Connie Bruck
Connie Bruck
When Hollywood Had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent into Power and Influence
ISBN: 0375501681
When Hollywood Had a King
—from the publisher's website

In When Hollywood Had a King, the distinguished journalist Connie Bruck tells the sweeping story of MCA and its brilliant leader, a man who transformed the entertainment industry— businessman, politician, tactician, and visionary Lew Wasserman.

The Music Corporation of America was founded in Chicago in 1924 by Dr. Jules Stein, an ophthalmologist with a gift for booking bands. Twelve years later, Stein moved his operations west to Beverly Hills and hired Lew Wasserman. From his meager beginnings as a movie-theater usher in Cleveland, Wasserman ultimately ascended to the post of president of MCA, and the company became the most powerful force in Hollywood, regarded with a mixture of fear and awe.

In his signature black suit and black knit tie, Was-serman took Hollywood by storm. He shifted the balance of power from the studios—which had seven-year contractual strangleholds on the stars—to the talent, who became profit partners. When an antitrust suit forced MCA’s evolution from talent agency to film- and television-production company, it was Wasserman who parlayed the control of a wide variety of entertainment and media products into a new type of Hollywood power base. There was only Washington left to conquer, and conquer it Wasserman did, quietly brokering alliances with Democratic and Republican administrations alike.

That Wasserman’s reach extended from the underworld to the White House only added to his mystique. Among his friends were Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, mob lawyer Sidney Korshak, and gangster Moe Dalitz—along with Presidents Johnson, Clinton, and especially Reagan, who enjoyed a particularly close and mutually beneficial relationship with Wasserman. He was equally intimate with Hollywood royalty, from Bette Davis and Jimmy Stewart to Steven Spielberg, who began his career at MCA and once described Wasserman’s eyeglasses as looking like two giant movie screens.

The history of MCA is really the history of a revolution. Lew Wasserman ushered in the Hollywood we know today. He is the link between the old-school moguls with their ironclad studio contracts and the new industry defined by multimedia conglomerates, power agents, multimillionaire actors, and profit sharing. In the hands of Connie Bruck, the story of Lew Wasserman’s rise to power takes on an almost Shakespearean scope. When Hollywood Had a King reveals the industry’s greatest untold story: how a stealthy, enterprising power broker became, for a time, Tinseltown’s absolute monarch.

When Hollywood Had a King
Program Air Date: July 20, 2003

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Connie Bruck, "When Hollywood Had a King" is about what person?
CONNIE BRUCK, AUTHOR, "WHEN HOLLYWOOD HAD A KING": It`s actually about two people. The king is Lew Wasserman. And I say two people because Jules Stein was the person who gave him his chance and really set up the business, the platform from which he was launched. But it`s Lew Wasserman.
LAMB: Who`s Jules Stein?
BRUCK: Jules Stein started the Music Corporation of America, a band-booking agency, in Chicago in 1924, in Al Capone`s Chicago. And it was from that company that, eventually, Wasserman was launched.
LAMB: Because this is a political network, the first thing I want to connect is that Katrina vanden Heuvel is his granddaughter.
BRUCK: Is Jules Stein`s granddaughter, yes.
LAMB: And she`s with "The Nation," and the editor and all that.
BRUCK: Right.
LAMB: Was Jules Stein -- was a Republican.
BRUCK: A right-wing Republican.
LAMB: Well, explain all that connection -- you know, where does the vanden Heuvel come in all this?
BRUCK: Well, Jules had two daughters, Jean and Susan. And Jean Stein is the mother of Katrina. And Jean was always -- her politics were always different than her father`s, and it was a source of great friction between then. And -- I mean, Jules was very proud of her. She was a very accomplished person. But their politics were just polar opposites, really. And Katrina followed in her mother`s footsteps.
LAMB: What was it that Jules Stein started in MCA? What did they do?
BRUCK: It was a band-booking agency in Chicago, in the days when Chicago was controlled by Al Capone. And Stein basically turned the band-booking business into a business. It had never really been a business before. Bands were usually booked for one-night stands, and Stein came up with the idea that if they traveled, then they would need an agent to arrange all these travels. And so it was a simple idea, but quite brilliant. And he put it into effect, and within less than 10 years, he controlled 90 percent of the bands in America.

He then decided that bands were actually going to -- dance bands were on the decline, although you couldn`t see it yet in the figures. But he saw that it wasn`t going to be a thriving business for too much longer. And so he decided to move MCA, Music Corporation of America, which now he called MCA, to Hollywood and move into the talent agency business, booking stars for movies. And so he did that in 1936, and really, that`s where Wasserman`s story begins.
LAMB: Now, here`s a picture of Lew Wasserman, I think, in 1958. Who was he?
BRUCK: Lew Wasserman was a really poor kid from Cleveland who had to work through from junior high school on as an usher in movie theaters. And he then was a publicist for nightclubs in Cleveland. He wanted to go to college. He couldn`t afford to. He was a publicist for nightclubs, and as a publicist, he would get some advertising circulars from the Music Corporation of America. And he didn`t think they were very good, so he would redo them for his nightclubs. His nightclubs would be booking MCA`s bands. And Jules Stein`s brother, Bill, heard about this guy, Lew, who never thought their advertising was good enough, and he got to meet him. And he brought him to Chicago eventually to meet Jules Stein. He was 23 at the time.
LAMB: Why did you get interested in these two characters?
BRUCK: I got interested, really, in Wasserman because I interviewed him in `91, when MCA was sold to Matsushita. I did a long piece for "The New Yorker" about that transaction and the personalities involved in it. And at that time, I came to realize that Wasserman was a fascinating figure and immensely powerful. For around 50 years, he was clearly the most powerful man in Hollywood. He influenced virtually everything that happened in that community.

