I Remember - David Geffen


In my life as an analyst, I met some influential people. Some were very wealthy people who ran some very large companies. Some of these people who wielded great power were paradoxically very weak individuals. They presided over the demise of their company, or credited themselves with its success when such success occurred in spite of them and not because of them. On the other hand, there were some executives who were strong and visionary leaders, and as such they were profoundly inspirational and left their mark of success on everything they touched.

David Geffen was one of these latter types – a visionary and a creator of wealth and success.

In the mid 1990s three men decided to form new company. Those three men were Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen. The company was to be called Dreamworks.

I was an analyst. I was covering Seagram, which owned Universal Studios at the time, and there had been an important relationship between Steven Spielberg and Universal. If Spielberg was no longer going to distribute films through Universal, there was going to be a material impact to Seagram’s bottom line. The investment community had made guesses, but no one really knew what was going on. I needed to know more about Dreamworks.

Of the three founders, Spielberg was inaccessible. Not yet covering Disney, Katzenberg was an unknown to me, but Geffen had been quoted in the newspapers subsequent to the Dreamworks announcement. David Geffen, one of the richest people in the world, the man who had created perhaps the most successful record label in history… seemed to be in the mood to talk.

I decided to lob in a phone to David Geffen.

The receptionist asked me who I was, and what was the nature of my call. I figured I’d leave a message and that would be that. After a short pause, Geffen came on the line and said hello.

Alrighty then. I explained who I was and what I was after, and he gave me a few opaque factoids. I asked him if he would take a meeting with me, and he said sure.

Well I’ll be.

And that is how I found myself on a plane bound for Los Angeles one day in my rarely-boring life, on my way to meet the multi-billionare.

It was very warm when I finally checked into my hotel in Burbank. The place was filled with an assortment of entertainment industry creatures. I called Geffen’s assistant and told her I had arrived. I had most definitely arrived, I thought. In truth, this would be a big coup for me; every investor-client would want to know what I had learned.

Imagine my dismay when the nice Mr. Geffen called to ask me, in a newly impatient and dismissive tone, why we couldn’t just do this on the phone. As I sat in California, thousands of recently-flown miles away from my office, having breakfast on the terrace in the hot sunshine, Geffen was annoyed that I had come and was looking for a way out of the interview. He was busy. Can’t we do a phone interview, he asked me-told me. I was nonplussed. Whatever answer I blurted out I cannot remember.

Geffen said he would send a car.

Sometime later the car arrived. We rolled through the restricted alleys of the Universal Studios lot and pulled up in front of a small structure not much bigger than a couple of trailers. From the sun, I went in and stood hot inside in the reception area, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the subdued light. I sat in my damp gray business suit, peering at a few others who waited also. They were dressed for summer. A courrier was delivering a script.

It didn’t take long to get ushered into Geffen’s trailer park office, casual and vacation-like. Geffen looked like a middle-aged relative I might meet at the golf club.

And so it began, my long sought interview. From the time the secretary closed the door, Geffen became absolutely unhurried, like he had all the time in the world to talk with me. For my part, I never forgot why I was there, and blended social chatter with risky questions. Geffen was extraordinarily candid, considering this was an on-the-record talk with an analyst. Nevertheless he said what he felt like saying, and left the burden of distillation and dissemination up to me.

I learned things in that humid office-box. I learned that above all, the business world was a world fueled on relationships. The adage “it’s who you know” was borne out right there, as I saw how the Dreamworks deal would benefit – not harm – Universal, because of the chemistry between (Seagram CEO) Edgar Bronfman Jr. and Geffen. If you were friends, you took care. You didn’t screw your friends. You didn’t betray people. That was how David Geffen’s world worked. Even to the point of taking a full hour to talk one-on-one with an analyst from Toronto.

I remember David Geffen as an unapologetic man who said what he thought, who didn’t suffer fools, but didn’t abuse his station either. Geffen was a person I enjoyed speaking with. I remember him as a bright, outspoken yet gentle man. A mensch.

