In the 1950s, the moguls who had ruled Hollywood since its inception finally lost their grip on the studios. With their passing ended an era not only in Hollywood movie-making, but political activism.

Last week’s excerpt from Times national political correspondent Ronald Brownstein’s upcoming book, “The Power and the Glitter: The Hollywood-Washington Connection” (Pantheon), examined how Lew R. Wasserman at MCA Inc. and Arthur B. Krim at United Artists Corp. carved out a new model of Hollywood political activism in the early 1960s.

This excerpt examines how the two men, in very different ways, built on that base to establish themselves, over the next two decades, as the preeminent political forces of their generation of Hollywood executives.

If Arthur Krim did not affect Hollywood as dramatically as Lew Wasserman, the New Yorker moved much closer to the heart of power in Washington. Gradually, Krim achieved a durable friendship with President John F. Kennedy. A prodigious reader, a man of diverse interests and experiences, Krim saw himself as more than a fund-raiser, but he shouldered without complaint the task the President assigned him. He moved deeply enough into the inner circle to participate in the one meeting Kennedy’s advisers convened to launch plans for the 1964 reelection.


With each step deeper into Washington, Krim saw a virtually limitless world unfold before him. Beckoning beyond his immediate responsibilities were opportunities to influence policy on the issues that excited him: civil rights, education, health, Israel.

Then, in a moment, it all vanished. The assassination of Kennedy devastated Krim. Disconsolate, and convinced that he could not raise money as effectively for a President he barely knew, he suggested to White House aide Bill Moyers that Johnson’s old friend Ed Weisl assume control of the President’s Club, the national fund-raising organization formed by Kennedy. Weisl thought Krim should stay in the post. He arranged for Krim to meet Johnson at the White House--and thus launched one of the most remarkable relationships in the long interaction between the film and political worlds.

Johnson persuaded Krim to remain in control of the President’s Club. Under Johnson, whose ties to business greatly exceeded Kennedy’s, the President’s Club grew dramatically. So did Krim’s involvement in national affairs. With Johnson, Krim developed the kind of relationship he had hoped to build with Kennedy. More than a fund-raiser or political strategist, he became a trusted friend, a sounding board, and counselor on the entire array of concerns facing the President, from personal problems to world affairs. “During the last two years of Johnson’s presidency, from 1966 to 1968, there was no single person in or out of the government who had greater influence on Johnson and in whom Johnson reposed greater trust than Krim,” Jack Valenti said.

With that ringing declaration, Valenti may have slightly indulged his characteristic bent toward hyperbole. But Krim was, from any angle, unquestionably among the President’s most intimate advisers: Krim, who was Jewish, became so close to Johnson that he sometimes attended church with him. The President offered Krim Cabinet posts, the position of U.N. ambassador; Krim preferred what amounted to an internal ambassadorship without portfolio. (In the Administration’s final months, he accepted an honorific appointment as “special consultant” to the President.) Krim’s influence transcended his industry; as one White House aide put it, “he didn’t carry the brief for the movie industry.”


Krim became a familiar figure at the President’s side. “I am always cheered,” the President wrote Krim early in his term, “when there is a Krim around.” When he came to Washington, Krim typically spent the night in the White House. With his wife, Mathilde, a cancer researcher, Krim even built a home near Johnson’s ranch outside Austin, Tex.; the two men bought a helicopter to traverse the hill country. In the last year of Johnson’s presidency, Krim saw or spoke with the President on at least 151 days; he vacationed with him at the Texas ranch 12 times; he had dinner with him 11 times in the month preceding Johnson’s decision not to seek reelection. Few, if any, cabinet officers had as much contact with their chief executive.

Far more than Kennedy, Johnson also took a personal interest in Krim’s fund-raising work. Intensely competitive and irremediably insecure, Johnson considered it a personal challenge to break the fund-raising records that Kennedy set. “That was something he could measure and he liked,” said James R. Jones, a top White House aide and later a congressman from Oklahoma.

Above all, Johnson prized Krim’s discretion. Johnson favored aides who kept themselves out of the news, and Krim fanatically shaded himself from the spotlight. Given his closeness to the President, and his constant presence at the White House, Krim’s efforts were surprisingly effective: as Valenti observed, “no inkling of his influential role in the White House ever surfaced.”