And it went beyond Hollywood because it was -- since he wanted to control that world, it meant that he had to be able to control labor situations. He had to have a strong influence in national politics. He had to have kind of a liaison with the Mob. So it was a way of telling, through one person, a much larger story that reached into all these areas. And I thought it would be really fascinating, and I didn`t really know another -- I always have wanted to tell a much larger story through an individual, and I couldn`t think of any other individual through whom I could tell a story of this scope. And also -- I mean, the fact that the arc went from -- for Wasserman, from the `30s until just when he died a year ago.
LAMB: Jules Stein lived for how long? And when did he die?
BRUCK: He lived to be 85. He died in 1981.
LAMB: There`s a picture, the only one that I could find in the book, on page 199, of Sidney Korshak. Who was he?
BRUCK: Sidney Korshak was the Chicago Mob`s man in Hollywood. He started out in life, in his professional life, as a lawyer -- it`s pretty clear, as a lawyer for Capone. That`s what he told friends of his, in any event. And he got involved with the Chicago outfit at that time. This is about 1931 or so. And he then went on eventually to move to Hollywood, where he was the Mob`s man. And he had enormous influence on labor unions, the Teamsters especially.

So for Wasserman, it was a relationship that mirrored the one Stein had established earlier. In Chicago, Stein had had a relationship with Petrillo, who was the head of the musicians` union, and also connected to Al Capone. And then Wasserman in Hollywood had Korshak, who, among many other things, enabled him to have great relationships with the Teamsters.
LAMB: On the back of your book, this quote on Lew Wasserman. "He helped me become president. He helped me stay president. He helped me be a better president -- Bill Clinton."
BRUCK: Well, Wasserman decided that he wanted Hollywood to be a more potent political force than it had ever been before. He, in part, came to that decision because in 1962, the Justice Department, Bobby Kennedy`s Justice Department, brought an anti-trust action against MCA -- the settlement of which caused them to go out of the talent agency business and only be in the production business.

And while Wasserman actually didn`t mind that -- it kind of suited his -- what he wanted to do -- still, he didn`t like being forced to do it, as he was. And he decided that he never wanted to be in a position where the government could have that kind of impact on him again, or he wanted to try not to be in such a position. So he decided to make Hollywood a really potent force in Washington, and he built a fund-raising machine such as had not existed in Hollywood before. And he became really -- he was somebody who could call any president on the phone.

His relationship -- he began by raising money for JFK, but he was never close to JFK. But then with Johnson, he found somebody whom he really admired enormously and felt close to. And after that, it continued. I mean, Nixon he wasn`t so close to, but there was a Republican at MCA who had the relationship with Nixon. And then Reagan -- well, Wasserman had been his agent back starting in 1939, so they had a relationship over decades of great reciprocity. And Clinton, Wasserman was crazy about. I remember he said to me, you know, Don`t get me started on Bill Clinton. I`ll sound like a lovesick teenager.
LAMB: Connect the Connie Bruck dots for me. You have been in New York. You`re married to a former congressman who was here in Washington for a while, but you live in Los Angeles. Explain all that. Where did you start in -- professionally?
BRUCK: Well, I`ve always, in my adult life, lived in New York. My professional life, I`ve lived there, basically, forever -- in California briefly when I was really young, but then New York. I started out as a reporter at the "American Lawyer" magazine. And then I wrote a book about Michael Milken, called "The Predators` Ball", and with that, Bob Gottlieb hired me at "The New Yorker" to be their business writer.
LAMB: By the way, the "Predators` Ball" came out what year?
BRUCK: I think it was 1988. And I really -- I didn`t know too much about business. I mean, I knew what I wrote about Milken, but I wasn`t really a business writer, per se. But Gottlieb thought that I was, based on that book. He didn`t know much about business, either. And so he brought me in as "The New Yorker`s" business writer. And then when Tina Brown came in, she freed me to write about other subjects, as well. I wrote about politics more under Tina.
LAMB: But you`ve written major pieces on Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich, a book on Steve Ross, who was head of Warner.
BRUCK: Right.
LAMB: And in what years were all those done?
BRUCK: Well, the book on Ross, I guess -- I mean, that was "Master of the Game," which came out in 1994. And I had written pieces about Time Warner at "The New Yorker." That was how I got interested in Ross. And at the same time -- and then in the early `90s, I wrote the piece about Hillary and then about Gingrich. And then after that, I wrote about the Middle East. So Tina was the one who let me sort of just have a broader ambit.
LAMB: When did you marry Congressman -- is it Mel Levine?
BRUCK: It`s Mel Levine.
LAMB: Levine.
BRUCK: Just two years ago. But I had been living in California with him more or less sort of the last five years. And it was in that period of time that I was working on this book.
LAMB: The Mob, the gangsters, all that, it pops up in your book all the way through this. Any evidence that any of these people, like Lew Wasserman or Jules Stein or any of the people at MCA, were ever part of the Mob in any way?
BRUCK: I wouldn`t say part of the Mob. I mean, I think that they lived in a time when -- well, certainly, Jules lived in a time when in order to be in the business he was in, he really had to have good relations with the Mob. And he was -- I mean, it was more than that. He was their partner.

I was fortunate to meet Judge Marovitz, Abraham Lincoln Marovitz, in Chicago, who was alive and active in that time, the same period as Jules. And he knew Jules. He knew Capone. He knew Petrillo, who was the head of the musicians union. And it was he who told me that Jules had had an interest in the Chez Paris, which was a nightclub run by the Mob. And so Jules was partners with the Mob. But as I say, at that time, I don`t think he -- he couldn`t have been as successful in the business he was in, and maybe he couldn`t even have been in the business he was in if he didn`t have these relationships.

