American Masters On PBS Profiles Philanthropist Mogul David Geffen

Last evening (Tuesday 11/20) I watched an excellent American Masters documentary about media mogul David Geffen.

Geffen as many know is one of the recording industry legends who brought us many recording artists and their music from Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Jackson Browne when he was their manager and then continued on with his own recording label Asylum Records which had among its stable of artists The Eagles, Bob Dylan and Linda Ronstadt.

In 1972 Geffen sold Asylum Records to Warner Communications which merge it with Warner’s Electra Records which he ran until he left in 1975 to be vice-chairman of Warner Brothers Studios. That move as told in the documentary proved to be a lackluster debut in the film industry in that Geffen didn’t know (or refused to play) the Hollywood game of studio politics.

One funny story as told by Geffen was his run in with Clint Eastwood over Eastwood’s film The Outlaw Josey Wales, I won’t spoil it for you in case you wish to watch the program.

In 1980 Geffen started another record label Geffen Records which lost money for the first five years because of advances paid to the artists coming over to the new label, a change in music taste by record buyers and even in the change of music style by some artists. Geffen Records though hit the jackpot when a one-time-only-play video was run on MTV at the ungodly hour of 4 AM of Guns n Roses song Welcome To The Jungle which lite up the switchboard at MTV and as they say the rest is history.

Geffen Records hosted artists Donna Summer (the first to sign on the new label) Elton John, Cher, John Lennon and Aerosmith to name just a few. Geffen also became successful under the Geffen brand on Broadway with such hits as Cats and Dreamgirls plus movies including the blockbuster hit Risky Business which introduced us to Tom Cruise. After the Geffen record label contract was up with Warner Brothers Records in 1990 he sold the label to MCA Music Entertainment and through that deal and because of a 1991 acquisition of MCA along with his previous fortune, David Geffen the kid from Brooklyn became a billionaire.

Geffen’s life while it had many ups also had some downs such as a “betrayal” by the first artist he managed Laura Nyro, his short-lived sexual relationship with Cher when they fell apart and she became interested in Greg Allman and his misfortune in his first go round in the movie business at Warner Brothers.

Later on Geffen turned to his massive fortune to begin a new movie studio with Steven Spielberg and Jeffery Katzenberg called DreamWorks SKG which their Hollywood peers said would fail as there had not been any new movie studios started in years. They of course have proved their critics wrong many times over.

Geffen has since added philanthropy to his repertoire supporting AIDS research and has even become a political force to be reckoned with when he threw his support behind Barack Obama in the 2008 election instead of Hillary Clinton who he had become social friends with along with POTUS Clinton while they were in the White House.

Check your local PBS listings for this great documentary, Inventing David Geffen, for not only a look at the man but an insider’s view of the recording and movie business. The two hour long play is worth your time to watch.


About Lyndon Evans
Associated Press Award Winner

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