Even within the government, Krim’s discretion was impregnable. In the capital of ego, he was mild, unobtrusive, self-contained. “You would never know from seeing Arthur Krim the amount of wealth he had or power or people that he knew,” Jones said. Krim was proud of his position, and quick to take offense at any perceived slights. But he rarely, if ever, tried to assert himself with government officials. On most issues, he kept his views hidden from all but his friend in the Oval Office. To this day, former National Security Adviser Walt W. Rostow and former Defense Secretary Clark Clifford are uncertain of how Krim viewed the Vietnam War.


That made Krim’s influence difficult to assess, even for the President’s other advisers. Jones thought Krim appealed to Johnson precisely because he didn’t carry “any particular agenda” and, more like a friend than an aide, “sort of sensed where Johnson was going and basically supported it.” Rostow considered it not Krim’s “style . . . to lobby” the President, even privately. But Valenti believed Krim was an important advocate for the Great Society’s core domestic agenda--poverty, health, education. Just by virtue of his commitment to those issues and the sheer number of hours he spent with the President, he virtually had to be.

In political matters, Johnson’s reliance on Krim was unquestionable. Through 1966 and 1967, Krim traveled exhaustively, continuing to build the President’s Club and laying the groundwork for Johnson’s 1968 reelection campaign.

Krim expected another campaign, but was unsure. Although Johnson told Krim as early as fall 1965 that he did not plan to seek another term, he gave his adviser every sign he was running. Krim plowed ahead. He fastened the bulwarks of his financial operation: Wasserman--a reliable “team man” in Krim’s eyes--signed on again to head the California fund raising with oilman and longtime Democratic power broker Ed Pauley.

But when the results from the New Hampshire primary came in on March 12, 1968, Johnson, whatever his earlier ambivalence, sensed the final act impending. Minnesota Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy, basing his campaign solely on opposition to the Vietnam War, held the President to less than 50% of the vote. The signal was unequivocal: Blood was in the water.


Still Krim rushed on, convinced that a sitting President could be bloodied, perhaps, but not dethroned. Through late March, he rallied supporters, and conferred almost daily with the President.

On the morning of March 31, the President greeted his wife and daughter Lynda, and then, before speaking with anyone else, told the White House operator he wanted “to talk to Mr. Krim as soon as she heard from him.” Then came the call Krim had dreaded for months. By early afternoon he was with Lady Bird and the Johnson’s daughter Luci and her husband, listening to Johnson read the draft of the speech he planned to deliver that evening on national television, announcing his withdrawal from the race. Through lunch with the same group, along with former aide Horace Busby, who had drafted the text, Krim carried the case against the decision. With the President’s family offering silent encouragement, Krim argued that of the men seeking the office only Johnson had the ability to complete the programs he had begun.

Just before 7 p.m., Krim and his wife returned to the Oval Office for another try. Johnson listened to their appeal, then sent the first two pages of the speech to the TelePrompter. Still, Krim was not through. While technicians set up cameras for the 9 p.m. speech, and Johnson stood in his bedroom putting on his jacket, Krim came to the President one last time. He had no more complex arguments, no more political calculations, only stubborn hope, and little of that. “Your friends outside hope you will reconsider,” he told Johnson, his voice heavy and earnest. Johnson looked at his old friend, softly told him that the decision was made, and walked into the Oval Office to end his political career.

When Johnson finished, the phones started to ring. People gathered upstairs. At 11 p.m., the President went to the Yellow Room to meet the press, and a group of friends and family moved back to the West Hall to console each other. Grimly jovial, as if at a wake, Johnson joked with his long-faced friends. “I may have to learn to drive that helicopter now,” he told Krim. As the evening wore into early Monday, the crowd drifted away. At 1 a.m., when the President finally went to bed, everyone had left the White House, except his family and the Krims, who might as well have been.


Krim remained a major fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee through the 1970s. But he never again became as close to a Democratic leader as he had been to President Johnson. He developed a friendship with Jimmy Carter after Carter won the presidency, but Krim remained neutral in the 1976 and 1980 Democratic presidential primaries. In 1983, Krim--who left United Artists in 1978 with four other executives to form Orion Pictures--organized a New York City fund-raiser for presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale. Although he remains close to many leading Democrats, he has since withdrawn from active participation in campaigns. He remains chairman of the board of Orion.

Wasserman’s Ascent

Through it all, Lew Wasserman endured. After Gene Wyman died unexpectedly in January, 1973, Wasserman became Southern California’s pre-eminent fund-raiser, the man most prospecting politicians called on first. With his talent agent’s eye, he sorted carefully through the petitioners who pressed against his door like so many aspiring starlets. He built a close relationship with Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., who dominated California politics into the early 1980s. In the dim early months of the 1976 presidential campaign, when confusion still cloaked the field, Wasserman invested his prestige in the obscure contender from Georgia; when Jimmy Carter won the White House, Wasserman’s stock soared among his colleagues.

