He has been called Hollywood’s mystery man.
The show business trade paper Daily Variety says he is Teamster President Jackie Presser’s personal envoy to the film industry--although he is not officially affiliated with the Teamsters or any other union.
He refers to himself as “The Rabbi,” a man who can get major studio executives on the phone in the middle of lunch and also talk shop with set builders over a beer on a studio back lot. His “God-given talent,” he says, is settling labor disputes. And that ability has made him both sought-after and feared in the movie community.
His name is Martin Bacow, and he is the focus of a secret Justice Department investigation into suspected labor racketeering in Hollywood. For the last 18 months the federal Organized Crime Strike Force in Los Angeles has been trying to determine if the 66-year-old Bacow and his associates have been coercing production companies into hiring them to guarantee labor peace.
Bacow says the allegation that he is a labor racketeer is ridiculous, that he has never been paid for his services and that he is being “framed” by anti-union forces in management who want to keep him from becoming involved in the ongoing Writers Guild strike.
“I know people,” Bacow said when asked about the source of his reputed power. “If people come to me, and they believe me, and they trust me, is there something wrong with that?”
Federal investigators want to know just how far Bacow’s alleged influence extends--and how much power the Teamsters Union wields in the upper echelons of the entertainment industry.
The investigation has already led to a scandal in the Los Angeles Police Department where a veteran organized crime detective took early retirement after it was alleged that he had leaked information to Bacow about the probe. His partner was disciplined last week for his role in the incident.
The FBI took the unprecedented step last November of installing wiretaps on the telephones in the LAPD’s elite Organized Crime Intelligence Division, The Times has learned, eavesdropping on conversations in which the veteran detective allegedly disclosed confidential information to Bacow and at least one other investigative target unrelated to the Teamsters probe.
The wiretaps were installed with the permission of top-level police officials, sources said.
The FBI reportedly has also begun monitoring a broad range of Hollywood deal-making through other court-ordered wiretaps.
‘Notified by Teamsters’
Bacow said he has been “notified by Teamsters executives” that the FBI “has several hundred pages” of transcript generated by a telephone wiretap on conversations between him and Teamsters chief Presser. Federal officials have refused to confirm the report.
There are suggestions of at least one other wiretap in the investigation.
Officials at MCA Inc., parent company of Universal Studios, last fall confronted former Chief Assistant U.S. Atty. Richard Drooyan with what they said was evidence that the FBI may have attempted to install a wiretap at the offices of MCA’s Home Video Division. The division is headed by Eugene F. Giaquinto, a man Bacow describes as a good friend and business contact.
MCA officials say Drooyan refused to confirm or refute their suspicions. Strike force attorney Richard Stavin, who is reportedly directing the inquiry, has refused to discuss the case or confirm that Bacow is even a target of the investigation.
One Hollywood film studio, Sylvester Stallone’s White Eagle Productions, has been served with federal grand jury subpoenas in connection with the probe; others, such as Cannon Films, MTM Enterprises, New World Pictures and Warner Bros., have at least been contacted by the FBI, sources familiar with the investigation said.
Subpoenas have also gone out to many of the largest labor unions in the entertainment industry, including the Screen Extras Guild and the Teamsters’ primary bargaining unit in Hollywood, Local 399. Officials there say Bacow has never had any official or unofficial connection with the local, though they have not denied that Bacow may have connections with the union’s parent organization.
Usually Confined to Back Lots
The Teamsters Union has traditionally been confined to Hollywood’s back lots, representing the blue-collar workers who drive the equipment trucks and operate the cranes that keep movie-making moving.
But the Teamsters in the last few years have been trying to align themselves with some of the industry’s most visible, front-line unions. Four years ago, the Teamsters scored an unprecedented coup by signing a limited affiliation pact with the Producers Guild of America--the union’s first inroad into a field that had once been the province of management. Last year, the Teamsters nearly persuaded the Screen Extras Guild to join the fold.
Producers Guild officials say Bacow had no part in their affiliation talks. However, he did play a behind-the-scenes role in the Screen Extras merger discussions and in preliminary talks between the Teamsters and the International Alliance of Stage and Theatrical Employees’ Hollywood local, union sources said.
Industry officials say he has played a quiet role in settling labor disputes on productions ranging from the movie “Foul Play” to “Miami Vice.”
Subpoenas handed out so far appear to be tracing Bacow’s steps through the industry, which appear to reach, at least on occasion, into the executive suites at top film studios. But the probe is not limited to Bacow; investigators are looking into Teamsters activities throughout Hollywood.
“Wherever the Teamsters can be found with their camel’s nose under the movie industry’s tent, the Justice Department will be looking at it,” said Donald E. Santarelli, a former deputy attorney general who is representing actor Sylvester Stallone.
Bacow denies that he has ever taken any money for involving himself in labor disputes, saying instead that he is a retired writer and producer who simply wants to help the industry he grew up in. Bacow also denies allegations that he urged film studios to hire his friends with implied threats of labor discord.