14 comments:

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  2. Thanks for sharing!
    I'm so curious why the blow-off once you got out there and then why the change of heart during the blowing off?

    Interesting!

    SteveG

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  3. I've known Geffen personally for over 20 years. He is a wonderful, generous man. He can be your best friend or worst enemy. He loves to gossip because information is currency in Hollywood. What's really amazing about him is how considerate he is. One night I was having dinner at his house with a couple other people. We were too stuffed to finish our desert but he didn't want to offend his chef so we all hurridly scraped our plates into a nearby trash basket so the chef wouldn't know. Its a silly story, but really sticks in my head because it says a lot about a man as wealth and successful as David who still cares not to offend even his chef. He was only worth about $700 million at the time but still... you get my point. He really is a mench.

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  4. Geffen will always be known for his great taste in music and hiring great executives too. He always cultivated great relations in the press, and was often an off-the-record source for a lot of articles on the music biz. It makes sense that he treated you well in the interview - anything else would have been a disaster for him.

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  5. I was David Geffen's assistant for a few months in the mid-sixties, when he was at the William Morris Agency in NYC, developing television shows and arranging concerts for music stars. David was impressive in his attention to details, his niceness and frankness. I was just twenty and grew the first hippie beard at the agency. I thought David wanted to copy me when he grew one some months later, but I was mistaken about that and one of the other younger assistants prompted me to say something to David that I think made him a little angry at me.

    I've tried to get in touch with him over this past decade about checking out my own story, for his own movie-making projects, a story I believe should really change the world -- http://www.geocities.com/millenniumrevolution
    Mark Lee Krangle

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  6. Interesting anecdote, Mark. Keep us posted here if you do get in touch with him.

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  7. I still haven't gotten in touch with David, but I have another anecdote. As I mentioned, I was working as his assistant at the William Morris Agency in NYC and he called me into his office one afternoon. I shouldn't repeat this because I think he mentioned that he didn't want me to, but I am sure of the content and there is nothing offensive about it to David. In fact, it is a kind of confession on my part and I have no other way to possibly letting him know this information.

    David says to me, "Sit down,Mark. I want to ask you about something." I sat and smiled cautiously. He was a very nice boss, very supportive and very understanding, but also pretty demanding. "Are you a little paranoid," he queried. "I am, a bit, in a sensible way," he went on, "and I want to let you know something that happened and for you to tell me if you know anything about it. I don't care how you know and I'm not blaming you or saying you had anything to do with it or that anyone will get into trouble. I just want you to tell me, honestly if you know anything. This is very important to me. I heard a clicking on my telephone in the office a little after you went to lunch and I think someone was listening in on my phone call. I just want to know what it was and if you know anything about it."

    To make a long story short. I told him I didn't know anything about it. I said I believed it and sympathized with his feelings and interest and (as someone against the Vietnam war) thought that the government may be up to something and that such things were awful. But, the truth was that I did know. Another young WMAer working in the mail room, who was my friend and who I had actually recruited a few months earlier, took me into a big kind of utility room next to the William Morris Agency mail room on the 31st floor of the MGM building and showed me an extensive array of telephone jack type things all over the walls and asked me if I knew what the room was for. I said I didn't.

    He then pointed to a headset hanging on a hook on one of the pillars in the utility room that had an alligator clip hanging from the headphone's wire. Then, he asked if I had any idea what the room was for, now. I still said I hadn't and he said "You don't?! Well, I'll show you, but you can't tell anyone about this no matter what."

    I agreed and he said "just let me clip this wire with the headphones to one of the jacks on the wall. Let's see. Each one has a number on it. 3301, 3302, 3303..." And, as it turns out, he was reading the numbers of each office at the William Morris Agency on the 33rd floor. He then stopped at the number of David Geffen's office and clipped the head phones onto the jack and listened. Then he told me: "Listen to this." And, I heard David Geffen talking to someone on the telephone. I listened for about five seconds and told the guy we had to stop this immediately.

