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"When MCA became the #1 label in marketshare for the first time under his reign, Mr. Wasserman sent a thank-you note to all of us telling us how much it meant
to him."
——Steve Meyer,
ex-MCA Records promotion head

LEW WASSERMAN, 1913-2002

Last of the Old-Time Movie Moguls
Hollywood is collectively mourning the loss of legendary movie mogul Lew Wasserman, who died Monday at his home in Beverly Hills. Wasserman, who was 89, had recently suffered a stroke.

As Chairman and Chief Executive, Wasserman was the undisputed ruler of MCA, the parent of Universal Studios. He owned 6.9% of the company’s stock and, through trusts, controlled more than 15%. When MCA was sold in 1990 to Matsushita for $6.6 billion, Wasserman’s take was put at $350 million, and he was retained as a manager. When Seagram took over the company five years later, Wasserman retired with the title of Chairman Emeritus. He remained on the board of directors until 1998.

During a 59-year career at MCA, he worked with everyone from Hitchcock to Spielberg, from James Stewart to Kevin Costner.

Wasserman worked for three years at Jules Stein’s Music Corporation of America, starting in 1936, before moving to Hollywood to run the optometrist-turned-showbiz mogul’s new motion picture unit.

From that point, back when MCA was primarily a band-booking agency, Wasserman expanded the movie business until his client list included such greats as Clark Gable, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Soon after, he pioneered the concept of "packaging" his agency’s talent (long before Mike Ovitz) by making one deal for a movie’s writers, director and lead actors, thus commissioning as much as possible per movie.

Wasserman also pioneered the now-routine practice of negotiating percentages of a movie’s profits for his clients.

In the process of expanding his power beyond that of any movie mogul before or since (notably, he reanimated Ronald Reagan’s acting career and maintained a close relationship with the future President), Wasserman also expanded into television and music, transforming MCA from agency to studio.

"I’m not sure people really appreciate that he dominated this industry in a way no one else has come close to since," MPAA chief Jack Valenti (whom Wasserman anointed in 1966) told a Washington Post reporter in 1995. "What you’ve got to understand is, if Hollywood is Mount Olympus, Lew Wasserman is Zeus."

Ex-MCA Records promotion head Steve Meyer recalled how much the company's success in music meant to Wasserman.  "I remember a luncheon with him and Irving Azoff (whom he had just hired to rebuild MCA Records), Mr. Wasserman said, 'You know our name is MCA...which stands for the Music Corporation of America. Music is our first name...and I hope we can once again become a leader in that field.'  Of course, Irving did just that and, when MCA became the #1 label in marketshare for the first time under his reign, Mr. Wasserman sent a thank-you note to all of us telling us how much it meant to him."

Former L.A. Times journalist Dennis McDougal’s definitive 1998 bio, The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA and the Hidden History of Hollywood, described the rise of the legendary studio head, who was portrayed as both canny and ruthless.

After his retirement seven years ago, Wasserman and wife Edie remained active fundraisers and philanthropists, notably supporting the Democratic Party and UCLA, where they endowed scholarships and funded the Edie and Lew Wasserman Eye Research Center addition to the Jules Stein Eye Institute.

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