”

A multi-millionaire by 1972 and a billionaire by 1995, Geffen became one of the earliest — and consistently one of the largest — contributors to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Through his philanthropic efforts and media heavyweight status, Geffen became an important political voice, first as an early supporter of Bill Clinton and later for Barack Obama, helping harness early support in the creative community during his 2008 presidential campaign.

Notorious for his fierce loyalty, bluntness and chutzpah, Geffen has not avoided conflict or controversy. American Masters Inventing David Geffen addresses his rifts with Laura Nyro, the Eagles, and the Clintons, his lawsuit against Neil Young, his unsuccessful stint at Warner Bros. Pictures, his whirlwind romance with Cher, and his struggles with cancer, homosexuality, and the AIDS-related deaths of his friends, including Michael Bennett. In 2010 Geffen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2011 he received the GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons® President’s Merit Award.

* * *
American Masters is made possible by the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding for American Mastersis provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Jack Rudin, Vital Projects Fund, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers. Additional support for this program is provided by the Ziff Family.

  • Linda Berry

    I love your program and have followed it faithfully but I’m writing to ask that you reformat the way in which you title your programs. It used to be American Masters – Johnny Carson (for example) now it is Johnny Carson – American Masters. As you list the name of your subject first, it’s impossible for me to capture your program with my DVR as the title in essence is never the same : [ I attempt to watch for your broadcast but because of a breakup of the local PBS station I’m never sure is it’s being shown on KCET or KDOC or KOCE or ???
    Help please, I don’t want to miss any and think I may have missed Woody Allen? I follow you on Facebook but again, am not always confident of the time zone you are promoting in your posts.


  • Gabriel Meyers

    Hello Linda,

    Thanks so much for your comment. I apologize for your frustration about the titling of the program. Occasionally we reformat our titles for publicity purposes. That said, if you’re interested, I can put you on our email list. Then you will receive notifications of our upcoming programming so you will be prepared and know what to DVR.

    KOCE, which is now PBS SoCal, is our primary station in LA.

    Thanks again.

  • Rachel

    Blahhhhhh blahhhhhhhhhh blahhhhhhhhhhh.

  • JLS

    David made his first Million representing Laura Nyro. It will be interesting how this film addresses that. She took him to the next level.

  • Anita

    I have the same problem as expressed above – my dvr has always been set to record “American Masters” and since you’re now listing the show under different names, I am missing them. Please go back to calling them all American Masters so we can find them, wherever they run. Thank you.

  • Charles

    Narcissist. “… some people have a greater ability to imagine than others.” Really? And dumb luck plays absolutely no part in it at all? Well, I imagine I won’t be watching. I’m not even sure how I go to this page. Bye now.

  • Ben Johnsin

    Same DVR listing issue here

  • Larry Miller

    One little thing. Joni Mitchell had already established her career with 4 very successful albums on Reprise before David “discovered” her and signed her to his record label. Tell the truth.

  • Keith

    Most PBS shows are available for streaming. Is there any chance this or other American Masters episodes, will be available for streaming?

  • Jeff

    I don’t DVR because I don’t have cable. When will I be able to watch this again??

  • Jesse

    I think it’s so fantastic that actual viewers get to register their metadata problems directly with the content producers… I love the internet!

  • cheryl brownell

    please add me to the email notifying people with DVR problems recording American Masters. Thanks!

  • Tim Mcg

    So weird that PBS would consider an agent-type out for himself at all times and signifying nothing at all that is positive, to be an: “American Master”.
    Is this is what our ideals have descended to ?

  • Kim

    I think this program on David Geffen is fascinating! It’s been a long time since someone could lie, cheat, and bullshit his way to the top!!!!

  • Evin Jones

    I loved the show,Mr.Geffen was very ambitious and demanding about what he wanted from
    His artist and record label.I would love to build my record label,i am impressed with Mr.Geffen

  • Ted

    This program was well done. Geffen is a facsinating man. Thanks for producing this!


    WOW. The David Geffin story was beyond wondeful. His love of music and rock and roll was wonderful and very much appreciated.
    Keep up the GREAT work as always.

  • Yo!

