A Hollywood biography more dramatic and enthralling than most of what its subjects produce.
Although they were the quintessential Hollywood power couple, Edie and Lew Wasserman never cared for publicity—and with good reason, as they came from different sides of the same crooked coin. Born in Cleveland in the early part of the 20th century, Edie to a wealthy German-American Jewish family and Lew (then Louis) to dirt-poor Russian-Jewish immigrants, they each had roots in organized crime. Edie’s father was an infamous fixer for the Cleveland Syndicate, while Lew booked nightclub acts into Mob-owned joints in Cleveland, then Chicago, for the nascent MCA talent agency. Boston Globe Hollywood correspondent Sharp (In Good Faith, 1995) begins her narrative in 1958, when the couple were already king and queen of Hollywood, judiciously ladling in the juicy background info later. By the late ’50s, Lew was not only running MCA, the mega-agency that locked up most of the Hollywood talent just as the studio system began to crumble, he had recently bought the land that cash-strapped Universal sat on, becoming the studio’s landlord and ultimately its owner for a mere $12 million. After that, the coups rat-a-tat, as Lew courts up-and-coming politicos JFK and Reagan, sidesteps a Justice Department antitrust investigation, maneuvers MCA’s (and then Universal’s) TV division into a profit powerhouse, introduces the modern blockbuster with Jaws, and so on, before passing away in 2002. Not surprisingly, Edie is often shoved to the background here, but Sharp ably depicts her conniving ways as the queen bee of Hollywood society, somebody who wasn’t afraid to use any means at her disposal to get ahead, just like her husband. The author is alternately enraptured and horrified by the Wassermans, as most anyone would be when confronted by such a staggering amount of guile, ambition, and cold-blooded genius.
Lavish and extravagant, gossipy yet even-handed, maximizing a great story: likely to become the standard text on the Wassermans.