Transcript:

Speaker So let's start first with this, because you interviewed gave a call that experience. Well, I got to say, some of the things that he quoted that you quoted him as saying, I'd love to say this, some great stuff. I love the.

Speaker You feel that I was a little intimidated, but I've been briefed about him in advance. I knew at first he just didn't want to do the article, period. So it was for Esquire magazine, which had earlier done, I believe, a cover on David and Cher is sitting in the back. And that's when David was briefed. He's going through a Cher period. And it was quite an extraordinary article. And David didn't like it at all.

Speaker And he told me when I when I called him, he said, you know what happened? When I read that article? I threw up. I threw up. And then he said and then I left the country. I went to Brazil for six months. You drove me out of the country. And he went on and on like this for years. I know you didn't know, is it? Well, it's in the article. It's true. He said, I almost I almost had a breakdown. And you and I'm like that for five or six minutes. And finally there was this pause. And I said, David, what time would you like to see me tomorrow at four o'clock and come to my apartment. I'd been schooled in advance that if I just waited out David and let the storm blow over, they'd be fine. He's a wonderful man. I just think he's right. Was the original question skewered?

Speaker No, not at all. I thought I thought was a very positive piece and I'd be. He had disappeared. He had this mysterious disappearance for a year or 18 months to handle this unspecified illness. And what the illness was and how I was to describe it. We had a fairly lengthy negotiation over. And when you negotiate with David Geffen, you'd better be on your tiptoes. Mr. Best. But I was just really enchanted by him because, number one, he seemed fearless. Number two, he just two people in the music industry and was unafraid to talk about them generally in a positive way. Actually convinced me right on the spot that people that executives in the music industry are a lot more interesting than executives in the movie industry. And he had a charm about him and a directness. And I've known him now for 30 odd years, and he has never, ever lied to me or shaded the truth or anything. He's always direct. He tells you what's on the record and off Heselton goes off the record. He's very direct and it's quite unusual. I've covered Hollywood on off for a fair amount of time, and David's the best in terms of being a straight shooter with you. I just think he's a remarkable guy and he's just so smart about so many things. That's the lure.

Speaker He's. And I think this is from your piece. Is he present himself as.

Speaker Yes, that's right. I mean, he thinks he's the two.

Speaker Well, there's a couple of truth tellers as well. Jeffrey Katzenberg is a true. Who is very close to David is another famous. But Jeffrey Lewis, my experience with him is tends to be more cautious about whom who he speaks to and on and on what basis where David is. Well, I think just incredibly fearless.

Speaker And partly it's because of his position. But I think more more than that, I think it's just the way he's built. I mean, he's always been that way. I don't care how much money he's made. No, I understand. He was fearless when he was poor and fearless. And now he's rich. And it's a wonderful thing to say.

Speaker What do you think that comes from? I mean, he's.

Speaker He's really individualistic in a way that most of the management that comes, I think hopefully a lot of it certainly has to do with his upbringing in Brooklyn.

Speaker He talks very fondly about his mother, who was in the girdle and brasier business.

Speaker And he talked about her in a very forthright and was great affection. Ms. Obvious that she was straight with him and he let me slip over into David and that he straight with other people. And then he had this we had difficulties going to college kids from flunked out of one place and withdrew from one place. But he got his real education working in the mailroom for Morris Agency. And there I've talked to other people who worked in the mailroom dealer. I believe Virgil works in the mailroom as well. And accordant you were supposed to read the mail executives. That was your education. And I think it was an extraordinary education for David. And he saw the B.S. in the industry and he saw what was true. And I think he decided that time to go for the truth.

Speaker You know, when you did that, he was a very different person.

Speaker And David. And I think even in your piece, he talks about it, even at that point, he was already sort of moving towards trying to deal with some of the brashness that characterized him. Don't let him at a point where he was cocky. And all this really comes across in the very section that Tony. Great. If you could try to describe that, David.

Speaker That there was an aspect of it that was like a little kid, like he was sort of amazed by but all the wonders he accomplished.

Speaker And he's telling great stories and has perfect sense of humor. I'll never forget when we walked into his living room in Los Angeles, a comfortable house, you know, a very nice house. I mean, clearly a mummy, but comfortable, not lavish at all. But there was a Margaret over the fireplace.

Speaker I don't know the name of a green apple suspended in space said, referring to it as a Margaret. So that was the inspiration for Apple Records. He was like a little kid in that way.

Speaker But a very, very smart, smart one. I think that you referred to what he was like 30 years ago. Well, I was pretty damn brash myself frequently. And I think unless you were hard to miss, you can go through that kind of phase when you grow up to be a fairly dull boy. And David, certainly there's not a doughboy at all.

Speaker This is my big problem. What was what was his reputation in the industry when you first met?

Speaker How was he regarded? Why was he? I think you see him at both the most respected man, beloved man, and the most hated man.

Speaker Well, David had opinions about nearly everything. And they were informed opinions and you were tended to be unafraid about expressing those opinions. And a lot of them were fairly negative about certain people in the industry. And I think deservedly so, that they were justifiably on his path, that they were negative. Most people tend to keep those judgments to themselves.

Speaker David, though, would speak out about them. Yes, I think it's fairly well known that he leaked stuff, too, but by and large, upfront in his opinions. I think there is resentment that he had such a meteoric rise and his method of operating is just unlike other people out there. It's well, it's not just the bluntness, but he really is. It sounds like a cliche, but it's like chess, except that he's four moves ahead of everybody else. He does not come off as an Eastern intellectual at all. That's for sure, though. He's extremely well read. Very bright. You could take a year off him just what, if anything. But he does not give that impression. Instead, it's he loves to talk about his successes so much.

Speaker He likes talking about the business and how it works. And he loves talking about music. And it was used in enchanting in that way. And I remember when he told me he met early in his career, he met just one particular group. And I think they would name something like Pink Pen, Penny whistle when he said he really liked them. He said the only thing he did to change them was he gave them a different name, the Eagles.

Speaker And he said this sweet deadpan and the Eagles were one of the biggest groups ever, period.