His roots in the industry were deep enough to withstand changing political tides. Four years later, when many in liberal Los Angeles defected, Wasserman put his shoulder behind Carter again. Despite the enormous dissatisfaction with Carter’s performance, Wasserman efficiently rounded up checks. Terence R. McAuliffe, a young fund-raiser who came to Los Angeles to work with Wasserman, was amazed by the impact of the MCA chief’s name.


“He was the biggest name you could get in fund raising to be helpful for you,” McAuliffe recalled. “A lot of times, when I would be trying to get other people committed on big events, whenever I said Lew Wasserman was chair it was like curtains opened up. It made a dramatic difference.”

The obedient response testified to Wasserman’s position within the industry, where he inspired equal parts envy, admiration and fear. It also reflected his unofficial status as Hollywood’s ambassador to the outside world. On matters that affected the business of movie-making, from the mid-1960s through at least the early 1980s, Wasserman was the unchallenged voice of the industry. “Lew became somewhat of a motion picture statesman, and in many instances, others deferred to him,” said attorney Frank Rothman, a former law partner of Wyman who became chairman and chief executive of MGM/UA in 1982.

Two factors explained Wasserman’s ascension to the very peak of Hollywood. Until he helped negotiate MCA’s sale to Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. for nearly $6.6 billion last month, Wasserman was the last major studio executive to own a significant share of his company; that gave him the same freedom to maneuver that Mayer and Warner had enjoyed but that Wasserman’s contemporaries, although well paid, lacked. With ownership came the second key: staying power.

Besides Arthur Krim, who had little interest in carrying the industry’s case to the capital, Wasserman was the only top executive in the modern industry who remained in his chair decade after decade, good years and bad. To the seniors in Congress, Wasserman was more than a contemporary; he was a bridge to another era--Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy often spoke of Wasserman as a link to the Hollywood his father had known. Once he had carefully and patiently constructed relationships with Washington’s most powerful figures, his fellow studio heads, with neither the time nor inclination to learn the capital’s rhythms, deferred to his expertise.


Moreover, Wasserman had the interest. Politics never ceased to fascinate him. He loved to talk about elections, spend time with politicians, measure the men who would succeed his friends Johnson and Carter. “More and more,” said recording executive Irving Azoff, a former senior official at MCA, “that’s his fun in life.” Age did not diminish his appetite for political intrigue. Wasserman, said Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex), “loves” political gossip-- “He enjoys it absolutely.”

Visiting politicians were sometimes amazed by the personal attention he would devote to their concerns. Once a delegation of California congressmen drove out to MCA to enlist Wasserman’s help on a ballot initiative. When they reached the entrance, they were stunned to see the executive in the guard station, awaiting their arrival. Wasserman personally directed them to the parking lot, walking beside their car. Then he led them to a private dining room and, while the company churned on outside the paneled walls, listened for two hours to their appeal, never once bringing in an aide or leaving the room to take a phone call. Wasserman had that rare negotiator’s skill, the ability to make people believe he genuinely cared about them, that he sincerely wanted to solve their problems.

Political Staying Power

The forces that kept Wasserman politically engaged through the years were the same ones that initially connected him: pride and business, inextricably mixed. “The secret to Lew’s life is complete and thorough integration,” said one producer who knows him well. “As with everything else, those two ideas were completely integrated. Of course, it was in the best interest of the company (for Wasserman to be politically active). Lew wouldn’t think of doing anything that wasn’t in the best interest of the company. But the best interest of the company was largely Lew’s self-interest as well. He loved being part of the framework of political power in this country.”


At some level, he felt obliged to be part of it. With uncharacteristic Saturday Evening Post earnestness, Wasserman sometimes lectured young executives on the responsibilities that their affluence imposed on them, to help the political process function. He took enormous pride in his political relationships. Wasserman, who had haggled with Warner and Mayer and Cohn, really had no peers in modern Hollywood, no buddies among the transitory, interchangeable faces that popped up in the executive suites, lasted a few seasons, then disappeared back into vague independent production deals. His real peers were other power brokers, and he often seemed more relaxed in their company than at the studio. One young MCA executive saw Wasserman walk through the lot one afternoon with New York Sen. Jacob K. Javits, laughing, giggling, trading jokes--and suddenly a light went on. “Now I get it,” he thought, “there’s his equal. That’s his peer group.”

