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Hollywood Rites of Passage, from Redford and Smith to Siegal and Geffen

Hollywood Rites of Passage, from Redford and Smith to Siegal and Geffen

It was an odd day, bookended by two events that drew together an amazing swath of Hollywood’s older generation. I saw CAA partner Bryan Lourd, DreamWorks’ Marvin Levy, and Sundance’s Michelle Satter at both events, and while the Lois Smith memorial in the morning and Peggy Siegal-wrangled PBS documentary “Inventing David Geffen” (November 20) in the evening were very different affairs, they both marked rites of passage.

At the WGA premiere, Bruce Springsteen bussed Geffen’s old girlfriend Cher. Warren Beatty greeted old flame Joan Collins. Among Hollywod royalty present to support Geffen: Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, Peter Guber and Jon Peters, Walter Parkes and Laurie Macdonald, Francis and Eleanor Coppola, Oscar producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, Jane Fonda and Richard Perry, Terry Press and Andy Marx, ex-Universal chief Sid Sheinberg, ex-Fox chief Larry Gordon, current Fox chief Jim Gianopulos, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, producers Steve Bing, Michael Peyser, and Kevin McCormick, directors Brett Ratner, Tom Ford and Joe Wright, music moguls Berry Gordy and P. Diddy, as well as Ricky Jay, Annette Bening, Maria Shriver, Larry David, Bill Maher, Robbie Robertson, Oprah Winfrey, Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Larry David, Virginia Madsen, Rosanna Arquette, Melanie Lynskey, Matthew Morrison, Nick Pileggi, and Vincent Gallo.

Why the amazing turnout for Hollywood’s most powerful billionaire? In introducing the doc Hanks said, “We are all here because we’d all like to be as smart,  hardworking, and seeing-into-the future as David Geffen is.” But Larry Gordon put it better: “Nobody would dare not show up.”

The movie is just what you’d expect: a revealing slice of cultural history with a great soundtrack. But American Masters veteran Susan Lacy is so hagiographic that she undercuts Geffen’s real achievements as a brilliant businessman in the arts with amazing instincts for nurturing talent at Asylum and Geffen Records, from The Youngbloods, Laura Nyro and The Eagles to Jackson Browne, Nirvana, Aerosmith and Guns ‘n Roses (who broke out after one Geffen call to MTV’s Tom Freston begging him to air their video just once). I welcomed interviews with straight-shooters like Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Elton John, Mike Nichols and Barry Diller, as opposed to the many admiring Friends of David. In the film, producer Howard Rosenman was as blunt as Geffen is known to be:  “If you’re his enemy, you’re better off dead.”

It was revealing that on the eve of the DreamWorks announcement Geffen was having an anxiety attack. He knew that they couldn’t win. I was also reminded of what an impact powerbroker Geffen had when he announced his homosexuality and switched allegiance from the Clintons to Barack Obama, early on. I had also forgotten his moving role with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who he took care of–as he did many artists over the years–after her husband was killed. I could sympathize with Geffen’s quest for self-fulfillment and to understand what drove him. But I’d have liked to see more of that side of Hollywood’s Dark Prince.

I could see why former Lois Smith partner Siegal couldn’t make the morning memorial at Hollywood’s Linwood G. Dunn Theater. The service started 25 minutes late because they were waiting for Robert Redford. Just as IDPR’s Mara Buxbaum started to speak, Redford arrived and took the podium. He thanked Smith for teaching and guiding him in the art of publicity early in his career, which he ignored and resisted until he saw the righteousness of her counsel.

As always, filmmaker Norman Jewison nailed the tale of how Smith made him –during rehearsals for “Fiddler on the Roof”–go to his first auction to bid for and win Chagall’s painting of a fiddler. He remembered Smith as a beacon in red at jammed events–someone he could trust and rely on, who would look after and protect him. That’s what her other clients said as well, including Sean Penn, who said that Smith lived her life according to the following quote from William Saroyan:

“In the time of your life, live—so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed.

Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart.

Be the inferior of no man, or of any men be superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man’s guilt is not yours, nor is any man’s innocence a thing apart. Despise evil and ungodliness, but not men of ungodliness or evil. These, understand. Have no shame in being kindly and gentle but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret.

In the time of your life, live—so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.”

Many of the folks assembled were inspired by Smith’s integrity and values, they said afterwards. Attendees included Smith’s daughter Brooke and granddaughter Brianna, who both work in the business, as well as her clients Michelle Pfeiffer, Taylor Hackford, Rob Morrow and Lothaire Bluteau, producers Diane Sokolow, Laura Bickford and Sid Ganis, agent Chris Andrews, journalists Peter Bart and Mark Morrison, AFI’s Jean Firstenberg, and marketing/publicity execs Pat Kingsley, Jennifer Allen, Catherine Olim, Terry Curtin, Dennis Higgins, Jasmine Madatian, John DeSimeo, Michael Klastorin, Hilary Clark, Rachel Aberly, Mark Pogachefsky, Michelle Abbrecht, and Karen Samfilippo. (My obit of Smith is here.)

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