Speaker Twenty, twenty, 20 years. And he didn't express surprise.

Speaker I don't recall I don't recall that that he did. But he may well have.

Speaker And I know at one point had a bit of a company, but something I wrote about later when I was covering Phil Spector. David came in into Spector's studio where he was recording. I forget who it might have been, gentlemen. It might have been John Lennon brawling. And David was in the company of Cher. This was their post dating phase, but they were very good friends. And Spector is wired differently than the rest of the population. Extremely volatile and nuts. And for some reason, he got into a rage that David, who at that point had three albums on the top 10 and Spector did not. And David just stood there according to as he related the story. And word of what?

Speaker Well, Spector raged in his face. And then David said quietly, had any hits.

Speaker Let me help out at that point. Spector pulled a gun. It was stuck in the middle of things and calm things down. I plead best. Let's go. Let's go. Let's go. Let's go over. Over. I think you.

Speaker Is that strong?

Speaker No, it's not in the article. He didn't pull again, but he wanted to bring him in oxygen use. He was. If it's not in the article, very dense.

Speaker But of course, he certainly wouldn't be afraid of saying anything about Spector if he did. Don't know what it looked like. I know what we can say. If you if we can go back to that. What, you want me to pick it up from the top? Have you had any hits?

Speaker So, David, listen to this tirade for a while. And finally, you said very quietly men didn't feel had any hits lately, and that just drove Spector completely around the bend. And he balled up his fist and rushed to David like he was trying to beat him up. And Spector is just a small, if not smaller airports share who I think was probably the biggest person in the room. Stop tweeting. Dettman restored peace. It's a wonderful story.

Speaker We do know that Phil Spector recording.

Speaker Did you respect somebody to fill somebody there? I tend to be honest. We all know how crazy.

Speaker I want to talk a little bit about what he said to you in the interview that the beast was the monster was taken within.

Speaker Really talk about what do you think he meant by that? Who was he before? What did he do?

Speaker I think he knows a lot more brash and a lot more arms and elbows before.

Speaker But then he did contract this illness or so he was told. And he was. It was a variety of cancer. And it was told that it was fatal. And there was no fixing it. And so he spent at least a year, might have been 18 months off by himself, not out by himself, but removed from Hollywood. He thought some. And he also spent a lot of time in the West Indies. I think we've put a cobra. If I'm not mistaken. And he had a lot of time for reflection. And if you give anybody that much time for reflection, I think it tends. I think he looked at it himself and his life and what made him happy and what didn't make him happy and how he's relating to other people. He certainly cares about other people and deeply he has very close friendships with a number of people. I like to count him as my friend. And I think that would actually change a person. There's Sartre wrote this wonderful piece called The Wall, and it's about a guy who's going to be executed. And it's led to the war in his apartment, Swallow Rajko just before they're about to fire a commutation. Come, sir. And it completely changes. And the guy who was going to be executed, you're just different after that. And David was staring death in the face. I've been through an experience like that in my own reporting. And I had some time for reflection when I was a prisoner of war. But it does. It really is in a way, it's a blessing because it gives you a chance to reflect on your life in a circumstance that otherwise would not have had.

Speaker Well, I think he's. Something about.

Speaker OK. I don't think about why I am good at what I do. I know I'm good at what I do and I intend to be good at it. The worst thing I can do is fail. When you deal with death. Failure is just not.

Speaker Absolutely.

Speaker You know, when we were talking about that period and what he wanted to do in future, you just started a record company starting all over again. And Hollywood is a difficult thing. But he pulled it off, that's for sure. He said, you know, when you. He said, I know I'm good now. It didn't have to prove things to anybody because he proved it to himself. And I think that was the most important thing. And he said, I have to do good. And that's the most important thing for me.

Speaker And I cannot fail. And he said, after you look death straight in the eye like he had, it changes you. And you realize what's important to you.

Speaker Did you believe that he was a changed person?

Speaker Well, I hadn't known him before, except I had touched a number of his friends and they told me that he was substantially different. But they didn't knock off all the rough edges. That's for sure. He would have been dull and probably not as gifted as he is in business. But not at all. But I didn't think a much better sense of himself than he had before. That's what I came away with.

Speaker Retributions. OK.

Speaker I mean, instead of the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, they should have retribution written across that because it is not just David. It's everybody in the industry who really go out of their weight to shaft people if they feel they've been crossed. I know a number of people who done a number of studio heads, but a couple of who were running studios and they felt that they proceed, but somehow they had been screwed, either in business or personally. And they went to just extraordinary, ludicrous lengths to get even.

Speaker And I think the difference is that they do it more discreetly. And the David is more upfront about it. And I think that's he's probably a more frequently, at least in the past. Oh, sure. But the one thing there was this, I think, fairly dreadful book written about him by a guy, I think who worked for The Wall Street Journal and who was openly gay. And it was just it was we talked to I called him up at some point, I can't remember what, but it was shortly after the publication of this thing. And I said, how's life been treating? Because I knew how it had been treating him that we hadn't talked about this. I don't recall him talking about it upfront. And he went on to talk about the book. And I teased him. I said, well, that's your first mistake, was talking to a gay guy about this. He is bound to go after you. But he was he's talking. He blamed it on himself. You said I was stupid. I should not have been that open. He was very self-critical. It wasn't. I'm gonna go screw this guy. I think the guy did fine, probably sold a lot of books, but he was just seemed to be fascinated with David. Some love life.

Speaker Is that what you like?

Speaker I think so. That's what he conveyed to me.

Speaker Oh, there it was. Well, we learned a lot.

Speaker But I can tell you personally, I try to avoid that myself in my own writing.

Speaker I think you want to be critical of somebody. OK. Be critical of them. But starkness or cynicism about stuff? I think that the Geffen, for all the time he spent in Hollywood, I think he's remarkably uncynical. I mean, he's realistic about about people and what they're liable to do. But cynical and nuts, not too much. Listen. In my experience, which is fairly remarkable and he's not snarky. He does tell you the unvarnished truth. But to write things down like that, a fellow wrote the book about Dave is not the only one. Joe McGinniss specializes in that kind of stuff, too. I tend to stay away from that a lot. I think good journalists do stay away from that kind of stuff.