But Wasserman’s political relationships always encompassed more than personal gratification. In this, too, Wasserman was very much the modern model: he taught his colleagues political hardball. Under Wasserman’s tutelage has emerged a generation of essentially non-ideological senior studio executives who give shrewdly and dispassionately to senators and representatives who support their industry’s interests. Like Wasserman, they usually let their personal political beliefs guide their participation in presidential politics; but they typically apply more tangible standards to legislators who come seeking help. It is an attitude toward politics typical of any major industry--hard-headed, pragmatic, built around securing influence--and for that reason alone stands out in a community erected on emotion and fantasy.

As Wasserman led the studios into a more sophisticated era of political investment, legislators seeking Hollywood’s help confronted two very different tests. To raise money from the increasingly ideological Hollywood liberals, a group largely indifferent to industry issues, legislators had to prove their purity on arms control, abortion, the environment and Central America; to raise money from the increasingly calculating studio executives steeped in Wasserman’s tradition, they had to lend a sympathetic ear and hold a seat on a committee crucial to the industry’s fortunes. (Since the fall of the moguls, and the Kennedy-era realignment in Hollywood, a third group, of ideological conservatives and loyal Republicans, was much smaller.)

The walls were porous; many individuals had ties to the liberal and studio camps. Occasionally, the sides united behind a candidate--one was Ted Kennedy, an indefatigable defender of liberal verities and studio interests. But their agendas remained distinct.


The ‘Wasserman Wing’

As if describing a sovereign nation, the liberals outside of the studio segment of political Hollywood sometimes referred to it as the “Wasserman wing.” It was a fitting term, for in Hollywood Wasserman defined a certain hardheaded politics. Through the years, Wasserman’s ideology remained that of a moderate Democrat. But he never lost sight of his needs. Asked what motivated Wasserman, one U.S. representative who has worked closely with him ranked, in order, “business, personal relationships and still, a mild tilt to the Democratic side.”

From his first steps into politics, Wasserman ensured that MCA maintained ties across the ideological spectrum. Wasserman generally bolstered the mainstream, establishment Democrats. Senior executive Jennings Lang, a man with a passion for modern art and new ideas, served as the company’s ambassador to the left. Later, Lang’s role was inherited by Thom Mount, Sean Daniel and other young executives. At the same time, Jules Stein and Taft Schreiber built close ties to the Republican Party, working closely with Ronald Reagan and later Richard Nixon. No matter who sat behind the desk in the Oval Office, someone in MCA could reach him on the phone.

“Wasserman always played things with enormous finesse,” Mount said. “Lew would pick a more mainstream candidate that he would back, but he would never neglect the fringe candidates. He would always make them his friend, always keep an open line. There would always be someone close to Lew supporting that candidate.”


On legislative matters, Wasserman worked closely with Jack Valenti, who represented the industry in Washington. (Within the industry, it was widely believed that Wasserman disproportionately influenced the industry’s chief lobbyist; as one studio head put it, “the MPAA wagged to Lew’s desires.”) But Wasserman maintained independent relationships with key senators, including Republicans where necessary. To the industry’s lobbying campaigns--its battles with the networks, its struggles with the directors over colorization, and the quiet work of bending tax law to profitable advantage--Wasserman added a valuable touch of class, of seniority and stability.

Wasserman didn’t spend much time in Washington, but he didn’t have to. He didn’t spend much time with Congressional staff, but he didn’t need to. Nor was he compelled to plead for a few minutes of time with a crucial Senator. When a movie industry issue came before the Senate, Ted Kennedy, for one, routinely called Wasserman for his assessment. “It’s not a question of Lew coming hat in hand,” said one former Democratic Senate aide. Wasserman could visit such senior senators as Bentsen, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, whom he had known since the Johnson Administration, and spend much of his time just socializing and sharing political intelligence; when he did, casually, raise industry concerns, it was not as a supplicant but as an ally in long-forgotten skirmishes. “He is effective when they have a concern because he has the entree, he has established the friendships and he has the confidence of people,” Bentsen said. “He doesn’t have to go through (Congressional) staff; he has relationships personally.”

