Disney War by James B. Stewart
This book read like a novel. The author has a compelling writing style and compelling subject matter to go along with it. How could you not love this book – after all it’s about Disney, the people that gave you Mickey Mouse, and Minnie too? There’s scandals, and intrigue. There are big heavy egos trying to blow each other out of the industry. You are going to eat it up, no, more than that. You are going to love it.
You meet all the players in this book, and the funny thing is that in spite of all the wealth and power that is displayed in this book, there are no happy people. A man like Michael Eisner (Chairman Disney) amasses a billion dollars, and he’s still insecure looking over his back wondering who’s going to put the knife in.
Eisner to his credit along with Frank Wells created one of the most dynamic Hollywood teams in decades. Wells died an untimely death while helicopter skiing in 1994. With Wells’ death, it seemed that the magic in the Eisner-Wells partnership died with it. Within a few years, the extraordinary growth in sales, and earnings that had been talked about in the 1980’s takeover was gone.
Eisner alone apparently, simply could not continue the magic. He had Jeff Katzenberg, a brilliant, egotistical (not a negative, every heavy in Hollywood is egotistical) producer running the movie studio for Disney. The problem was that Katzenberg wanted Wells’ job, before the body was buried. Katzenberg keeps hammering Eisner to give it to him, and Eisner just won’t do it. The two butt heads, and Katzenberg gets fired, and then the fun begins. There’s severance pay to discuss, and this means lawyers, courts, judges, and testimony, and then there’s David Geffen.
David Geffen is one of the smartest men in Hollywood with a $4 billion net worth. He created Asylum Records, and then sold it, and created Geffen records, and sold that too. Over a 30-year career, he had an uncanny sense to figure out where the world was in terms of music, and then bring it to them. He’s made movies, plays, and is a brilliant dealmaker. He’s the richest man in Hollywood, raises $18 million for President Bill Clinton, and then recently goes public telling Hillary, “Obama is number 1 with me”.
Geffen is also one of Jeff Katzenberg’s closest friends, and confidants. Geffen would call Disney CEO Eisner constantly, and tell him to settle with Katzenberg. Each time Eisner resisted, and each time Geffen would tell Eisner, “Whatever you settle for today, is the cheapest settlement you are ever going to make.” The bids just kept getting bigger and bigger until ultimately Katzenberg scored one of the biggest settlements in Hollywood history.
Katzenberg then takes the settlement, and joins financial forces with David Geffen himself, and Steven Spielberg to form DreamWorks SKG, which Katzenberg ran as CEO for the three of them. What a story, it’s a story without end, and continues even today.
In this fabulous book, which you won’t be able to put down, you will meet Steve Jobs of Pixar and Apple Computer fame. Eisner and Disney had an opportunity to buy half of Pixar for $10 million dollars from George Lucas, the Star Wars creator, and Eisner walked away. Lucas settling his divorce, sells to Jobs instead for $10 million, and years later Jobs sells the whole thing for $7 billion to who – WHY DISNEY OF COURSE.
But wait – There’s MORE
The author James Stewart does a fabulous job telling the story of Michael Ovitz the man who created the most powerful talent agency in Hollywood, Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Ovitz was Hollywood’s ultimate deal man. Eisner always liked Ovitz, and their wives were best friends. Before Wells died, Eisner had discussed with Wells the possibility of Ovitz joining Disney. You can read the rest of the Ovitz story in the book.
There’s battles, yelling, screaming, power, anger, revenge, and it’s all about Mickey Mouse. Where else are you going to find this kind of drama involving a corporation. The answer is NOWHERE.
Eisner gets FORCED OUT TOO!!!
Perhaps the best part of the story is the long process by which Michael Eisner gets forced out of the company that he completely rejuvenated with Frank Wells back in the mid 1980’s. Very few visionaries know when it’s time to quit. They don’t quite realize when the creative juices are gone, or its just not as much fun getting up in the morning as it use to be.
The arguments between Disney shareholder and namesake Roy Disney and Eisner went on for years. The clashes were private and the clashes became public. The laundry was hung out to dry for all of us to read about. In this final clash you learn about Eisner’s brilliance, and his pettiness. His vindictiveness is evident for all of us to read about, and wonder.
If you want to understand how an American icon like the Disney Company is managed and mismanaged, this is the book for you. If you want a page-turner that you just can’t put down, written in an action packed style, than James Stewart’s Disney War is in a class by itself. Get it in time for a weekend of fabulous reading. Good luck