Speaker And just because somebody gets the facts right and does a lot of research, well, hell, that's just for openers. That's what we all ought to do. I mean, the other thing is, are we fair to people? And I don't think that was particularly fair at all.

Speaker So what are the things? Please don't.

Speaker I mean, listen, we love David and we can make one place, but there is a side, David, that a lot of people don't want to show you because you're a journalist.

Speaker It's fair. You know, the reputation of being. Do you really do not want to be on its side, doesn't even get anything for his friends?

Speaker But, you know, forget it. If you just lose it in some way. I think that probably he's had experience with number the public was over.

Speaker So let's talk about what was the perception. It was a perception that I think OVA's brought himself down.

Speaker He's had a he had been bringing himself down from the moment he went to work for Michael Eisner at Disney. And this was just a continuation. But I mean, the way he hung himself, it just it was unbelievable.

Speaker And then there aren't that many second acts in Hollywood. Geffen is one of the few. And Ovitz, he was trying to third act, but that just didn't work.

Speaker You know, my relationship with David has not been all sweetness and light. I got up on his bad side once and publicly. Sure, he had given me I was writing a book about the Walt Disney Company specifically. You know, Michael Eisner was the chief character in it. And at that time, this was after Eisner had denied. Jeff Katzenberg. The presidency. And Jeffrey left. And there are all kinds of things. Michael owed him. One hundred twenty five million dollars or some such. At least 125 million. And it was a feud going on one time. Mean David was very close to Katzenberg. Katzenberg, he just like Geffen in the way that he does, tell you the truth. He's just not so public about it. In any case, they're very type people. So I was doing this book and I went to David for an interview. And boy, does he open up. And he said, this is all on the record. And he let loose on Eisner about his duplicity, about the way you handled Katzenberg ways of doing business about this. But on the other hand, you know, that's duplicity writ large.

Speaker He said that he called him flat out a liar. He's not the only person in Hollywood who believes that. But he's one of the few who would actually say it in any event. I never did get it before I could write the book. I became editor of Los Angeles magazine.

Speaker And so I decided which of you for the first issue would be a kind of column. Right. I said I put this. So. And boy, did it get a lot of attention. And the day after it appeared there was a big story in the Los Angeles Times saying that David was really cross with yours truly. And he was quite upfront about upfront about it with the reporter from the L.A. Times and said that I had. He didn't dispute the accuracy of the quotes. He just he said this was meant for his book. And he agreed that it was for his book. It wasn't meant for Los Angeles magazine. And that was an important distinction to David.

Speaker And one thing you don't want to be I mean, I can live with a 10 minute mystery because I don't write about it so often, but I happen to really like Geffen. And I like keeping him as a friend. If I figured even though we are hardly close. I always felt that if I was in any sort of trouble, I could always call me. I could do something to help you in any case. I thought, I've got to fix this and quick. And I called David up and he answered immediately.

Speaker And I said, just as immediately I said, David, I'm sorry. You were right. I'm wrong. And I said, I've already told that to the L.A. Times. And that's been published, that I apologize. And I guess that seems unusual. The tape is something you just flat out said, you know, you got me.

Speaker And he was fine after that. I mean, that it flew over just like that. And we went on, as we always did. And the moment passed. But I certainly did. David's enemies list.

Speaker So it's tough that there was that. Was there a perception that David was behind the scenes pulling strings, keeping all of us from getting this business off the ground, killing these deals?

Speaker There certainly was that perception in a lot of corners in Hollywood, but I don't agree with the perception. I think what David?

Speaker OK.

Speaker I think there certainly was a perception in the industry that David was pulling strings in terms of his demise and the demise of his company. But I don't think, first of all, that Ovitz needed any assistance and slitting his own throat.

Speaker Secondly, David may rage about people, but there's very little he can do directly. I don't recall him threatening people who saying, you better not do this or I'll do that. But that's just not not in his or cabaret. But people do take his business judgment seriously. And I think he was basically saying I was not party to any of these conversations, that the emperor has no clothes. And I think by then he was just really confirming what was already going on in Hollywood. The perception already existed in Hollywood, dating to over his tenure at Disney, which was incestuous.

Speaker Actually, his plans for this new company was.

Speaker Jeanne Kelsey Breeze.

Speaker So it actually was not a very good investment. That was pathetic.

Speaker Well, I should say, I don't know if I've ever told you the Schapper, Howard. I don't know if I ever told you the snapper. I'm the only when I ran the interview with Geffen in Los Angeles magazine that caused a dustup temporarily between David and yours truly. The article, I believe, was still on the stands when I got a call one morning from Good Morning America as saying, what is your reaction to the fact that the Walt Disney Company has just bought Cap Cities? ABC? I bought Foetid because Cap Cities ABC owns Los Angeles magazine.

Speaker So you really have to go through.

Speaker So you were in shock? I was out of there two months later. Now, I knew that it had to do. They were very I mean, this is not for this film.

Speaker And I'll you what you write in book read like difficult.

Speaker But they never threatened me. They just didn't cooperate. But there are ways around that. You know, if you if you get stopped into operation, sometimes it's even better. You know, you just go around them.

Speaker Anyway, let's go back a little bit. One of the things you said in your articles that he was the most important at that time, the most important force in contemporary pop music. If you could say that to me and then say why?

Speaker At the time, but I first got to know Giffin. He was among many other things. The most important force in contemporary pop music. And that derives not just from the force of his personality, but his personality and his smarts and the way he treated artists enabled him to sign the best acts and to promote them lavishly. He has terrific taste in music. He's seldom made a slip. I mean, there are few other people like him in the industry and there were no games with artists.

Speaker You never heard of any of that. And you hear that routinely in the music industry, you know, but this artist got screwed about overseas, get screwed by the record company, and now they're changing where he companies. I mean, if you were an artist signed by David Geffen and you felt like you've been blessed and he a very good guy to work for, and I think that certainly helped that. Plus his taste. That's key. The same thing that made Clive Davis, Clive Davis, two guys who have terrific taste.