But this comfortable familiarity didn’t mean Wasserman was soft. It meant the opposite. By the 1980s, he had established a depth of relationships that allowed him to push legislators much harder than most lobbyists. “The man has a very tough side to him,” said one congressman who has worked closely with Wasserman on industry issues. “There’s no doubt about that. I’ve never seen him blow up. I have, however, seen him express his position with a sense of certitude and firmness and strength and the notion that ‘I’m quite serious about this.’ . . . Sometimes you talk with people and they go to great pains, if they disagree with you about something, to give some sense that they can understand how you have the other position, though they think it’s wrong and you should change it. But with Wasserman, there’s that sense that he couldn’t conceive of you taking the other position, it’s impossible to comprehend (how you could disagree with him). Most people couldn’t get away with that.”

No one else could make the movie industry’s case as forcefully. During the 1988 presidential campaign, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, a moderate, was arguably the Democratic candidate ideologically closest to Wasserman. But when Gephardt, in an ill-advised effort to open fund-raising doors in Hollywood, proposed legislation on behalf of the Directors Guild of America that would have prevented producers from colorizing classic black-and-white films, Wasserman chewed out Gephardt’s campaign staff. “What is the smartest young man in Congress running around worrying about who is colorizing films?” he howled into the phone. “Tell him if he doesn’t like colorized films to go to every television in America and take the color knob off.”


Courting Reagan

Nothing better demonstrated Wasserman’s pragmatism and flexibility than his success in maintaining access to Ronald Reagan’s White House. While most Hollywood Democrats reviled the new President, Wasserman carefully courted him. The work was more difficult than many realized. After Reagan succeeded Carter, Wasserman’s ties to power were strained by more than ideological differences; there was a knotty personal history to untangle as well. Wasserman had known Reagan for 40 years, but, although few people were aware of it, the relationship had badly frayed, and Wasserman needed all his skills to rebuild it.

The coolness apparently developed near the end of Reagan’s acting career. After General Electric pulled the plug on “GE Theater,” its dramatic anthology TV series, in 1962, MCA had difficulty finding work for Reagan, who was under contract with its Universal subsidiary. Jere Henshaw, who handled television casting at Universal, recalls that the new directors moving into Hollywood from New York saw Reagan as a B-movie relic whose time had passed. “It was mighty hard to get him jobs,” Henshaw said.

Finally, Henshaw proposed to cast Reagan against type as the heavy in the 1964 film “The Killers.” Reagan uncharacteristically balked, perhaps because he didn’t want to carry that unsavory image into his impending second career as a politician. Eventually he took the part, but Reagan’s initial irritation angered Wasserman. “Wasserman didn’t like Reagan as a person,” said another MCA official. “They bickered over ‘The Killers.’ Reagan didn’t want to do the role, he thought it was beneath him. But Lew’s attitude was ‘your career is over, take it and be grateful.’ ”


Michael K. Deaver, Reagan’s closest personal aide for two decades, confirmed that Reagan’s relationship with Wasserman had lapsed by the time Reagan entered the White House. But Deaver said the chill set in even earlier--in the first years of the 1950s, when Wasserman, distracted by his responsibilities as MCA president, turned Reagan over to another MCA agent, Arthur Park. Those were some of Reagan’s most difficult years in the business: at one point, trying to overcome a long stall in Reagan’s career, Park even sent him to Las Vegas to work as master of ceremonies for a variety show.

“I don’t think they (Reagan and Wasserman) had been on friendly terms, and I don’t know if they had even spoken,” Deaver said. “Reagan felt that Lew had dropped him when he was down and out and, as he described it to me, (at) the lowest point in his life. I think it was about the time when he had done the Las Vegas stint, and he (felt) Lew, whom he trusted and loved, dropped him. That was devastating to him.”

As usual, MCA wasn’t completely estranged from its prodigal son. When Reagan first won the California governorship in 1966, Wasserman stood beside the incumbent, Democrat Edmund G. (Pat) Brown Sr. But senior MCA executives Taft Schreiber and Jules Stein worked energetically for Reagan; Stein was also instrumental in arranging a complex series of land deals that made Reagan personally wealthy. But Schreiber died in 1976, and Stein died just a few weeks into Reagan’s first presidential term. MCA’s line to its old client lapsed just as its value peaked.

Once Reagan emerged as the Republican nominee for president, Wasserman discreetly sought to rebuild his own links. While working publicly for Carter’s reelection in 1980, Wasserman also quietly helped the Reagan campaign tap Republican sources in Hollywood, said one senior MCA executive at the time. “In 1984 he was more helpful (to Reagan) than he had been in 1980,” the executive said. “It was noticeable inside the company. Remember, Lew is very pragmatic. You’d ask him what to do about politics, and he’d say, ‘If you think the train is going to leave the station, be on board.’ And this was a very big train.”