For Wasserman, I don`t know whether he had to, but it was certainly uniquely useful to have the relationship with Sidney Korshak, who, as I said, helped him in his relationship with the unions. And the unions are totally key to the movie business. And he also was a kind of all-around fixer in Hollywood.
LAMB: Why are the unions key to the movie business?
BRUCK: Well, because they can kill it. If you -- you know, if you have a strike and you have a movie and the -- they just stop the business. And also, in the TV business, which was Wasserman -- what he moved into -- even before he got into the movie business, he was in TV production. He was even more dependent on the unions because of the short lead time. I mean, they could be even more destructive. So he -- and Wasserman -- he understood that. He had come into the business at a time when relations between the studio heads and the unions were terrible. There were horrible strikes in the mid-`30s, and then -- and then a very bad strike in 1946. So he fully appreciated what bad labor relations could do to him, as a studio head. And he went about making sure every way he could that he would have labor peace.
LAMB: How much evidence was there that the Mob was involved in the Teamsters union?
BRUCK: Well, it was pretty clear because the Teamsters union from the `50s on was headed by Jimmy Hoffa, and he was definitely -- I mean, it`s been established that he was closely related -- was controlled by the Mob, really. And Sidney Korshak, who was the Chicago Mob`s guy, was very close to Jimmy Hoffa. So there wasn`t any question, really, that the Mob controlled the Teamsters in that period of time.
LAMB: What was the -- what is the Mob?
BRUCK: Well, the Mob was an organization that -- I mean, it had different parts. The part that I concentrated on in this book was the Chicago Mob because that was where Jules Stein started and that was where his relationships were. And then it was the Chicago Mob that sent Korshak to Hollywood. And also earlier, Bioff and Brown, they were sent from the Chicago Mob. And basically, it was a scheme in the `30s to try to take over or have a large interest in the studios.

So the Chicago Mob was one distinct entity. And then there were the New York families. But those didn`t have so much to do with the story that I tell.
LAMB: Politics -- jumping to chapter three, which is "Political Might." Before I show a picture here -- MCA had Universal Studios, which made what kind of movies? What are the big movies that they make?
BRUCK: "Jaws," "ET," "Back to the Future." Those are Spielberg -- I mean, Spielberg was by far their greatest director, and really, the driving force of their movie business, I would say.
LAMB: But you go back to 1960. You say that Lew Wasserman really didn`t like Jack Kennedy that much.
BRUCK: Right.
LAMB: How much was that due to the fact that his brother, Bobby, was an investigator in Congress with the Mob?
BRUCK: It was due, I think, to a considerable degree because Bobby Kennedy was going after -- he was very focused on Las Vegas. And Vegas was a place where MCA did a lot of business and where Wasserman had personal relationships, as well -- Moe Dalitz, Wasserman had known from Cleveland. He was very close to him. And Moe Dalitz was really the -- he was called the "Godfather of Las Vegas." He had the Desert Inn. So -- and Dalitz was on Bobby Kennedy`s top 40 hoodlums list. I mean, Dalitz hated Kennedy. So I think it`s true that Wasserman didn`t like the Kennedys because -- in part, at least, because Bobby Kennedy was going after people like Dalitz, and also Sidney Korshak.
LAMB: There`s a picture at the beginning of this chapter three, and at our back is Lyndon Johnson. It looks like the dining room on the first floor of the White House. You`ve got on the left there Lew Wasserman, Arthur Krim, Bob Benjamin, lots of other names, and at the very far end, Tom Johnson, who was the deputy press secretary at the time. Why this picture? And why Lyndon Johnson?
BRUCK: Oh, well, that picture -- I love that picture because Wasserman was really crazy about LBJ, and definitely was closer to him than to any other president. And Wasserman is right there at his left. And Wasserman always said that Johnson had offered him the position of secretary of commerce. Ultimately, I came to believe that that was not true that he had actually offered it to him. I think there was some suggestion about it, but I don`t believe that it was ever offered.

But that became part of Wasserman`s -- it was very important to Wasserman, first of all, to have this political influence as a reality, and also to be able to sort of trade on it. I mean, it enhanced his aura, the fact that he was friends with presidents. And the fact that he could say also that Johnson had -- was not only someone whom he could get on the phone and whom he saw and was invited to the White House many times, but that Johnson had offered him a cabinet position just elevated him, obviously, even more.
LAMB: You suggest, I think, that that fact or that suggestion that he was offered the secretary of commerce might have come from Jack Valenti?
BRUCK: It was Valenti who first said it in a public context and was quoted in "Variety" or "Hollywood Reporter" in 1974. And then after that, both Valenti and Wasserman made reference to it many, many, many times. Wasserman always said that he had been offered it. He told me many times he`d been offered the job. He didn`t do it because his wife didn`t want to move to Washington. And Valenti also said that Johnson had offered it to him. Valenti told me that a number of times.
LAMB: So why was...
BRUCK: But they both said it after LBJ had died.
LAMB: What was the relationship, then, between Hollywood and LBJ, Hollywood and Nixon, Hollywood -- you go down the list of all -- what did Hollywood want from the president? And what did these presidential candidates want from Hollywood?
BRUCK: Well, the presidential candidates wanted money, not surprisingly. And there was a lot of it to be gotten. And it was not -- I mean, it was money, but it was also, even more than that, I mean, it was the power -- it was star power. They could have celebrities come to Washington and testify, if there were things that they wanted to -- basically, fund-raisers out in Hollywood, celebrities there. That was what -- it was an enormous amount of money that was available for them to tap.

And for Hollywood, naturally, they wanted legislation that would be useful to them and that would make the business more profitable, which they were able to obtain -- most notably, Nixon really paved the way for the investment tax credit, which was worth billions to the industry. And it`s not -- I mean, it`s little known that Nixon was such a friend to Hollywood, but he was the -- except for Reagan, he might have been the greatest friend to Hollywood, with the possible exception of Reagan.