Speaker Well, I'll get back to that. OK.

Speaker So I think that I was surprised that he came back.

Speaker It was a huge surprise.

Speaker When David after he gotten over this phone cancer scare, you've been told that you have cancer and that it was irredeemable.

Speaker And as you said to me, he said these were good doctors. These were Cedar Sinai doctors. And then he comes back and he starts another company. And in the industry, the record, the music industry, that didn't happen that often.

Speaker You know, it's like Halley's comet coming across the sky. And people would you know, we're taking, you know, taking this opportunity to go after him because he seemed vulnerable. He hadn't been in the business for a while. He had supposedly been sick. All of this, that and the others. So the the knives were out for him, but he became very successful very quickly and that disarmed everybody. But it was a quite I think his success the second time around was even more remarkable and a success the first time around.

Speaker It is certainly a big swell, but it's just I hate it. I'm northern European.

Speaker Don't worry. Why would why were the knives out for him?

Speaker The lights were out for David.

Speaker When he came out, when he went into Act two in the in the record business, because there is a price to be paid, especially in Hollywood, if you are upfront and if you are very direct and not afraid to criticize people. And then in Hollywood, schadenfreude is spelled with in all caps. If you just don't want to be successful, you want other people to fail. And that's how it works in the industry. And we get used to it or you don't get used to it. And so they weren't people were rooting for him to fail. And he did not fail, which which aggravated people more than.

Speaker I know following the music business as was was not really what it was. But can you talk about what Geffen Records represented that time as as an independent label stand for?

Speaker You know, I'm trying to think with our expert that I shouldn't.

Speaker Arrowsmith's outcomes, not music that David particularly. No. Have got other people. I don't feel really comfortable, but let's talk about the sale. Oh, sure. Right. So what was your perception of that? Five hundred and fifty million dollars was a lot of dough, and it did make him the richest man until until Eisner cashed his first paycheck.

Speaker You could if you could talk about that, because, I mean, it does seem that people keep talking about how he was the most powerful man in Hollywood. What is the equation between money and power in Hollywood? We know it's a big one, but just having money alone doesn't make you the most powerful man. That's right. They become the richest. So I just need you to place that for me. What? What they say. Oh, man. How did it make him the richest man, if indeed it's true?

Speaker Well, when he sold his record company to Messerschmidt, first of all, it surprised everyone that met socially wanted to get in the record industry.

Speaker It's something that even Americans don't know. Fools, even Americans, much less the Japanese. As his son, he's had trouble in the past. It did make David temporarily the richest guy in town. Did it change him much? I don't think it changed him at all. And unlike a lot of rich people in Los Angeles who spend all their time going around giving just enough money to a cause to have your name atop a building, I mean, you see it brought him all over the place. And there are others, too, who have made me this pavilion in that pavilion. The only one I've seen that I recall Los Interest is there's David Geffen Theater in Westwood or the Geffen Theater. And he was very good about giving money away, but it was mainly under. It was not undercover, but he did it quietly. There weren't big press conferences, all that kind of stuff. David does not want his personal life being talked about by anybody. I think that's just unspoken. It just was fortunate for me because I basically don't write about people's personal lives, especially their love life.

Speaker I'm just lost my train of thought for a second. Going.

Speaker How, how, what, why was he considered the most powerful man in. My goal is to call himself many people know how and why.

Speaker Well, yes, Hollywood, much more so than, say, Manhattan. Cash means everything.

Speaker I mean, it's it's new money. Hollywood is also the capital of new money. It's unlike New York in that way.

Speaker And so you tend to be measured and people are measuring each other constantly like they're as they're kids in high school. The same.

Speaker Who's got the biggest? This is it's judged in terms of cash. That's L.A. for you. So David acquired it that way. But I think the real source of his clout is that it's not just confined to one industry, namely the record industry.

Speaker He produced on Hollywood Dream Girls was years on Broadway.

Speaker David's David Drive, not just from money. It was also because his interests weren't just confined to the record business. He produced Broadway shows. He invested in movies and later went into Dream DreamWorks. So he he was not a impresario like Mike Todd or someone like that, but he just had interests that ran everywhere. And he knew an awful lot about the arts, just the arts period writ large. And they're not that many people that I can think of offhand in Hollywood who have that range and that he has his fingers in a lot of pies. And it's not grasping. It's just that's his interest. And nobody else had that. And I think that's the real source of his power and always has been his power. And it's just I think too much can be made of the fact that he's going to he's going to screw you by saying something if you cross them.

Speaker That's not the real source of his power, is he's just the smartest guy in town. And that counts for an awful lot.

Speaker That's the hardest thing in the world to get across. This is how smart somebody is. Smart, very hard. Can you describe what it means to be the smartest guy in town?

Speaker I mean, I was quoted as saying, never been smarter than this is zero negative about just simply judge. That's right. So you say that also.

Speaker What does it mean? Does it mean you out with everybody? You always make the best deals. Is it about your judgment? And if it's about judgment, where is it? What's that mean?

Speaker Know, it's a tough thing. You know, I'm asking for a tall order here and help me with this because we get this across.

Speaker I'm sure Dufferin Guffin does have a reputation for being and I certainly believe that he's the smartest guy in Hollywood. And it's not just because of his deals.

Speaker There are people who make deals, and it's not because he shops people. I mean people.

Speaker You can be a an agent or somewhere I run a studio or a record company and be thought of as really smart because you happen to screw an artist in a very creative way. So more money came to your company than it did to the art than what the artist was doing. But that's not the way it happens. I mean, I think, David, if anything, probably overpays artists by a bit, but I think that's very smart in the long run.

Speaker And his judgment in terms of business and a lot else, but especially in business, is impeccable. And I'm not the first to say that. Lord knows. And he's the kind of person where if you get to know him, you think, who can I ask for advice about something?

Speaker And it doesn't have to do with the industry. If you could have just a personal problem, you can see yourself calling in and saying you think I should do this or that.