    It’s a very fine, well produced profile of Mr. Geffen. His contribution to our popular culture and our political and social landscape cannot be overestimated. However, we should remember that he is not the Second Messiah. Nor the third or forth. As the program progressed, there was a sense he was being exalted even though those who were describing him, were not painting a pretty picture. As if being vindictive and mean spirited is to be admired as a means to conduct business. Where is the dignity in that? But I know in show business and politics, surely I’m missing the point.

  • amy merz

    I am completely inspired and energized after viewing this documentary. I am intrigued by the way David managed both creative and business focused teams. So many interviews shed light on his commitment to both, and his ability to navigate biz needs while keeping focused on the integrity of the “product”. Such a great lesson to all of us.
    What struck me was the human aspect shared. His story showed the art form and creatively of managing …and a focus allowing the artist to create while keeping in mind how to market and who to market to. David set up his “team” to shine.
    Thank you for sharing this story!!!
    Creativity comes in many forms…his is certainly a creative story!

  • Discovered DavidGeffen

    Always wondered what was so great about this guy.

    Now I understand, Has he written a book about how he does business in details?

    Interesting that he is a man that says what he thinks, if were a woman, would he had made it that far?


    Any good books about him?

  • Discovered David Geffen

    There was an intriguing quote by somebody on the show:”David will do anything for you if you are his friend, if you are his enemy might as well kill yourself”

    Please ELABORATE with examples….:)

  • Susan Keefner

    The version of There’s No Business Like Show Business towards the end of the show was different from any I’d heard before. Was it Ethel Merman or someone else?

  • Pablo

    Re the American Masters segment on David Geffen, I NEED someone’s help. In one of the last scenes, a fellow is sitting on the ground playing an acoustical guitar, singing a song sounding like ‘I Like To Dream’… It looks as if Jackson Browne is next to him, and he is surrounded by people. He’s really cooking, EVERYONE is digging what he’s playing. I DON’T KNOW WHO HE IS and am dying to find out. The song he’s playing (only the few bars of it they aired) really gets me, and clearly the guy ‘has it’!
    If anyone can tell me, and how I can get some of this guy’s music, PLEASE tell me.
    Paul Cate

  • JK

    Just saw the David Geffen special on PBS – enjoyed it. Thanks :)

  • Stephen

    I thought it rather ironic that a two hour tribute to the life and times of a Hollywood mogul would be followed by a FRONTLINE report on children living in poverty (Poor Kids). As a teacher with experience on Indian reservations and inner city poor, it always amazes me how these kids (and their parents!) have been duped into believing the cool life is that of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. After all are these not the main ingredient of so many of tinsel town’s success “stories”. And to be sure that message has been internalized by several generations of Americans who lack the benefit of better role models.

    It is NOT entertainment when the intellect and business acumen of so many talented people in Hollywood are devoted to products that bring young people down instead of instilling a higher vision for our common good. No, it is apparent that good ole liberal Hollywood has a hefty stake in the exploitation of the young and innocent of our nation.

  • Laurie Rubel

    That was a fabulous documentary on David Geffen. Told me lots of things I never knew and provided meaningful insight into a complicated personality. Thank you!

  • Carson porter

    I understand you want to promote your product and are working to get the most eyes on your programs as possible. BUT, why alienate the viewers who deem your program so essential that they set their recording devices to pick up each and every airing of American Masters?

    When you change the name of the program listing you confuse the feeble minds of the common DVR. Please find a way to title your programs “American Masters” first and anything else second.

  • Stephen

    The show on Geffen was awesome!

  • Susan M

    I enjoyed the way his quotes were interspersed as subheadings, it was a thread of voice well used.

    Was this a one-time airing or will it be shown again- I’l like friends on the East Coast to see it- what a great example of someone’s using their heightened intelligences!

  • Debbie Sekera

    I just wanted to leave a comment that this show was fantastic. I loved learning about how David got his start, he worked hard and deserves all of his successes. Does everyone recognize that it was his people skills and his ability to relate to his clients that made him that much better than his competition? No doubt he was a smart business man too. What an interesting and wonderful man. I am just a fan of music and found his history so fascinating.

    Thank you for a wonderful program. I hope you tell him my thoughts.

    Signed, Mom of 3 boys,
    Debbie Sekera
    Hoffman Estates, IL.

  • Tina

    Thank you David Geffen, PBS and Susan Lacy!!!