‘Bring God Into Court’
“If they want to convict me for my God-given talents, they better bring God into court,” he said.
“Never in a million years have I solicited anybody for anything,” he added. “No person can ever say that I ever did anything wrong, or took a wrong nickel, or that I’ve threatened anybody or done anything like that. I have never used power to abuse, only to protect. I help people. That’s all I’ve ever done.”
Bacow also denies allegations reportedly under investigation that he has obtained mob financing for his upcoming film on the late gangster Meyer Lansky. Bacow, who claims he knew Lansky and Detroit’s notorious Purple Gang head, Harry Fleischer, has a long history of friendships with organized crime figures, police say.
“Sure. I know people,” Bacow admits, but he says he never sought or received financing from organized crime.
Rather, Bacow points to what he claims is a $3-million contract from MCA Home Video for the video rights to the as-yet-unproduced film.
The purported contract also calls for him to be paid an additional $1.5 million for pay television rights. The contract, he said, was negotiated with Giaquinto, the video division head, and approved by Sidney J. Sheinberg, MCA’s president and chief operating officer.
Whether the document Bacow has is an actual contract is not clear. MCA’s lawyer, Ronald L. Olson, denies that MCA signed any final contract with Bacow and asserts that what he has is at best a “proposal” or a “draft contract.”
“The project had been presented to MCA, but it had never gone anywhere. No agreement was ever concluded,” Olson said.
‘An Open Extension’
Giaquinto’s lawyer, Mark Robinson, said MCA gave Bacow “an open extension” that specified a purchase price for the rights should the deal ever be completed. He described Bacow as “somewhere between an acquaintance and a friend” of Giaquinto.
MCA officials have also emphatically denied that they ever paid Bacow or purchased his services as any kind of payoff for labor peace.
Some Hollywood labor leaders suggest that tales of Bacow’s widespread influence can usually be traced back to a single source: Bacow’s own bluster.
“I just don’t believe that he is nearly as powerful as he would like people to think he is . . .,” said one labor lawyer. “Think of what Hollywood is. Hollywood is nothing more than the ability to go out and make fantasy out of potential reality.”
Nonetheless, the organized crime strike force wants to know if Bacow may have traded on perceptions of his influence in exchange for payoffs or contracts on film productions.
“A big unanswered question is, ‘Is Marty Bacow who he says he is?’ ” asked another lawyer. “A lot of people in Hollywood believed him or didn’t want to take the chance of disbelieving him.”
What is known about Bacow’s business dealings in Hollywood is that he served as a paid consultant on the Sylvester Stallone-Dolly Parton movie “Rhinestone,” for which he received $5,000. Twentieth Century Fox apparently paid the fee. During the making of the movie, Bacow was on the set constantly, and he has in his apartment a souvenir director’s chair that says “Mr. Marty.”
Stallone’s attorney confirmed that the grand jury has subpoenaed the records of at least six other Stallone movies on which Bacow or his associates might have worked. Stallone, who was introduced to Presser by Bacow and then brought into the Teamsters’ 1986 anti-drug crusade, has not received any personal subpoenas during the inquiry.
It was not clear precisely what information federal officials are seeking through the subpoenas. But some sources said investigators are looking not only at whether Bacow was hired on film productions but also whether friends or associates of his were routinely hired as production employees with the implied promise that the employment contracts would guarantee freedom from labor troubles.
Edward Arter, a veteran Teamster transportation captain on a number of Hollywood movie productions, including five Stallone films, said he has known Bacow for eight years. Bacow, he said, has always been “there when people call him” for help in labor disputes.
“When we were making ‘Rhinestone’ in New York, we had problems with the camera local there and he talked to them in front of several people right there on the set and settled the problem,” Arter said. “He also helped out on a problem when we were on location in Tennessee.”
Arter said there was labor trouble again in San Francisco on the recent James Bond movie, “A View to a Kill.”
“We were using a lot of Teamsters, and there was a contract dispute. So I called him up, and he sat down and talked to them and explained how the contract worked. They apologized for hassling me, and everything was fine after that.”
Presser, who is recuperating from brain surgery, has been unavailable for interviews. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ chief counsel, John Climaco, denied that Bacow had any affiliation with the union, “official or unofficial.” But Arter said Bacow’s claimed closeness to Presser is real.
Meetings With Presser Recalled
“I was with him on four different times when he was with Presser,” he said. “Once we were in a room by ourselves talking, and Jackie told me, ‘Marty is my rabbi. If anyone ever needs to find me, Marty could find me in the bathtub.’
“They are very, very close, good friends. Jackie does rely on him on the West Coast to keep an eye on what’s going on.”
Producers, too, say Bacow is known throughout Hollywood for his work on labor troubles.