Speaker And he certainly wouldn't be shy about telling you what he thought in his opinion, because it tends to go far more often than not to be correct is our opinions that is respected and taken.

Speaker So I don't know how much you know about this. Right.

Speaker I mean, obviously, you know, I want to make sure we don't. Basic legacy stuff.

Speaker That's that's a win, by the way. Don't ask, don't tell. I'm limited. Today. But that was a big reason that he became disillusioned.

Speaker I don't know if we're running it because I don't want to say off the record. Did you hear this business about, you know, when Putin crossed? It was over parking. So when the story for you. No, no, no, no, no. Pelchat you wanted to part. You want to play the game instead. Harton of that was really the straw. That was it. And as I heard the story, David said, I've never asked you for a favor in my life and I will not ask you for another one. But I do want you to pardon Peltier. And he wouldn't. He told no, I believe I told him he would. And then he didn't.

Speaker Why isn't anyone else talking hostile? Because I don't. You lied to me. I know that, David.

Speaker I don't know for a fact. That's the story that certainly circulated.

Speaker Has he also seized on it? You don't need to. But what was your what was yours? It was the line that really got. What was your sense of the relationship with Clintons before that close? We didn't want to go to him for advice all the time. It wasn't the first call he made after Monica Lewinsky. I did not know that. That's what I heard.

Speaker I did not know that. But if you don't know that.

Speaker No. But do you know about Monica? Several months before. Probably. You know. You know, it's off the record, Joe Lutsenko told me. And when I got off the phone, I didn't get one word of it. I hope it's none of my business.

Speaker But what do you know about his relationship?

Speaker Well, the Clintons are terrific at seducing people, especially Bill. And I've been the object of that kind of seduction. I mean, there's nothing you won't get. I remember the last of the first and last time I interviewed him, we walked into the room and he cocked his head back as if trying to think of things. He said, I just can't remember the first time I read one of your books. And you felt like a cocker spaniel just on his back when he was being scratched.

Speaker This guy is very good. And when just when he talks to you, take your arm, he looks you in the eye and he only has eyes for you.

Speaker He's an extraordinary politician. And this way of. Can you think that he's sincere? I don't think he is sincere. But it's a wonderful talent to have as a politician. And if you're David Geffen and you were getting calls from the president of the United States asking you for your opinion about something that is easy to get seduced by and it's easy to be impressed by, and he certainly was in love with Bill Clinton for a long, long time until it famously broke apart and he went public with what he thought was the downside of the Clintons, namely calling them liars. And I think he said they lie like other people breathe. That, I think was exactly such a lie with such ease.

Speaker But I I'm trying to think of other people in Hollywood have had relationships with present. Lord knows, I think Lou Wasserman was one of those people, but they're very rare. Nobody is calling it Michael Eisner and asking him for his advice on something.

Speaker And I don't think that anyone in the White House is calling Clive Davis or anyone else in the music industry except Geffen. What they want to know in all kinds of people come to Geffen asking him his opinion on all kinds of things because his judgment is so respected. It tends to be right. And you know that you can tell him something and he's not going to repeat it unless you say he tells you he asked you and you say, yes, you can repeat it.

Speaker He's absolutely discreet about that. He keeps confidences. And the easiest way to rupture relationship with Geffen is to violate his confidence.

Speaker Hi said. Yeah. I mean, I think he's released. I think he's got a really major sense of personal and business ethics.

Speaker And we are living with disrespect people who don't have the same ethics.

Speaker And that's really, you know, in certain padded park in the Katzenberg business, too, and DreamWorks and all that stuff.

Speaker Hollywood has not thought of it as the headquarters of the Boy Scouts, and you pride yourself on being a Boy Scout, but it sort of the capital of anything situational ethics and getting ahead. But Geffen, in a funny way, is a Boy Scout in the sense that he has real values about personal things, being straight with somebody, keeping their confidence, not going out of your way to shaft somebody unless you have it coming. And friendship is awfully important to him. So he's telling the truth. I mean, yes. Ordinary sense. But how important that is about being straight with people. And he expects you in turn to be straight with him. And if that's violated, it's Katy. Bar the door. And that may seem quite unusual in Hollywood. There are few other people who have that reputation and who operate like that routinely. And it's one of the things that sets him apart.

Speaker And he can he can do it because he he also has the smarts to back it up. You could almost say that he can afford to be truthful because he's smart, too. So he's not going to get challenged.

Speaker And I think it's very admirable trait. What do you know about the don't ask, don't tell situation? I don't think.

Speaker I think it was awful, I presume.

Speaker Well, you've kind of already answered this, but I have to keep asking myself, why did anybody care what David?

Speaker You'd be. I've covered politics a lot more than I've covered the entertainment industry.

Speaker I've covered something like seven presidential elections. And I've been covering politics for 45 years. And I've gotten a lot of people at all levels. And you'd be surprised at how politicians operate. And when they're looking for advice for something, I'm not the first to say that there is a symbiosis between Hollywood and and Washington politicians or celebrities, people in Hollywood or celebrities. There's a mutual, bitter fact. I mean, the whole books have been written about this phenomenon. And you do find politicians reaching out.

Speaker They'd like to call Steve Jobs or something like that or like to have their picture taken with them. People don't have their picture taken with David Geffen. But they do reach out to him for advice.

Speaker They reach out to a lot of other people who dispense bad advice, too. And that's all politicians.

Speaker I happen to like them to be realistic about them, too. They're always looking for an opinion, especially if he agrees with their instincts. But you like it. There's a massive insecurity among politicians combined with massive ego, and it's very much the same way in Hollywood. There's wild insecurity plus massive egos. And so that's part of why they're linked.

Speaker I mean, how would you characterize his switching his allegiance from Clinton to Obama in terms of how that made sway?

Speaker I remember the day that I read this story where he talks about Clinton, the Clintons being wires. And I thought to myself, and it's not just because I happen to like Geffen, but I know what the lay of the land is like both in Washington and in Los Angeles.

Speaker I said, this is huge. This really makes a difference. And it's going to make a difference, certainly in the entertainment community.