    This production absolutely saved a night of desperate Tv programming and was a story I have followed all my life and I was riveted. The interviews were priceless as were the photographs. Its about time DGs personal story arc was put up there for all to see. It is a true story of a Titan. One who brought a gay representatiion into the light and his modern internal psychology to art and culture.

  • Tina

    Thank you DG, Susan Lacy and PBS!!! Talk about long overdue! This saved a TV night of dismal programming and I was riveted. God Bless you David Geffen…you have made a profound impact on the world and I am so grateful for all your chutzpah!!!

  • Todd Wyner

    “Inventing David Geffen” was a really good documentary. Ever since Joni Mitchell’s 1974 release “Court and Spark” I knew Mr. Geffen played an important role in the success of his clients and recording artists. “I.D.G.” did a good job exploring Mr. G’s horizontal and vertical integration in the entertainment industry. Not everyone knows his expansion into live musical theatre but they certainly know about his growth into motion pictures. Not everyone knew his involvement in “Risky Business”, the slingshot movie formally launching Tom Cruise’s career, nor did they remember his involvement with such late 80’s artists as “Guns ‘n Roses” which was arguably the most successful band as the musical landscape shifted from big hair metal to greasy hair grunge.

    It’s easy to get hung up on the alleged or genuine negative elements that permeate Mr. G.’s life story. I am unphased by them because the free market business world demands such catalysts as he; all of us know this and we have seen it for more than 125 years in the history of industrialized America as the Titans of Industry have all marched to the sea in order to succeed, grow, and prosper (and that includes clients and employees too.)

    As a gay Jewish male from the northeast I am proud of Mr. Geffen’s achievements. As a rock music fan, in particular, the AOR genre of rock music, I understand how Mr. Geffen has figuratively added his own wing to the pantheon for the all-time great entainment industry business genuises.

    Mr. Geffen, could you use a pool boy or office schlep?!
    Shalom aleichem.

  • J

    Loved the film!! very inspiring.

  • Albert Williams

    This film (I just saw it last night on Chicago’s WTTW) was absolutely wonderful. I knew David Geffen by name, and I knew that Joni Mitchell wrote “Free Man in Paris” about him, but I didn’t really appreciate how deeply influential he has been on our culture. I was 18 when I “discovered” Laura Nyro (and how much better her own recordings of her songs were than the pop covers by folks like Blood Sweat & Tears and Fifth Dimension) and I loved her first few records, then I sort of wondered why the magic seemed to drain out of her talent. I think now I know: the artist needs his/her nurturer/patron, and her talent lost its magic around the time she broke with Geffen. Anyway, I didn’t realize that it was David Geffen who paved the way for her recording career. I feel such a bond with him now, because we shared musical tastes — Joni Mitchell and the Eagles as well as Nyro. I also greatly admire Geffen for helping sink Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign as payback for the Clinton presidency’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” sell-out. Though I respect Mrs. Clinton, neither she nor her husband has forthrightly apologized for the damage that policy inflicted on so many lives and on our nation. So — bravo to David Geffen and kudos to the makers of this documentary!

  • Bill Erdle

    I had to leave a comment because I so much enjoyed this show. Mr. Geffen is truly an exceptional person who has left a tremendous impact through the years. In a way, I think he personifies the dream most all of us have in this country, and that is we have a chance, regardless of our upbringing, to make it here, and Mr. Geffen did this exceedingly well. I applaud his success, and I admire his abilities. I feel proud that he is an American. Mr. Geffen, thank you for all you have given us.

  • Doug S.

    Once again, screwed by my local PBS station, KUAT in Tucson! Is this episode airing anytime soon? No. Why not? Lord knows. Would I gladly pay you (PBS) to see this episode via iTunes, Amazon, etc.? Absolutely. Please free me from the pathetic programmers at KUAT!

  • rick Olson

    Hello, I watched Inventing David Geffen last night in Tempe AZ. KAET. It was outstanding. Great Job. Being a musician myself i loved all the old clips.
    Keep up the good work folks.
    Rick Olson

  • yolanda

    When will “Inventing David Geffen” be repeated on PBS?

  • Jay Bee

    Laura Nyro also pulled the rug out from under him. Watch the film.