    The mail room guy and I then had a little kind of political talk about why the room had the headphones and agreed not to come back into the room to listen to anyone and confirmed I wouldn't tell anyone. That's the clicking that David heard. That was the clicking David asked me about.

    If I had told David the truth that day in his office, I might have gone with him from WMA to his further great climb to the stars instead of Elliot Roberts, who succeeded me as David's assistant not long afterwards when I was changed to be an assistant in the WMA literary department in the same year that David left WMA -- with Elliot.

    Nevertheless, I've gone on to some even more extraordinary things, even though they have yet to become public or understood. Really. No sweet lemons here. I'm glad I've gone into some very political and academic things and am thrilled with what David has done in the field of entertainment. Elliot too. Dick Fox, as well.You can Google my name if you'd like to try to get into my own story outside of this tiny part of it that relates to David Geffen. Yours truly, Mark Lee Krangle

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  8. REALLY enjoy this blog! Thanks for posting! The music business would NOT be the same without David Geffen.

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  9. This was an amazing site that I had never seen it before. Thanks a lot for the information because I had liked it very much!

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  10. Wow, this is creepy. I did google "Mark Lee Krangle" for the heck of it, and what I found is below. A very disturbed individual. I don't think there was any likelihood that David Geffen, a legendary judge of character and ability, would have ever gotten involved with this poor soul. It also makes me wonder if his listening in on Geffen's phone class was not nearly as innocent as he portrayed (assuming any of it is true at all -- it might be all made up, based upon what is said below):

    ----------------------------

    August 9, 2012 11:35 am
    By Sadie Gurman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    A New York man accused of emailing threats to University of Pittsburgh professors this spring during the height of a season of bomb threats on campus pleaded guilty this morning to harassment and will be allowed to return home.

    Mark Lee Krangle, 66, of Croton-on-Hudson, also must continue psychiatric treatment as part of the agreement made this morning before District Judge Oscar Petite Jr.

    Mr. Krangle's attorney said he suffers from fixed delusional disorder for which he was treated at Torrance State Hospital for 45 days before he returned to the Allegheny County Jail, where he has been held ever since.

    Police arrested Mr. Krangle at Pittsburgh International Airport on April 11. They said he emailed several professors and also made reference to the March shooting at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in one of the notes.


    Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/neighborhoods-city/new-york-man-who-emailed-threats-to-pitt-professors-pleads-guilty-648317/#ixzz2Cp6VyaBW

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  11. dave geffen is not only a genius, he's an incredibly generous and kind man to people who are honest and decent and respectful. he has done myriad charitable things in private that far outshine the hundreds of millions of dollars he has openly given to charity. and he has done these kind things for people who could do -nothing- for him him in return. just plain-ol nice things for the sake of being nice. i owe him my career to some extent, and will never be able to repay the kindnesses he has shown to me. Mensch with a capital MENSCH.

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  12. The PBS documentary is out on DVD and available for purchase. In spite of many of the scornful reviews, I found the doc to be fascinating and very watchable. Great stuff including old videos and interviews with just about everyone. It's a "history of american popular music", and you begin to see how much Geffen had to do with it all.

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  13. I have met David several times through the years though I would not say he is a friend, just a passing acquaintance as I am not a hollywood anything. One thing I have experienced is that when he is in a crowd, the person he is talking to is the only person in the room and it looks like the conversation they are having is THE MOST important and interesting conversation in the World. Once he is done with that person, they will not get his attention again. He is intense and has focus like a laser when he puts it on you it can be unnerving. If you come to him with any sort of hidden agenda, he will know it and the door will shut.

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  14. this mark lee krangle guy is a nutcase...he's posted here under "marcoslee and anonymous".
    He's never met david geffen or worked for wma.... nor did he ever have dinner with him or any other contact.
    the guy is delusional .

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