Celebrity history- David Geffen

Celebrity history- David Geffen

            Business magnate, producer, film studio executive, and philanthropist David Geffen was a frequent visitor to the Pines throughout the 1980’s and 90’s. He would hang with friends designer Calvin Klein, Andy Warhol, Steve Rubell and more. He would purchase Calvin Klein’s home and get involved in the community. He donated to several AIDS benefits during this time.        

Calvin Klein and Steve Rubell at pool party photographed by Andy Warhol.

   Far left at FIP Fashion Show in 1981.

  On right (David-GeffenMart-Crowley-Michael-Ruppert-and-agent-Arnold-Stiefel)



David Geffen is the founder of record labels Asylum Records, Geffen Records and DGC Records, as well as film studio DreamWorks. Born to Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, Geffen started his career in the mailroom of talent agency William Morris, where he rose to become an agent. Upon graduating from high school in 1960, Geffen headed west, not to California, but to the University of Texas at Austin. He lasted only one semester until he flunked out with poor grades. He worked at a series of odd jobs in New York City before landing a position as an usher at the CBS-TV studio. He loved the job. “I got to watch them rehearse TV shows with people like Judy Garland and Red Skelton,” he said in a Forbes article, “and I was thinking, ‘Well, I’m not talented, what can I do?'” He worked his way up to a receptionist position on the CBS series The Reporters, but was fired after suggesting some script improvements to a producer. When the show’s casting director jokingly remarked that Geffen might make a good agent, Geffen followed up on the idea. Looking through the Yellow Pages, he contacted the William Morris Talent Agency—the one with the biggest ad. He began with a job in the mailroom there in 1964, earning $55 a week sorting letters, but quickly aspired to greater things. “I’m delivering the mail to people’s offices,” he told The New Yorker “and I hear them on the phone, and I think, I can do that. Talk on the phone. This I can do.”

Geffen began developing relationships with musical talent. He was made a junior agent a year and a half after joining William Morris Talent Agency and was soon managing the career of the promising singer/songwriter Laura Nyro. That led to contacts with other up-and-coming stars such as Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, and Janis Joplin. In 1969, Geffen made his first million dollars by selling out the music publishing operation that he had started with Nyro.

In 1970, Geffen cofounded Asylum Records with Elliot Roberts, a friend from his days at William Morris. It was at Asylum Records that Geffen cultivated his knack for spotting new talent and trends in the entertainment industry. Often on the basis of a single demo tape, Geffen signed up some of the hottest rock and roll acts of the early 1970s, including Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, and The Eagles. Once he signed them, Geffen nurtured the relationship he had established with these artists by treating them fairly and giving them artistic and career advice. When he sold Asylum Records in 1971 to Warner Communications, it was one of the largest deals in the music industry up to that point.

One of those came in 1975, when Warner Communications chief Steve Ross asked Geffen to take on the job of vice chairman of Warner Brothers Pictures. With no experience in the movie business, Geffen leapt at the chance but only had middling success during his first year on the job. He felt stifled by the corporate decision-making structure and asked for a less structured portfolio.

After a four-year semi-retirement precipitated by a mistaken diagnosis of terminal cancer, Geffen returned to his first love, the music business, in 1980. He founded Geffen Records with capital assistance from Warner and began gobbling up new and established talent. John Lennon, Elton John, and Donna Summer were among the acts who released records on the Geffen imprint. Two years later, again with help from Warner, the Geffen Film Company was launched. The company’s initial release, the 1983 comedy Risky Business was an immense hit with audiences and it helped make a star out of then-unknown Tom Cruise. During this period, Geffen also expanded his portfolio to include Broadway and off-Broadway theater. He helped bankroll such successful productions as DreamgirlsLittle Shop of Horrors, and the hugely profitable Cats.

Powered by the explosion of “grunge rock,” DGC continued to be a dominant market force well into the 1990s. Meanwhile, Geffen’s other enterprises were doing almost as well. His movie company produced the hits Interview with the Vampire and Beavis and Butthead Do America. The plays Miss Saigon and M. Butterfly benefited from a New York theater boom. In 1994, together with director Steven Spielberg and former Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, he cofounded DreamWorks, a movie studio and entertainment production company. 

Geffen’s personal worth has been estimated at well over $1 billion. He donates much of his annual salary to the David Geffen Foundation, a charitable organization devoted to his favorite causes. These include AIDS research, a crusade he has backed avidly since publicly announcing his homosexuality in the early 1980s. Beyond making financial contributions, Geffen has lobbied Washington tirelessly on behalf of funding AIDS research and gay rights. In 1993, he took out full-page newspaper ads protesting President Clinton’s policy on gays in the military. Yet Geffen continues to support Democratic politicians, hosting a 1999 Hollywood bash that raised about $1.5 million for Democratic congressional candidates.

Throughout the years he has amassed an impressive contemporary art collection, including works by Jasper Johns, De Kooning and Jackson Pollock.A luxury property aficionado, he owns one of NYC’s most expensive apartments, a house in the Hamptons and the Jack L. Warner estate in Beverly Hills.In 2017 Geffen pledged $150 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the largest gift in the museum’s history.

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