  • Lilly Diamond

    Wow! I really enjoyed watching the life of the little Jewish Boy, Geffen. It is wonderful that David was willing to talk about his successes and failures so candidly. I think all Jewish mothers are surprised at our successes. lol

  • sandi

    Please tell me the David Geffen story is airing again? It’s not listed anywhere.

  • andrew woroniecki

    I am just amazed that he went to high school just around my corner where I grew up. It is amazing how his mind was so determind, persistant, diversified, committed and aggresive. He really was able to use his voice to get where he is. He used what he already had inside of him. He did not have to invent anything new.

  • Patrick

    I enjoy PBS but find it difficult to get a schedule online since the website isn’t set up intuitively.
    Selecting “schedule” requires me to enter an American postal code (i am living in Canada) AND depending on the cable provider (an independent) it may or may not coincide with the posted ones.
    As i can search shows much easier than schedules I believe it would be easier if after finding each show there was a link below it taking you directly to the schedule for that show.


  • Pamela Anderson

    AMAZING story well done and here comes an Emmy! Do not miss ~ Inventing David Geffen ~

  • Jewell Sherman

    i thought the David Geffen American Masters episode was insightful and gave a clear and interesting picture of a very complex man. Laura Nyro remains my favorite artist of all times and it was so informative to learn about the role David Geffen played in her career. If she had gone with Geffen instead of Columbia, perhaps more people would know about her and her songs. American Masters is one of my favorite programs and learning about a contemporary who continues to have great influence in the arts, healtlh and politics.

  • Ann Macias

    Laura Nyro didn’t take Geffen to the next level. If he hadn’t gotten numerous entertainers to record her music she would have never made a name for herself. No one else would have worked that hard for her. She was ungrateful.

  • Pamela Blair

    I was watching your program featuring David Geffen and all was good until he got to the part of describing his life and how he wormed out of serving in Vietnam. He actually had the audacity to seem proud of how he got out of serving our country. Many men and women died there and did not take the cowards route that Geffen chose. I can’t understand how he could be so glorified by your show producers. In my book he is a belly crawling cowardly scumbag. As soon as he bragged about how he got out of serving I changed the channel and was happy that I did. I have two young sons who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Both sons were proud Vermont Green Mountain Boys in the VT National Guard. Neither had ever dreamed that they would go to war not once but twice, but both served with valor and honor, something that Geffen would never understand. I will never watch your show again because I hold no truck with glorifying cowards.

  • Mark MacKay (@markmackay)

    Why all the kvetching? Susan Lacy made a great documentary. I loved it. The editing was deft and developed the presence of a welcome character – I looked forward to quotes, stills and other elements being woven into the story. It was a fine way for me to rediscover a time I lived through but didn’t know until now.

  • Kasey

    I loved this insightful look into who David Geffen is. He is my new hero by keeping true to himself and his beliefs no matter what power player he was interacting with. You go David! I never related so closely to a bio-documentary before, I really got the real feel for the journey he has made thru the decades. Keep on smiling David it’s a beautiful smile you got there :)

  • Kenneth Lee Jones

    Didn’t know anything about David Geffen until I saw this PBS documentary. I was fascinated because he’s gay, successful, extremely wealthy, out spoken, and appears to have a lot of integrity. As such, he’s a great spokesperson for all gay men.

  • wd murray

    Just like Linda and Anita, I miss some of your shows because you do not have a consistent name for your show. I suppose others miss your show as well. Too bad nothing can be done…

  • SD

    Yes, JLS; it’s incredible that PBS has never done a special on a great artist like Laura Nyro, who made Geffen his first million with her musical talent, yet they honor David Geffen as an American Master! What artistic talent does he have? None. What a joke PBS has become.

  • AnneS

    I’ve done lots of reading about Laura Nyro since I watched this show. I suggest the people who badmouth her also do some reading. Number one, she was about 19-20 years old, and not the least bit interested in fame. She was a musician, period. He split the money earned from her compositions 50-50 with her. Her mother apparently despised him and there was talk that he was cheating her out of money. When she didn’t sign with Asylum, he cried for “days and days”? Really?????

  • randy

    I very much enjoyed the Geffen show. Please add me to the e-mail list to receive American Masters schedule. Thanks.