Reagan -- when the financial interest syndication rules were going to be repealed in the early `80s, rules which restricted TV networks` ability to have ownership of their programming, and therefore were a bonanza for the movie studios, which did have the ownership, those rules were going to be repealed. And basically, Wasserman talked to Reagan and Reagan called off his chairman of the FCC, and the whole move to repeal them was stopped in its tracks.
LAMB: Now, you do quote, I think, Mark Fowler, who was chairman of the FCC, as saying that didn`t happen.
BRUCK: It`s true that Fowler denied that that had happened.
LAMB: Because one of your stories is that the White House has control over these agencies like the Federal Communications Commission.
BRUCK: Right. Well, actually, the FCC is supposed to be an independent agency, but I`m told by enough people that I believe that it`s true that Fowler was talked to by Reagan and that he did reverse his position. There`s no question that he reversed his position because he had made his position public, and then he reversed it. And I guess he would say he did it on the merits.
LAMB: Here`s a picture of Walter Pidgeon and Ronald Reagan. Do you remember what year this might have been?
BRUCK: Well, I don`t.
LAMB: Who was Walter Pidgeon?
BRUCK: Walter Pidgeon was an actor who was very, very successful. Maybe many of our watchers remember him. But very successful in the `40s, `50s, `60s. And he was important in this story because when Wasserman wanted to go into the TV production business, he was already -- MCA was the most powerful agency, by far. They represented, oh, just 80 percent of the big stars. You name them -- Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, on and on.

He wanted to go into the TV production business, as well, and he saw -- while the studio heads were afraid of television because they felt that it was just going to threaten their business, Wasserman saw that it was an opportunity. But he needed a waiver from the Screen Actors Guild in order to be able to be both a producer and a talent agent. Reagan was the president of the Screen Actors Guild at that time, and Walter Pidgeon was on the board. And there was a critical meeting where the issue came up of whether this waiver would be given to MCA or not.

And Pidgeon made an impassioned speech about how it should be done because it would just give them more jobs, and why shouldn`t they do it, and so forth. And Pidgeon was somebody whom everybody loved and respected. Many, many of the people in the Screen Actors Guild board did. So the resolution passed. But really, I`ve been told and people believe, really, it was Reagan who engineered it, even though it was Pidgeon who gave the speech.
LAMB: Have you gotten any insight, as you did this book, from your husband, who`s a former congressman? Did he represent Hollywood when he was there, Mel Levine?
BRUCK: He did. He had a good relationship with Lew Wasserman, who was an important supporter of his.
LAMB: But I mean, do you get -- one of the underlying themes in this book is this money, Hollywood, Washington thing. I mean, is there anything illegal in any of this?
BRUCK: There`s nothing illegal that -- no, there`s nothing illegal. I mean...
LAMB: I mean, does your cynicism level go up at all when you`re doing this book?
BRUCK: Well, I mean, it didn`t really surprise me that people who are really massive contributors can get Congress to pass legislation that benefits them. I don`t think -- I mean, obviously, it`s never supposed to be a quid pro quo, but Wasserman had such power that -- I mean, John Tunney told me a story about when he was raising money for -- I guess this was in `76...
LAMB: Former senator from California.
BRUCK: Former senator from California.
LAMB: Democrat.
BRUCK: Right. And Wasserman had -- he had known Wasserman. They had had a good relationship. Wasserman had helped him in his first run. Wasserman never asked anything of him. They would have breakfast. They would have meals together. Wasserman wanted to discuss things like education and different -- you know, domestic policy and never asked anything of him.

But Tunney got a call from Wasserman one day in the fall of `76, saying that he needed him -- Tunney was in California for a dinner, which was very important, some big fund-raising dinner in San Francisco. Wasserman said he needed him, that he had to go back to Washington because there was a critical moment in the vote on the investment tax credit. And Tunney said, I can`t. I have this dinner, and said he wouldn`t. And then he thought about it for, I don`t know, three minutes, and he called Wasserman back and he said, OK, I`m going. And he turned around and didn`t go to his dinner and went back to Washington. And as he recounted the story to me later, he said, Really, I had no choice.
LAMB: Why?
BRUCK: Because he couldn`t have risked engaging the wrath of Wasserman. I mean, Wasserman would have not supported him and would have blocked other people from supporting him, and he needed -- he couldn`t afford to lose Hollywood`s support in his fund-raising for his campaign.
LAMB: I wrote a bunch of stuff that you wrote about Lew Wasserman down. White shirt and dark tie all the time?
BRUCK: All the time. And he also made it a uniform. There was a dress code at MCA. They wanted to -- Jules Stein started this before Wasserman, but they believed that it was important -- they wanted to sort of elevate the image of talent agents and make them seem more professional. And so -- and Jules was, actually, an ophthalmologist by training, so he wanted to sort of upgrade the image. And so it was a strict dress code. In the early days at MCA, everybody had to wear a dark suit, white shirt, dark tie. In later years, it eased up slightly. Maybe you could wear, you know, a blue shirt. But that was the dress code.

