by Dennis McDougal ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 4, 1998
A sweeping, keen-eyed look behind the curtain at one of the most powerful institutions in Hollywood and the man who ran it for so many years. MCA was the inadvertent brainchild of Dr. Jules Stein, a Chicago ophthalmologist who found he could make more money as a booking agent for big bands than as a doctor. His booking agency grew and grew during the 1920s and '30s, attracting a number of talented young agents, including Lew Wasserman, the son of a perpetually unsuccessful Jewish immigrant. Incorporated as MCA, the company expanded across the world and into a number of ventures far beyond music, including everything from providing linen for nightclubs to representing movie stars. Wasserman was sent west to head up the Hollywood outpost, and it was there that he came into his own. A fixer, a mover and shaker behind the scenes, Wasserman courted power but shunned publicity. Along the way, innovating ceaselessly in the art of the Hollywood deal, neither he nor Stein, as portrayed here, may have been shy about using shady tactics and consorting with and using mobster muscle. While McDougal (In The Best of Families, 1994, etc.) digs up little that's definitive on this ""Teflon Mogul,"" the hints and shards of evidence he finds are fairly damning. As Stein aged and MCA moved into producing for television, Wasserman's power grew exponentially. But the move into production, culminating in the purchase of Universal studios, attracted the attention of government antimonopolists, and MCA was forced to give up its talent agency. Curiously, Wasserman had no real feel for movies, and his hands-on attention produced a number of bombs. But only age dimmed his power and influence. Through a slow, masterful accretion of details, McDougal paints a complex and ultimately devastating portrait of this man whose legacy, stripped of the evanescence of power, is pathetically thin.
Pub Date: Nov. 4, 1998
Page Count: 560
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998
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