Speaker And it's going to make a difference to a lot of political pros, too, who have nothing to do with the entertainment industry because they know how smart Geffen is and what clout he has with people. And that if he puts out the word, people will give money to candidates. And I think that endorsement of Obama was just crucial. It was like Caroline Kennedy, Kennedy and Ted Kennedy in its way. I think it was very important. I put it right up there with them. You know, here's a guy who is a state senator not too long ago, gravitas by his own description, a funny name, something that he seems such such a remote possibility. And you if you have the hands of David Geffen laid on you, that gives you credibility. And it made her to heaven easier for Obama to move on from there.

Speaker That's great. Well said. I still don't understand why. Why? Don't know.

Speaker I mean, I love Gray and he's very rich. Smart. I still don't understand that because we've got huge play soccer.

Speaker What why his words?

Speaker I mean, I think part of it was one of the first people to say, okay, yeah, you're still right.

Speaker I can't think of anyone else in the entertainment industry who, if they'd said the same thing about the Clintons and the same thing about Obama would have gotten noticed when David said what he said about it negatively about the Clintons and positively about Obama. It got huge notice. It was all over the country and it let a lot of political columns.

Speaker That's just unheard of in the entertainment industry. And it's an endorsement of what Geffen is all about and his particular clout in the industry.

Speaker And it's a smart guy who's saying, oh, I like this guy. I think he's smart to be a good leader. And I think that enormous ice for Obama.

Speaker Let's let's talk about DreamWorks.

Speaker I never recovered. I know. I know. Well, Jeffrey, I'd see you pretty often. I mean, that's my thing. I'd love to know why weather didn't do better.

Speaker I mean, on a pure, just pure business standpoint.

Speaker The fact that he survived almost every day rely on the backlists. Well, you know, I never heard of that.

Speaker I never got the sense that David wanted to into another record division for DreamWorks. I don't think he had any interest in that, whether it's movies or whatever.

Speaker They had nothing and nothing in there.

Speaker They had no Wagner. Yeah, absolutely. I had no catalog.

Speaker They had to they had to kind of park right away. And, of course, it didn't work right away. But I don't know how much of that you covered. I know that David was extremely annoyed by sort of way doing well.

Speaker But if you can say this, I kept waiting for them to do better. I kept thinking that sooner or later they're gonna turn the corner.

Speaker But the first book when I sat down was really begin to think about it. So Kenny hooked up with Steven Spielberg is not a great idea.

Speaker I thought, you know, you can't depend on Spielberg to be working just for you. He has this relationship as Sid Sheinberg and his relationship with Universal goes way, way back. He loves having his name attached to projects. He's all over the place now as a as an executive producer. I'm not even sure he read the script. So he was not going to be hands on in this thing. Basically, you had Katzenberg and then you had given him up. I'm not aware of just how much David was involved except as a strategist. And I think that's worth its weight in gold. And he certainly if Geffen hadn't been on. I mean, he was certainly great to get DreamWorks out of the ground, to have Spielberg there. And there was not just a great two appearances, but was great, in fact, to have Geffen there productive or credibility, because Jeff Katzenberg, he's certainly well known in the industry, but he's not well known outside of Hollywood.

Speaker And so they keep it instant corporate credibility, having those two guys attached, especially, I think people made a big deal about Gilbert. But I thought it was Geffen that surprised me.

Speaker Well, I think.

Speaker Well, I think that one probably the best demonstration of David's clout is what happened with DreamWorks. He personally raised more money for a startup than any other startup in history. That's extraordinary because people don't even if if you have the names of Spielberg and Geffen attached people and you don't get in the movies just to make money. I mean, there is a reason why they call it show business, martial art. But by and large, this it's sort of like investing in airlines. I mean, you just don't want to do that if you've got a lot of dough. But David pulled it off. Did did he do this with her? He had his own satisfaction or because he wanted to be another Louis B. Mayor? I don't think so. There might have been an aspect of that, but that's not what came across. But you can't underestimate the friendship between the depth of it, between cats Jeff Katzenberg and David Geffen, who are alike in the sense that they are both straight shooters and they both have very good reputations with the artists who work with them. And they have a long bond that goes way, way back. And when Jeffrey got screwed at Disney Boy. But Michael Eisner know about it. And that didn't go away for a long, long time. And I think it was one of the reasons that Disney probably scuttlebutt was that who needs David Geffen on your case 24 hours a day? If you're smart, you don't want you don't want that to happen.

Speaker So somebody said, oh, just not me.

Speaker I've won.

Speaker I suppose I suppose he is an eye for an eye. If he feels that honor has been violated, that the promises that were sincere promises not, you know, but the checks in the mail. But not that kind of promise. But a different with you. But then when you a handshake on a deal or off of print and you find out that somebody who you trusted is turning around and gossiping and David's got lines everywhere and, you know, you'll find out just like that, that would be really stupid to try to be duplicitous with him in that sense. He is Old Testament that, you know, he wants to settle scores and make sure the scales of justice balance and that the universe works better that way. And. You know, if if Giffin were in charge of having the scales of justice balance in this country, I wouldn't mind. Yes, that's a very good sense of what ought to be done and shouldn't be done. And he's tough when it needs to be tough. And he can be a wonderful romantic friend when he wants to be a friend. And that's an unusual combination. You know, when David passes from the scene, finally, I just can't think of anybody waiting in the wings who's going to take that position. I mean, you had Lew Wasserman, who was certainly in that position when he was around, but he's go on and David sort of stepped into into that role. He was already playing that role because he was getting older. But I don't see anyone coming along to replace Jeff and I don't see it as a personality.

Speaker Oh, father.

Speaker Sure. All black suits. You know, David is.

Speaker But he said to me during the 40s and the 60s, he made an effort to try to, as he said, to tame the monster with past Lifespring, Marianne Williamson and all that jazz.

Speaker Yeah. I've never talked to him about that because I have the on that kind of stuff. It doesn't it it's it's it's just personal life. That's fine by me anyway.

Speaker So, you know, to the extent that you have knowledge about it, can you talk about steamworks, what its mission was, how they were dealing with the perception? Was anything you have to say with so great stories?