And also, Wasserman always dressed that way, and even if there hadn`t been a dress code, his people were so kind of imbued with his stature as a leader that they tended to mimic him, even to the slightest thing. As somebody pointed out to me -- at MCA pointed out to me years later, he pointed to his black loafers, and he said, you know, they didn`t have to wear black loafers! But Lew did, and the rest of them followed suit.
LAMB: Did you see any evidence of his photographic memory?
BRUCK: Well, I didn`t, I have to say, because when I spoke to him -- first time I interviewed him was in `91, and then for this book, I interviewed him over the course of the last -- oh, you know, `98 to the time he died, basically, in 2002. So I didn`t see a photographic memory. His memory was still quite good and amazing for someone who was in his, you know, mid to late 80s, but I didn`t see the photographic memory.
LAMB: Lots of other stuff. You say you never take him on.
BRUCK: People never took him on.
LAMB: Yes.
BRUCK: Right. Right. That was what I was told again and again, that no one who worked for him would take him on. They were tough guys. Sonny Werblin in the MCA office in New York was a tough, tough guy, smart. But nobody would take Wasserman on. He was apparently just too intimidating, too formidable and too intimidating.
LAMB: Didn`t exercise, didn`t exert himself to smile, had a dry sense of humor, little sleep, never committed anything to paper. Any of those you want to explain?
BRUCK: Well...
LAMB: Returned all his calls…
BRUCK: Right. He returned all his calls the same day, which was pretty remarkable. He never -- he didn`t believe in committing things to paper. And that was something which -- you know, somebody -- Swifty Lazar once commented that MCA was a lot like the Mafia. And in that regard, Wasserman was very similar to his friends, Sidney Korshak and others. Those guys always knew that you didn`t commit anything to paper. Korshak would write on the back of a matchbook cover sometimes, if he really had to remember, you know, some deal he`d just struck. And Wasserman believed in that, too. He told me he was very proud when the government sued MCA in 1962 that he only had four folder files in his office.
LAMB: Explosive tirades -- people would pass out.
BRUCK: That`s true. I was told that men would leave his office in tears. Apparently, it was unlike anything that -- I spoke to many people who said they had worked for tough bosses or they had seen -- they knew screamers and they knew -- but this was different than that. The sign that it was coming, Wasserman would take his watch off. And then it was almost like a kind of a fit, I`m told. His voice would go to a higher pitch than you could imagine, and he would just scream, and grown men, you know, left his office crying, or fainting on occasion, fainting. It`s hard to imagine having never seen it. But I know that has occurred.
LAMB: You say he never had any dalliances with other women in his life that you could find, and that whenever a woman was in his office, a secretary, he always kept the door open, or had somebody in there with him?
BRUCK: Right. His secretary said to me he didn`t want anybody ever to be able to say, you know, Lew Wasserman chased me around his desk. And he was -- I mean, Hollywood, where obviously many people had dalliances, that wasn`t for him. He was an ascetic kind of personality, and really, his focus was the business. And I don`t think other things -- I mean, as far as I know, that sort of thing really didn`t interest him.
LAMB: But you left us with some unanswered questions on his wife. Is her name Edie?
BRUCK: Edie.
LAMB: And the suggestion was made in your book that she had dalliances?
BRUCK: Well, I was told this by many, many people, and that was the reason that I included it in the book, even though one could -- I mean, I hesitated about including it.

But the reason I did is because so many people, dozens of people told me that it was so, and that not only was it so, but it was something that was just sort of baffling and endlessly commented on in the Hollywood community, because people could not understand how it was that the most powerful man in Hollywood who inspired such fear could not or would not control his wife, when he seemed to control virtually everything else that happened in that community. And they also questioned how anybody would have the temerity to have an affair with Wasserman`s wife when he was such a fearsome figure.

So it was something that was just -- it was bewildering and I never found an answer to it. And none of the people I spoke to knew an answer to it. People had their theories. You know, he was so involved with the business that he didn`t care, because it just freed him, so he didn`t have to think about anything but the business. But I mean, people had theories, but nobody obviously knew what the reason was.

But it was just this mysterious thing that no one really could make out.
LAMB: So after all is said and done, what did Hollywood get out of Lyndon Johnson?
BRUCK: I`m not able to -- I don`t -- asked Lew that, actually. Because I said look, with Nixon you got so much, and LBJ you were so much closer to. And what did you get from LBJ? And he said well, you know, if we didn`t get anything, then I must not have asked him for anything, because I could have.
LAMB: He got Jack Valenti.
BRUCK: He did get Jack Valenti. Valenti was obviously was so close to Johnson. And when the Motion Picture Association of America was looking for a new head in 1966, Wasserman went to Johnson and said that he wanted Valenti for it. And there are different versions about whether Johnson was furious at the idea, or whether really he kind of liked the idea, but in any event, Wasserman got Valenti, and Valenti became the head of the MPAA, a position that he retains to this day.
LAMB: What was the Ted Sorensen story?
BRUCK: Well, there was some consideration that Johnson wanted to place Sorensen -- Sorensen was going to leave the White House, and Johnson wanted to place Sorensen in the MPAA, because he felt that he would be useful to him. He would still write speeches for him, but on the other hand, he`d be in this organization which Johnson recognized could be very important to him.

But some people talked to Sorensen and they said that they would expect that he would also be -- his first allegiance would be to the president, sort of be on call to Johnson. And Sorensen, as far as -- didn`t want to do that. In any event, Sorensen rejected the offer.
LAMB: If I remember correctly, there`s something like seven movie houses at the time Jack Valenti was made MPAA president, and he is probably to this day the most highly paid lobbyist in town, running one of these organizations. Is that by design that the movie companies wanted the highest paid lobbyist in town?
BRUCK: I don`t know if that`s true. In fact, I remember somebody telling me that they felt that Valenti wasn`t paid enough. Frank Yablans, who was the head of Paramount in the early `70s, said that he thought that Valenti should have been paid more. And -- but you know, I mean, all these guys were paid so much. So I guess their, you know, their expectations are just higher for what someone ought to be. And then he was very important to them. So I think they thought he deserved whatever he was getting.
LAMB: It`s hard to make out everybody in this picture, but you have Richard Nixon there, whom I recognize, and Taft Schreiber is in this picture and Jack Valenti. You really can`t see very well from here, but Taft Schreiber played a role in your book also. Why?
BRUCK: He was immensely important as the Republican side of politics at MCA. Wasserman was the Democrat, and Taft Schreiber was the Republican. And people said actually there was a sort of -- there was a considerable view that it wasn`t that Wasserman was such a true Democrat and that really Wasserman and Schreiber could have switched positions, that they were just such pragmatists they could have just changed sides and done it the other way.

