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Tom King

      . . . reporter. David Geffen, an enormous force in American popular culture for more than 30 years, is the subject of Mr. King's biography, The Operator. Mr. Geffen's influence includes music, the movies and Broadway theater. Mr. King is entertainment reporter for "The Wall Street Journal," based in Los Angeles.

Excerpts3:23 secs

      In a world where American popular culture has a global reach, David Geffen matters. He is a one man symbol -- a dominant force in American television, movies, and music for more than 30 years. Tom King, entertainment reporter for the "Wall Street Journal," concluded that Mr. Geffen is the only living person in show business currently worthy of a full-scale biography. Hence, The Operator.

      David Geffen has turned good acts into superstars (the Eagles; Crosby, Still & Nash; Joni Mitchell; Jackson Browne) and signed superstars no one else could touch (John Lennon and Bob Dylan). He was the money behind "Cats" on Broadway and the casting genius who propelled Tom Cruise to stardom. And he's one-third of Dreamworks, the first new studio in more than half a century.

      What distinguishes Geffen is his gift for figuring out what the rest of us will like. There's a magnetism to Geffen so extraordinary it cannot be measured, says King. Geffen's smart, yes, but also charming, apparently irresistible to artists who have sought the sanctuary Geffen promised (and then recoiled when that sanctuary was sold, e.g., Asylum records.) Geffen also listens. He's had a lifetime of "Rabbis" -- personal mentors who included titans of the music business, talented business lieutenants, and artists. (Jackson Browne told Geffen to sign Linda Ronstadt and Glenn Frey, suggested Don Henley and his buddies could be The Eagles.) That makes the countless stories of Geffen's personal, often vitriolic, about-faces all the more stunning.

      Mr. King applauds Mr. Geffen as a guy who likes good, clean, entertainment, as a philanthropist, as a man to whom we can safely entrust our culture. But these do not qualify Geffen for role model or hero, says King. Mr. Geffen gets what he wants. He's obsessed with a need to control. He may not like violence on the screen, but Mr. Geffen is legendary for verbally drubbing people into submission, on the telephone and in person, reports Mr. King.

      At the same time, King believes the Hollywood context exacerbates and plays to the dark side of corporate culture. As a business reporter, Mr. King witnesses artists and the executives who deal with them acting in different -- often colliding -- worlds. Yes, entertainment is a crazy business. Geffen, King says, is simply an extreme case.

      In the end, perhaps the man who seems to know us so well is also the embodiment of an ancient cautionary tale. This son of Russian immigrants who adored the glitter of the entertainment world and was determined to be rich has netted more than $3 billion. And David Geffen is alone.

      [This Program was recorded March 28, 2000, in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Tom King explains to Paula Gordon and Bill Russell why he wrote his biography of David Geffen. Mr. King gives examples of why he greatly admires Mr. Geffen who, time and again, was on the pop culture scene as history was being made. He summarized Mr. Geffen's role in music, Broadway theatre and movies.

Conversation 2

Mr. King details why he chose to follow the career of David Geffen instead others he names in the entertainment business. He recounts how Mr. Geffen's childhood desire to be rich shaped his life in a domain where he could make his own rules. Mr. King describes Mr. Geffen's mother and her influence. Mr. King gives examples of Mrs. Geffen teaching David practically everything except, he says, the concept of right and wrong. Mr. Geffen's experiences are compared to present-day corporate America. Mr. King amplifies on how Mr. Geffen is and is not an extreme case of what is characterized as the entertainment business and American corporate culture.

Conversation 3

Mr. King gives a range of reasons why he found David Geffen a worthy subject -- charm and intelligence combined with what Mr. King describes as ruthless and abusive behavior. Mr. King offers stories of a pantheon on superstars who directly benefited from Mr. Geffen, including the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and John Lennon. The notion of "Hollywood is Hollyweird" in considered from Mr. King's perspective as a business reporter. He returns to Mr. Geffen's experience of an ongoing tension between business and creativity. Mr. King ponders the success of Mr. Geffen (Spielberg & Katzenberg)'s Dreamworks. Examples are given of when Mr. Geffen did and did not refrain from interfering with creative people, struggling between the business and artistry of entertainment

Conversation 4

Crosby, Stills and Nash, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, the Eagles all are connected to David Geffen by Mr. King. He suggests that Mr. Geffen's enormous successes stem in some part from being a child of show business, with examples. Mr. King notes how thoroughly Mr. Geffen recognized the value of listening to the "Rabbis" in his life, offering examples of artists, lieutenants, and business mentors. David Geffen's life is compared to the King Midas myth. Mr. Geffen's extremely generous contributions to charities and good works is acknowledged. Mr. King tells how David Geffen is widely known for solving problems, sometimes well beyond the entertainment arena.

Conversation 5

David Geffen, Mr. King believes, can be trusted with shepherding our cultural media even as he opens Mr. Geffen's personal behavior to question. Mr. King explains. He addresses Mr. Geffen's homosexuality, Jewishness and roots in 1950s Brooklyn. Mr. King tells why he thinks David Geffen's story is the story of the sexual revolution. The telephone gets its due, with Mr. King comparing the experience of being on the ╬phone with Mr. Geffen (a form of communication Mr. King avoided) to being with him in person. The subject of control is considered, along with Mr. Geffen's work habits.

Conversation 6

With the suggestion that the root of evil is fear, Mr. King describes what he thinks are David Geffen's fears. He recalls the story of his Mr. Geffen's mother's most treasured possession -- American citizenship papers -- which Mr. Geffen believed signified freedom for her. Mr. King suggests this also prompted Mr. Geffen's political interests. Mr. Geffen is considered as a human variant of a force of nature.


David Geffen is an important part of the story of popular culture in America (and thus, the world) in the last part of the 20th century. While we always prefer to talk with people first hand, in this case were glad to get an initial glimpse of Mr. Geffen, if only from this distance.

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The Operator is published by Random House

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