Speaker Well, the expectation at the time was that DreamWorks was going to be this huge success that would take a little while because they didn't have any.

Speaker They didn't have a lot. Number one, they were sharing a US lot that not race, but Universal's lot. And they didn't have a catalog that was just huge.

Speaker They didn't have an up and running anything. So there was that problem. But somehow people thought was going to be magical because the people involved in it were so magical and how Edwards was willing to suspend disbelief. And I think the major tentpole in that, besides Geffen and Katzenberg and Fehlberg was animation at that time, was just huge. It's hard to remember how important animated things were. And that was because of Katzenberg with The Lion King and the Little Mermaid and all that jazz pictures that were making hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars. And there are all kinds of spin offs involved. And you thought, well, this can be replicated. Well, that turned out not to be true. Animation is no longer special. There's a new animated movie opening every week. And I think that hurt DreamWorks. The fact that it was never able to have that source of money. The fact that they never did. They were going to build a studio in L.A. X, that never happened either. And just once time began to pass them. Then I did come out in a Chinese way about what the hell's going on with these guys. And you didn't. There was a lot of talk about Spielberg not making pictures for them very often. What were they up to? I was surprised. I was surprised that they weren't more successful.

Speaker Yeah, he did win. I'm trying to remember the first one was.

Speaker The American Beauty, Viator and Beautiful and Shrek won best animated feature. So, I mean, they were certainly doing well in the work.

Speaker The studio just completely disappeared.

Speaker Crest. And they won a bunch of Oscars to. No, no, no, no.

Speaker It was Christ who was running, it was a big deal for once people were like.

Speaker But what was a movie that they were movie they might have done?

Speaker Independence, not really, because this was the first. Yeah, no, no. I can't remember who it was.

Speaker A way. That's right, I forgot about that gladiator, and I understand that was American Beauty.

Speaker Like three Bordonaro movies, you know, pull together two billion dollars of capital in one week.

Speaker Jesus, I have no idea. That's true. Yes.

Speaker He says yes. Oh, he we got him saying that we have to do it.

Speaker So let's talk about David's legacy. Mean, you said these are a place that David Geffen said culture these days.

Speaker I think less so these days because it's interesting.

Speaker I think at the Geffen effect, if you can call it that, and there certainly was a Geffen effect for decades, I think it's less so now because David has lost his edge.

Speaker But or is there any where close to retiring, but his interests have really broadened. He's very much the plant therapist these days. He made a pass at buying The New York Times. He made a pass by the L.A. Times. I was certainly rooting for that because the moment you bought it, I was going to call to come to work for you. But he's involved in art and stuff. And the other in a lot of its behind the scenes. You don't hear about him quite as much as he used to, but he's still very powerful and he still gives advice to an awful lot of people. And you never hear about it. And that's part of the quality of the advice that he gives because people receive it when they act on it. But you don't know who they are. It's very rare. But you point out so is the he's different today. His effect is different. I mean, the industry itself is different. I mean, the thing has completely changed. The recording industry especially has changed in the movie industry is changing very, very quickly. And so everyone changes in the end. And David's influence changes to.

Speaker Was, yeah. What is the David effect and what is the legacy?

Speaker Very specific. Mm hmm. I know it's hard. It really is hard for us.

Speaker That's why you're here to do it. Narration not Mary. All right.

Speaker The Geffen effect. Is the gift, in effect is obvious on a lot of fronts. It's not just about one thing. It's not just about music. It's not just about entertainment. It's about an awful lot of things. It's about art. It's about politics. It's about philanthropy. And it's very much about it. It's about business, quar business. And it's about the entertainment industry. And I can't think of anyone that has their fingers in as many pies as has given us hope through the years. And why he's here. That's part of the gap in effect.

Speaker The other part of it, and I think another part of it, and I think it's even more important, is the respect that accompanies his judgments. If you're here but David Geffen is starting a project or if he's going to win was to back a Broadway show or something like that, you would do your damnedest to be part of that arrangement because he has a track record for making money like almost no one else in the industry. There's that. There's his judgment and there's his taste. And I think the thing about his taste can be easily missed. But he has just extraordinary taste and there's no one to match him around. And that was, I think, the center. And when you get down to it.

Speaker Jeff, in fact, that's what really made it go so far and that everybody was identified by the state.

Speaker Just it's a great story.

Speaker And how appropriate that was for a guy who essentially said that David was a.

Speaker It's a very shrewd thing to say. It is a very shrewd.

Speaker Do you want to use that example of the state dinner or somebody else talk about?

Speaker No, actually use that. But there's also talk about your winter statement being in business with that. With that. With that to.

Speaker Observer John Winter to create a Rolling Stone has created a number of things since. And who might not know very well? And we know something about our ups and downs, but I have enormous respect for him. He is somewhat like like David, but just only somewhat a much smaller scale.

Speaker But he's very shrewd about judging things and saying things. And one of the smartest things that John said is that David Geffen has always been in the David Geffen business. I think that is so, so true. He's a personality and a force writ large. If you just you don't have to have a comma after his name. It's just you say David Geffen. You know exactly who he is and what his influence is. You don't have to describe him. As you know, he was once the richest man in the wonders of mogul or this or that.

Speaker He's just David Geffen and still hasn't basically worked. And he still isn't. And I wonder whether it's because he's so rich.

Speaker I don't think so.

Speaker You know how much weapons, power and clout is associated with how much money time in the bank is very difficult to judge. My own sense of it is that the money certainly helps.

Speaker That's for sure. But I don't think it's at the center of it by a long, long shot. It's his judgment.

Speaker And he has been around on the scene almost longer than anybody else. And then he's had more winners than anybody else. And that he is more honest, outspoken and also more discreet and keep good at keeping confidences than anybody else. I think that's much more important than the money. I mean, the money just goes with it. You know, he lives large in some ways. That's sort of a recent affectation that he's taken on.

Speaker But he'd like to have this huge boat of his time. I mean, he's never thrown it around. You know, I've been around a lot of that.

Speaker You know, there's a lot of anonymous billionaires out there. David is not. I have no knowledge of how much he's worth. And I have no interest, frankly.