But in any event, Taft Schreiber was the Republican, and when Nixon became president, Schreiber was the one who took over the relationship with the president and was the organizing person in Hollywood for the political machine.

Wasserman was always there and working hard, but he was more in the background. At that point, he let Schreiber take the lead. And Schreiber organized this meeting at San Clemente in 1971 with the people involved, with all the heads of the motion picture studios and with Nixon. And out of that meeting came great things for Hollywood. So Schreiber was immensely important at that point.
LAMB: All right. What overcame what? Did principle overcome politics? Business overcome everything else in the end? I mean, you had all these Democrats in Hollywood, very few Republicans. Taft Schreiber was a Republican, but mostly everybody else in the movie business were Democrats, giving money to Richard Nixon.
BRUCK: Right. Well, I mean, they really, I mean, they did what Wasserman told them to. I mean, there wasn`t any question that they weren`t going to give money. I don`t think -- I mean, there was...
LAMB: Was there any principle involved in this?
BRUCK: Well, I mean, principle in that...
LAMB: Personal political beliefs versus we need this president for business reasons and we`ll give him whatever he wants?
BRUCK: I think that was it. I think it came down to that.
LAMB: Did that surprise you?
BRUCK: I know, I mean, none of these Democrats refused to give. I mean...
LAMB: They all gave. Even Lew Wasserman.
BRUCK: I was told that he absolutely gave, though not in his name. But I mean the thing is, too, the studios gave. You know?
LAMB: Down here on the Mall is a place called the Hirshhorn Museum.
BRUCK: Right.
LAMB: Joseph Hirshhorn. How did it get there?
BRUCK: It got there because actually because Taft Schreiber and Len Garment were friends of Hirshhorn, and they lobbied Nixon to be able to -- that it should be in that place on the Mall. And Hirshhorn gave quite a bit of money to Nixon.
LAMB: Was Hirshhorn a Republican or a Democrat, do you know?
BRUCK: I believe he was a Democrat, although I remember there were some conversations where they told Nixon that if they cultivated him enough, he thought that he could perhaps become a Republican.
LAMB: Back there, you write: "On the subject of Hirshhorn Museum, Nixon agreed without enthusiasm that it should go forward, but he insisted that it should not look like that, quote, `that horrible Whitney thing in New York.`"
BRUCK: Right.
LAMB: "`Not that I`m anti-Semitic" -- laughter from his visitors -- but you don`t want an all-Jewish list.` Garment responded, well, these are the art experts. I spoke to Taft about the names." The whole issue of being Jewish is all through this section, with Richard Nixon. You`ve got your hands on some tapes. They are public tapes. Where did you find them?
BRUCK: In the National Archives.
LAMB: Did you listen to them?
BRUCK: I did. I listened to them a lot.
LAMB: Did you transcribe them yourself, or had they already transcribed them?
BRUCK: I transcribed them myself.
LAMB: And what did you find?
BRUCK: Well, I found these really interesting conversations between Nixon and Haldeman and Ehrlichman. The thing about Nixon and Jews is that he was very -- it came up in Hollywood, because he saw Hollywood as mainly Jewish, and he was -- it was for him a sort of -- just a difficult mix. He resented Jews because he felt they were mainly liberal, and it was a rant with him about how few -- how little Jewish support he got. He was just endlessly about that and so filled with resentment.