  • Theresa

    Informative documentary. Some of the things Geffen did were actually inspiring. I find it a little funny that he pretty much got started by LYING on a job application. The fact that he was afraid of war and avoided the draft by admitting he was gay, then years later had a grudge against Clinton for the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Those 2 things made me think, “What a frickin 2bit lying hypocrite”. But he did have an eye for talent. So what Nyro didn’t sign w/ Asylum. It obviously didn’t phase him. The man’s got pros n cons. Don’t we all?

  • Gregg

    What a wonderful documentary, especially for those of us who had some notion of David Geffen’s history but not the entire scope of his accomplishments. For those posting here who are awaiting a rebroadcast, the entire show is right here!

  • JustinF

    Will this American Masters episode with David Geffen be rebroadcast? It is extremely difficult to navigate your website when it comes to locating repeat broadcasts of programs for recording on DVR. Please address this issue!

  • CharlieNS

    Not a big PBS viewer, but stumbled on this program by accident and couldn’t turn it off. Absolutely fascinating. Both the program (and it appears the man himself) never really concealed the moral grey zone necessarily occupied by someone going from nothing to billionaire tastemaker. Wonderful portrait of a charming, driven and ultimately more likeable-than-not ‘hustler’ ultimate American success story. Fantastic television!

  • Bill Sain

    Very much enjoyed the documentary on David Geffen…lots of interesting information…I was not aware that Joni Mitchell wrote “Free Man in Paris” for and about DG…it makes so much sense…David was driven to succeed…he recognized talented artists and did everything he could to ensure that talented artists had the opportunity to publish their music…sure, he made lots of money from other people’s talent, but he worked energetically for them…Bravo, David!!!

  • John B

    When will the David Geffen episode be rebroadcast, please?

  • GwenS

    I taped the David Geffen story, as I record all American Masters on PBS. Oh, dear, I’ve watched it at least four times now. What a fascinating story! The complexity of this man is riveting and it must have been incredible to know and work with this committed and brilliant person. Thank you for bringing this story.

  • Joeself

    I’m glad to see other people sticking up for Laura Nyro. There were definitely two sides to that story from what I’ve read in her Biography “Soul Picnic” and other places. I’m grateful to David Geffen for nurturing her, bringing her to the world and I identify with him for being so taken with her and her music but they came to a fork in the road as far as careers go. She just wanted to be an artist (as her father says in the book) on the east coast. She didn’t care about fame (or money to a great extent at all. Just her music. She never wanted to be a star. She was more a fine artist than a commercial artist. He wanted to be a successful businessman on the west coast. And SHE felt betrayed by HIM too. As someone else has said, he got 50% of the money she made. She was very conflicted about leaving Columbia for Asylum and had conflicting loyalties between Clive Davis at Columbia and David Geffen. His story is just one facet of the situation. It’s a shame that it is the only one many people will see and will walk away with a bad impression of Laura when it isn’t justified. In the book, even David Geffen says there was no reason for her to make amends to him because “Our lives were the answer to it. And we both knew it”. He became commercially “successful” and she perservered as an artist with great integrity, originality and talent

  • tom

    Please show this again. I loved watching Reinventing David Geffan.
    However you only showed it on two nights.
    One of them thanksgiving.
    This gave the viewer a historical glimpse of the music and movie world.
    So well done, I hope you show it again.



  • Hualani

    A more offensive personality could not have been portrayed . The belief in free speach includes the right to express views we find offensive. It is harder for me to see these persons listed as American “Masters”. The tribute to Elia Kazan was likewise distasteful to many who understood the Holywood Blacklist and those that chose to rat out thier colleagues. im not the only viewer to feel Geffen too wouldve sold his mother to the jailer for a quarter. Momentarily I thought the attributes too ugly to endure for 2 hours viewing, until the undertones arose in discussion:”What does this society reward? and how do we remember them in history? The lingering questions will be “Masters of” WHAT?

  • Wynne

    To Paul Cate, one of the previous posters…

    I finally found the song at the end of the doc that sounds like “I Like To Dream.” I looked up the early roster of Asylum artists and found which one he looked like and, ultimately, was and looked up his music. It’s Ned Doheny singing “I Can Dream”


  • Richelle Malinovsky

    This in point of fact answered the downside, thanks!

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