Speaker I have been that far from being the richest man in far.

Speaker Most people in the Hamptons who never heard this guy.

Speaker Oh, there are a lot of billionaires. Oh, a lot of people. Oh, no. I think there are very few people who know people. I suppose I my. And things like that.

Speaker So that's something I was just I just, you know, I just I just progressively because just so that I realized that when John says that, you know, I can actually defeat.

Speaker I want me to do it. David said no. He said to John, I'm in the David. If that's okay, because I'm going to just pick up from. Yeah, I think that's true. Yeah. Got you on.

Speaker I just wanted to cry, if you remember. Yeah.

Speaker I was actually Yon's last night and he may be he may be one of our next subjects. History. Would that interest you?

Speaker I wrote a book about his early years just for.

Speaker I think it's the first 10 years of Rolling Stone. I can't remember yet.

Speaker This is off the record. John and I was going to give an interview and finally agreed I was working for new times at the time.

Speaker And I flew off to San Francisco and we went out to a restaurant and talked about our marriage isn't doing coke and just stuff when we were best friends.

Speaker How did the end of the next day he called back and said, if you've lied about going to see Thomas, so before you came here, you probably thought about some things you wanted to say, and I may not have asked for that. So why don't you say anything that you would like to say?

Speaker You've got me saying a lot more things than my plan. I'm just thinking, what?

Speaker Is there something really, really? I mean, this is like you're you're the journalist taking the long view here and hoping to place David in the cultural and social context of his times. That is really what I'm trying to and from both you and Ken, because everybody else you've interviewed are people who really worked with him. Yeah. Whether it's an artist or somebody who worked for him as a guys or, you know. And the truth is, even his closest friends are actually not making the cut because it didn't actually work with them. And they really saw that great guy he is. So what we're looking for is insight into David's place in the past. And. So why would make this film that, you know, and and so if there's anything that you would like to add to that or, you know, some. No insight.

Speaker Because I'm I'm sort of a journalist as a journalist. And when I cover politics and wars and entertainment, this kneeler, I happen to have gotten to know through the years a lot of supposedly important people. And it takes a lot to impress me about somebody, even if they have huge names and big titles. And that includes a couple of former presidents, presidents of the United States. I wasn't impressed at all, even though we had a personal relationship.

Speaker David Geffen is not in that category.

Speaker And even though he hasn't done a lot lately, I still think he still has that. All right. He certainly has. I've had it if been suffuse, but I still have judgments. But I don't I'm not completely uncritical.

Speaker But I'm just sort of awed by him in a in a bit. They will keep my judgment. I think in in an important way. And he's worth more. And there are very few people out there like that in this society, period. He does impress me. I'm glad to know. I'm glad that I can call in when I need to call him. I don't abuse the privilege. And I'm glad to be able to think of him as a good guy, as a friend, more than just about a damn few people I can say that about. Let me put it that way. That's for sure. It's a privilege to know him.

Speaker I think somebody it. Steve Jobs. We're all praying for what his impact was on the culture, I think, before he changed. He changed the church. He said, no, you know, we didn't change the conference. So what if he could say in three sentences, say, what was that culture?

Speaker Well, unlike, say, Steve Jobs, if Cheney legitimately did change the culture, I don't think you can say that David Geffen changed the culture. What he brought to it and excellence in a lot of respects, both in the entertainment aspect of it and in the business aspect of it. And he raised it to new levels. And when you're talking about doing that to the entertainment industry, talking about talk about turning around the Queen Mary, I mean, that's an extraordinary accomplishment, isn't it? It's almost unheard of. And that is just a fact.

Speaker That was great. Are you happy with the excellence has been kind of a theme that we're trying to get at.

Speaker He really did, you know, sort of everything he did. He was going to identify the best talent, always for excellence. And I'm sorry. And that really is unusual for that across that. Not for that long. We ask everybody. Yes, David Geffen, have three words.

Speaker Oh, Jesus.

Speaker This is like a James Lipton doesn't come immediately to mind. We have plenty of.

Speaker Smart would be the first thing that came to mind. Truthful. Number two, if not number one. And a good guy. That's not one word. But I think he is a good guy.

Speaker Thank you very much for just.

Speaker Actually discover pretty much everything. Look at this. Well.

Speaker Somebody who was so he was the only man in the history of American capitalism, the man, the history of American capitalism to succeed in three industries. So that's a pretty major statement.

Speaker How do you see Bradley and Hollywood?

Speaker About.

Speaker I'm thinking of John D. Rockefeller. It wasn't just oil.

Speaker You know, I love that. So they said she's always great for a quote.

Speaker Yeah, it's terrific.

Speaker Nobody after they get nobody can be underdressed or something like that.

Speaker So if the definition of absolute power is the absence of any in David's life. By the way, dressed in the shabby office, any of the stations, you know, that's absolute.

Speaker I didn't even think of that. I remember walking into his office. It was on Sunset at that time. And this really hole in the wall. And I walked up to his office and it was. And it wasn't just cluttered because, you know, like both newspaper offices or something like that. Or did he have scripts? Probably just kind of shabby. So it was nothing expensive. You sat down on a chair, you know, that could've come from Kmart. It was just all funky, you know. He was not. Impressed by the accoutrements. You've wanted to do the business. He wasn't distracted by his surroundings. And that's unusual because when you walk into a studio chiefs office or somebody who's running a record company, you're always sort of awed by the accoutrements that go with it. The size of their speakers. I don't even I mean, Clive Davis has the big speakers you've ever seen. I don't even recall any speakers in David's office. And he was in the record business.

Robert Sam Anson
Interview Date:
2011-09-20
Runtime:
1:16:35
Keywords:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
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MLA CITATIONS:
"Robert Sam Anson, Inventing David Geffen." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 20 Sep. 2011, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/653
APA CITATIONS:
(2011, September 20). Robert Sam Anson, Inventing David Geffen. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/653
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Robert Sam Anson, Inventing David Geffen." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). September 20, 2011. Accessed October 19, 2021 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/653

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