On the other hand, he had -- he appreciated that Hollywood could give him a lot of money. And he also felt a kind of affinity for Hollywood. He actually, even though he was this graceless guy, he obviously kind of liked Hollywood and was a little bit mesmerized by its glamour. So it was a mix for him. And it never really -- I mean, those tapes show a lot of things that sound really anti-Semitic, and, you know, Len Garment would defend him and say that it was just that he was always so resentful because he got such little Jewish support.
LAMB: But here`s this one part in your book. It says, "referring to Jewish supporters of Israel, Haldeman, who was his top aide, concluded, `they`re a ruthless bunch. They`re going to turn off the instant you don`t send them the signal they want, and they`ll stay on as long as they think you`re going to. Anything they think they can pressure you into.`" Bob Haldeman seemed to have a strong view about Jews.
BRUCK: He did. He did. And I think his view seemed, you know, worse than Nixon`s actually, because Nixon at one point started to say -- Nixon was good on Israel. In 1973, in the Yom Kippur War, Nixon sent the planes and armaments that were vital for Israel. So and I remember Nixon saying to either Haldeman or Ehrlichman, you know, he was talking about Kissinger, and how Kissinger was so pro-Israel. And he said, you know, all these Jews, they, you know, that`s the way they are about Israel, you know, that`s just the way they are, I`ve never seen a Jew who isn`t. But he wasn`t -- he was saying it in a way as though as a means of understanding how people felt, whereas Haldeman`s statements just sound frankly anti-Semitic.
LAMB: There was a little nugget on page 296 that you have, and I`m not sure, you might have gotten it from the Haldeman transcripts, which he published himself, I believe, or his wife did, I guess, on Henry Kissinger. And the issue isn`t Henry Kissinger, it`s Ben Bradlee. I don`t know if you remember this.
BRUCK: Oh, yes.
LAMB: And I`ll read it. This is Bob Haldeman speaking. "He came in and asked what he ought to do about it, and I said just keep your damn mouth shut. You give them an answer and that will give them a story. Ben Bradlee called and said, there`s a story about your dating this girl who plays in X-rated movies, nude movies, sex movies. Do you want us to hold it for the time being because of your trip? Henry said yes." In other words, we didn`t think that Ben Bradlee offered Henry Kissinger an opportunity to hold a story because he had a trip coming up.
BRUCK: According to Haldeman.
LAMB: According to Haldeman.
LAMB: Did you believe that?
BRUCK: I did, kind of.
LAMB: You wouldn`t think an editor would say somehow to Henry Kissinger, we`ll hold this story until you get your trip out of the way.
BRUCK: I don`t know. I don`t know. I mean, that was actually -- it wasn`t...
LAMB: Would you have done that as a reporter?
BRUCK: Well, no. No. No. But I don`t know what the relationship was between Bradlee and Kissinger.
LAMB: Who was at "The Washington Post" then.
BRUCK: Right. Right. And those tapes were at the National Archives. Haldeman hasn`t released those.
LAMB: So this hasn`t been published before?
LAMB: What was the story about Judy Brown?
BRUCK: Oh, she was some starlet and Kissinger -- Kissinger liked going to Hollywood and dating these women. He also had an affair with Jill St. John in the same period.
LAMB: Who was also involved with Sidney Korshak.
BRUCK: Who was involved with Sidney Korshak, which made it kind of much more dicey. And Kissinger seemed I thought naive about that at the time, that he would be having an affair with the woman who was at the same time Korshak`s mistress, I thought showed a certain degree of naiveté .
LAMB: Did you buy chance happen to call Henry Kissinger and asked him to verify any of this stuff?
BRUCK: I actually was supposed to see Kissinger. I ended up not being able to.
BRUCK: It goes unrebutted.
LAMB: The network suit that Hollywood wanted, explain that, please, in the Nixon administration years.
BRUCK: Well, Hollywood was just really, really -- one of the things they wanted more than anything else was for the Justice Department to prevent -- to sue the networks. And Nixon wanted to sue the networks because he hated them, because he felt that they had this -- were so against him. And so...
LAMB: Can I read from your tape that you`ve got here? Just so that you get the full thrust of it.
BRUCK: Yes. Right.
LAMB: Nixon says in this tape you`ve got, and he`s talking to John Mitchell, "that`s one of the reasons I`m for it. Taft Schreiber. The main reason I`m for it is I want to screw the networks. In any event, they`ve got to be screwed. They`re terrible people. They`re a bunch of bastards, but the movie people when we were in California with Taft Schreiber, I promised them we`d do something. Oh, no, I`m all for it. This is purely political in timing." He is talking about when to bring a suit against the networks.
BRUCK: Right. Right. And so, and ultimately he did bring a suit against the networks, and there was some investigation by the Justice Department about whether there was some appearance that perhaps he had brought it because of these contributions that were coming in from Hollywood. But ultimately that was never proven.
LAMB: How much money did Hollywood give Richard Nixon?
BRUCK: Oh, I don`t remember the exact amount.
LAMB: But I mean, you`re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars?
BRUCK: Oh, for sure. For sure.
LAMB: At a time when there were no limits.
BRUCK: Right. Right.
LAMB: So when all is said and done after you went through these -- I mean, we haven`t gotten to Bill Clinton years. What impact did Lew Wasserman have on Richard Nixon? How much did they get out of him besides the network suit?
BRUCK: Well, they got the network suit and they got ultimately the investment tax credit, which was a huge thing, which did mean billions to the industry. So I mean, those are the most important things that they got.
LAMB: What was Lew Wasserman`s relationship with Jimmy Carter?
BRUCK: Wasserman wasn`t close to Carter. He told me that, you know, Carter wasn`t his kind of a guy. And I`m not aware of anything great that Hollywood got in the Carter years. Really, it was when Reagan came in that, you know, Hollywood again got this huge thing, which was the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and that was one of the biggest things that Hollywood could get from Washington. Carter was -- I mean, Wasserman supported Carter, but he wasn`t really close to him.
LAMB: So what happened with MCA and Universal Pictures along the way when they were eventually sold to the Japanese? What were the circumstances?
BRUCK: Well, it was ironic, really, because Wasserman in his younger days had been great at acquisitions. He had built MCA as a talent agency in the 40s by acquiring other agencies. And once the merger and acquisition boom started in the mid-1970s, Wasserman was -- you would think that he would have been a great acquirer, and there was -- he should have been an acquirer at that time, because MCA was a strong company and it could have grown.

But it was a public company then. It had been a private company earlier. He was just able to make these deals in very controlled environments. And now somehow in the public arena, he wasn`t as good at it. He didn`t like to -- you know, he wouldn`t really negotiate. If he made an offer, he wasn`t then going to raise his offer. He just wasn`t nearly as adept as a public company in making acquisitions.

And it may be too -- some people have suggested that it was because the deals he had made earlier were such incredible deals, when he had bought the Paramount film library in 1958 for $50 million, which was then worth billions, he told me. Or when he acquired the Universal lot for $10 million or $11 million. I mean, he had done deals that were so spectacular some people thought that maybe he couldn`t bring himself to do these sort of much lesser deals later on.

In any event, MCA did not make the acquisitions that it could have, should have, say, in the 80s. Considered Disney. Came close to acquiring Disney. Had he done that, everything would have been different, but didn`t.

And so ultimately MCA became a target, because it was just, you know, something that somebody else could swallow. And also MCA was getting -- I mean, Wasserman was getting older. And it wasn`t clear -- it was sort of seen by the late 80s when he died the company would be really vulnerable and could be quickly acquired and broken up.

So eventually, `91, Wasserman decided, and the board went along, to sell the company to Matsushita. This became something that was a disaster for Wasserman and for MCA. The Matsushita management didn`t get along with Wasserman. Even though the company had been sold, Wasserman thought that he would still rule, which was kind of naive. Somebody said to me only in Hollywood would you think you could sell your company and still have the autonomy that you had before.