“Bacow knows a lot of people, and he clearly has been effective with management in the Teamster area,” said one well-known movie producer who asked not to be identified. “I don’t think it’s a matter of payoffs; I think he has the ability to quash beefs.
“The Teamsters are a rough-and-tumble bunch and somebody has to deal with them, and it’s surely not the guys in the front office in their suits. You have to have someone who can talk their language and that’s not the studio lawyer from Yale.
“I think Bacow is probably very good at his job, whatever it is, and I think he’s delivered on whatever he was paid to deliver. Labor peace? Yeah, in Hollywood you got to have it.”
In several lengthy interviews with Times reporters, Bacow was not shy about discussing the “favors” he has done for movie makers over the years. He insisted, however, that with the exception of his work on “Rhinestone,” he has never been paid for his services as a consultant or sought to have his associates hired as production employees.
Bacow does acknowledge being paid for his production and writing work on films and told of an instance some years ago when a studio, which he refused to name, did not pay him for his work.
When Bacow went to studio executives for his money, they said, “Sue us,” he recalled.
“I don’t sue anybody,” he said he told them. At that point, he said, he called Frank Fitzsimmons, the late Teamsters president, and mentioned the thousands of prints of the studio’s films that were bound for theaters across America in Teamster trucks.
“I said, ‘You know, I think those films are contaminated, and they shouldn’t go in the theater like that.’ ”
Bacow paused for effect. “That’s their big fear of me, that the Teamsters won’t deliver films to any theater in America.”
Among the various chores he said he has performed for free are:
- Securing for the film “The Right Stuff” a 1952 Chrysler Imperial convertible used by Mayor Tom Bradley’s office in parades. “There are only two cars like it in the world, and the other one was in New York, so I made a few calls and got the mayor’s office to let them use it,” he said. An executive with the production confirmed Bacow’s role in arranging the use of the car.
- The shutting down of a Teamster picket line around the production of the Chevy Chase-Goldie Hawn movie “Foul Play” in 1977. “A vice president of Paramount called me and said they were having problems with the Teamsters, so I called (then-Teamster President) Frank Fitzsimmons and Fitz made a call and that was it. The picket line came down.”
Bacow says he has settled a number of labor problems for Universal over the years. He says MCA Chairman Lew Wasserman personally asked him in 1985 to intervene in a Teamster dispute on the Florida set of “Miami Vice” that was threatening to shut down production of the hit TV show. According to Bacow, the problem involved the show’s producer, who was from New York and who claimed that Florida was a right-to-work state. He suggested that he would run union people off the set. As it turned out, one of those people was Jackie Presser’s niece, Cindy, a Teamster driver, Bacow said.
The problem was solved after he talked on the phone to Charles L. O’Brien, late Teamster chief Jimmy Hoffa’s foster son and then the Teamsters’ chief film industry contact in the South.
“Then,” Bacow said, “I called Lew and told him he’d never again have a problem on ‘Miami Vice.’ I took care of it, I saved them all kinds of money and they never did have another problem.” Wasserman declined to be interviewed for this story. On another occasion, Bacow said, he settled a dispute between the producers of “Magnum P.I.” in Hawaii and Teamster Local 399 in Hollywood.
“I was notified . . . that the local had filed a $1.5-million grievance against the company, saying they were supposed to have guys from Los Angeles working on the show, not from Hawaii.” Bacow said the dispute was resolved after he talked to Presser, who then called Local 399 and ordered them to drop the grievance. “I called Lew and his secretary, Betty, said, ‘Marty, stand by. He’s waiting for your call in a restaurant in New York, and I’ll patch you through.’
“I told Lew to forget about the grievance. ‘I want you to have peace of mind,’ I said. He said, ‘Thank you.’ I’ve done a lot of favors for Wasserman.’ ”
MCA attorney Olson denied that Bacow has a close relationship with any top-level MCA executives.
“He did have some contacts with people at MCA, where he purported to represent the Teamster interests,” and those contacts may have included discussions over labor problems on “Miami Vice” and “Magnum P.I.,” Olson said.
In the event of “serious” labor problems, Olson added, Bacow might well have dealt directly with Wasserman or Sheinberg.
“Certainly Lew Wasserman’s been involved in labor problems, but whether he (Bacow) has the kind of access he suggests, I think, is highly unlikely,” he said. “I know he does not have that kind of access to anyone on a regular basis. If there’s a labor problem that involves the Teamsters’ interests, he may have the ability to call someone.”
Access to Executives
The extent of Bacow’s access to top studio executives is unclear. But some law enforcement officials say it does, in fact, appear that he has the ability to reach top Hollywood officials with a phone call. And his experience at MCA demonstrated that Bacow was able to negotiate with at least two high-level executives on his Lansky film project.
In addition to his meetings with Giaquinto, Bacow spent about 20 minutes early last year with the chairman of MCA’s Motion Picture Group, Thomas P. Pollock, in an effort to sell Pollock the Lansky film concept.