According to Deaver, the real healing began in Reagan’s second term, when Wasserman took a leading role in raising funds for his old client’s presidential library. After that, Deaver said, Wasserman was once again included in Reagan’s circle “as if nothing had ever happened. . . . With Reagan, you know, it’s always as if nothing had happened in 20 years. It’s ‘Hi, Lew, how have you been, where have you been?'--that kind of thing.” When the President left the White House and returned to private life in Los Angeles, the first man he sat down with for lunch was Lew Wasserman.

His friendship with Reagan notwithstanding, Wasserman began to withdraw from political involvement in the second half of the ‘80s. After the 1980 presidential campaign, Wasserman passed the point where he personally shouldered the heavy work. Instead, Wasserman helped selected, well-placed senators and representatives, partly by making calls himself, as in the old days, and partly by inducing others to do so.

Wasserman’s retrenchment allowed others to emerge. No longer is Wasserman the sole studio executive with ties to Capitol Hill. That was inevitable, not only because Wasserman gave ground willingly as time went on. It was always unnatural for the proud and imperious men running the studios to yield so much power to one individual. The diffusion of authority among the studio chiefs in the late 1980s was more understandable than its centralization under Wasserman over the previous two decades.

As his career ebbs, Wasserman’s hallmarks remain unchanged: subtlety, discretion, dexterity. To this day, it is difficult to assess exactly how Wasserman uses his clout, or to measure precisely how much clout he actually possesses. Wasserman rarely puts himself before the public, and even more rarely puts down anything on paper. Every night he leaves his desk clean. “Lew Wasserman is a man who never writes memos: If you sue him in an antitrust case and went to get files on that issue, you wouldn’t find anything,” said Valenti, using a curious example.


Because his influence was so difficult to trace, it became easy to mythologize. People in Hollywood put nothing past him. But clearly, his batting average in Washington over the years has been far from perfect. Wasserman has been an essential component of the studios’ many legislative victories over the past two decades, particularly the efforts to keep the networks from obtaining more of the huge syndication fees for reruns. But it was MCA that led the industry to its most decisive recent political defeat, the ill-advised legal and then legislative effort to impose royalties on videocassettes to compensate movie makers for the expected copyright violations from home taping.

On matters directly affecting MCA, too, Wasserman’s record is mixed. If anything, he had the most difficulty with the administrations of presidents he knew. Under Lyndon Johnson, the Justice Department delayed MCA’s proposed merger with Westinghouse Electric Corp. in 1968 on antitrust grounds; the two companies finally dropped their plans. Also on antitrust grounds, Carter’s Justice Department stopped MCA, three other studios and the Getty Oil Co. from joining to form a cable competitor to HBO. The Reagan Justice Department then stopped an effort by MCA to buy into a merger between Showtime and the Movie Channel, the second and third largest cable networks. All that, though, will be quickly forgotten if Wasserman can shepherd MCA’s acquisition by Matsushita--the largest Japanese takeover of an American firm--through any potential antitrust questions or political backlash.

Inside Hollywood, none of Wasserman’s reversals over the years tarnished his luster. Politicians still scrambled for Wasserman’s seigneurial blessing.

As soon as Michael Dukakis won the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, his aides, using a loophole in the law, drew up plans to systematically canvass wealthy donors for $100,000 contributions. These were the largest sums any campaign had sought since the Watergate reforms, and many of the nominee’s fund-raisers were unsure if anyone would even listen to their appeal. In California, the state fund-raising chief, a silver-haired transplanted Massachusetts businessman named John L. Battaglino Sr., was expected to find dozens of such $100,000 contributors. He worried that the goal was unrealistic. He knew that before he could produce dozens of donors, he needed one--someone whose endorsement would legitimize his entire enterprise.


So Battaglino went to see the old man at MCA. From his office in Century City, built on land Darryl Zanuck once prowled, Battaglino drove out past Beverly Hills, where Sam Goldwyn lived and played, on through Hollywood, near the rented home in which Louis Mayer honed his stubborn ambition, and finally out into the Valley, just a few miles from the Burbank lot where Jack and Harry Warner constructed their empire. He was ushered into the office of the last mogul. Anxiously, he made his case. He asked: Was the goal realistic, could it be done? He waited. From across the desk, Lew Wasserman measured Battaglino’s purpose, weighed his arguments, and told his visitor to put him down for $100,000. Battaglino had his first check, and the answer to his question.