So he clashed with Matsushita, and eventually Matsushita sold it to Seagram, without even telling Wasserman that the deal was in the works, which was almost an unimaginable thing. People in Hollywood could not believe that OK, he had sold the company, but he was still there, he was still running it. They could not believe that his company, because they still thought it was his company, had been sold out from under him without his knowing it.
LAMB: When was this picture taken?
BRUCK: Well, that picture, I`m not sure, but I mean, I would say it was like `96 or so, `97. It was after the Seagram acquisition. Wasserman does not look very happy in that picture.
LAMB: Who`s he with?
BRUCK: He`s with Edgar Bronfman Jr.
LAMB: And the relationship -- who is Mr. Bronfman?
BRUCK: Well, he was the person who had engineered the acquisition of MCA by Seagram. And he and Wasserman never did have any kind of a relationship.

Wasserman became chairman of Meredith. He still went to work every day. Nobody consulted him. Bronfman set about sort of just trying to change the company completely. He wanted to do everything different than the way Wasserman had done it. He was a newcomer in Hollywood and seemed very arrogant, actually, to think that he, who was a young man and a newcomer, he had disparaged everything that Wasserman had done. It was not a good attitude. And eventually, he failed and the company was sold to Vivendi.

And Wasserman was just -- I mean, for Wasserman, who had built this, you know, giant really, to be there, because he still came to work every day through all these transitions, and just see the thing sort of being taken apart, piece by piece, was extraordinarily painful. He was famous, part of his legend that he had created or his persona was that he was somebody who never made a mistake. And I was very surprised when I was talking to him one day and he was recounting the things he loved to recount, his acquisition of the Paramount film library, how great that was, his acquisition of Universal.

And then there was a pause and he said, now, do you want to know the dumb thing I did? Which really took my breath away, because Wasserman was never supposed to say he`d done anything dumb. He said, "I sold the company to the Japanese." And...
LAMB: Who owns it today?
BRUCK: Well, today it`s Vivendi. And they are trying to...
LAMB: And who owns that?
BRUCK: Well, let`s see. Messier was fired, so I don`t even remember who the chairman of Vivendi is today. Barry Diller has been at the helm at Universal. And they are trying to -- Vivendi is trying to sell it off. And it will be in pieces, it seems like, pretty sure. Edgar Bronfman actually has reappeared, trying to maybe make a bid for some parts of it.
LAMB: How long did it take you to do this book?
BRUCK: Five years.
LAMB: And what was the hardest part of it?
BRUCK: The hardest part really was the historic part, because I had -- in my previous books, I was dealing with things that were pretty much contemporary. And here, trying to find out what had happened in Chicago in the `20s and `30s, where there were very, very few people left who were alive then, and in positions that they would have known anything.

That was the hardest part. But I was fortunate to find some people who were alive and also to find some, you know, oral history and archival material about Capone`s Chicago. So that -- actually, that became one of my favorite parts of the book.
LAMB: Where were you born?
BRUCK: In New Jersey, in a small town, Kearney.
LAMB: You grew up in that town? Or did you go to New York eventually?
BRUCK: I grew up in that town. Well, in, then West Orange. My parents moved to West Orange.
LAMB: What did your parents do?
BRUCK: My father was a real estate person and my mother a schoolteacher.
LAMB: And where did you go to school?
BRUCK: I went to Wellesley my first two years, and then I left and went to Barnard, finished up there, and Columbia Journalism School.
LAMB: And how did you get into this journalism business? What was your first job?
BRUCK: Well, after Columbia journalism, I moved to California and I started writing for the "San Diego Reader," which paid me $10 for a story. And then eventually I graduated to things like "Human Behavior" magazine, which I remember paid me $500 for a story on which I`d worked for about six months. My husband was supporting me at that time, obviously, or I couldn`t have worked for $10 for a story.

And then I moved back to New York, and went to work. Freelanced for a year, and then went to work for Steve Brill at "The American Lawyer." He had just started "The American Lawyer."
LAMB: How long were you there?
BRUCK: I was there for about -- from about `80 to `88, when I went to "The New Yorker."
LAMB: Of all the stuff you`ve written, all the articles, which one got you the most controversy?
BRUCK: Well, the Milken book was the most...
LAMB: "Predator`s Ball."
BRUCK: ... controversial. "Predator`s Ball" was the most controversial, because Milken was still very powerful at the time that I wrote it. He hadn`t been indicted yet. And I said that he should be indicted. He didn`t appreciate that. He and his people, his lawyers tried to stop the book from being published. That was the most controversial.
LAMB: What`s next?
BRUCK: I`m back at "The New Yorker," halfway writing stories there. I am doing the profile of Elliott Abrams at the moment.
LAMB: And why Elliott Abrams?
BRUCK: I think he is a really interesting person, a really interesting person, in an incredibly powerful position at this moment. His portfolio at the NSC is the Middle East, and it`s quite a moment to have the Middle East portfolio.
LAMB: Is there any way to describe your approach to journalism different than others? Do you have a special approach to it? A special way to go about it?
BRUCK: I don`t think so. I mean, I do have this -- I do like to try to tell a story, a larger story through an individual if I can. And like so many of my colleagues, I try to write narratives. You know, I`m a frustrated fiction writer. If I could write fiction, I`d write fiction. Since I can`t write fiction, I look for characters whom a novelist would covet.
LAMB: You touched on it earlier, but after this book, what`s the big picture conclusion that you reach?
BRUCK: At the end of this book? Well, Hollywood, I mean, there can never be -- for years in Hollywood, people would say who`s going to be the next Lew Wasserman? Because he -- there was no one to aspire to power in Hollywood who imagined being anyone other than Lew Wasserman. And by the time Wasserman died, or even a few years before it, it was clear that there would never be at least in the foreseeable future, there will not be another Lew Wasserman, because Hollywood has changed so much. And the way it is today, no one could exert the kind of power that Wasserman did.
LAMB: Here`s the cover of the book, "When Hollywood Had a King," as our guest just told us about Lew Wasserman. Connie Bruck, thank you very much for joining us.
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