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Hollywood: ‘The Last Boom Town in America’

Back in the old days, Hollywood was cutthroat, heartless, power-crazed and dog-eat-dog--in other words a town today’s rabid Hollywood hustlers can look back on with nostalgia.

But the evermore savage business climate isn’t keeping hordes of new hustlers from arriving--and pedigreed ones at that.

“Through a convergence of circumstances--emerging technology, foreign money, and the sorry state of the investment economy--Hollywood has become the last boom town in America,” Will Dana writes in M inc.'s February cover story. “Washington is ideologically bankrupt. Wall Street is drying up. Meanwhile young Harvard grads are writing sitcoms; East Coast MBA’s are buying scripts; ex-investment bankers are writing them.”

The M inc. article catalogues a passel of young juice junkies, who are scratching at least as hard as their predecessors in the town of broken dreams. Since the piece doesn’t flesh out any of them, though, it offers little insight into their desires.

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The article seems on target when it argues that “it’s becoming clear that making good movies is no longer the point. It’s marketing, it’s deal making. It’s feeding the new techno-whiz-gadget machines coming soon to an electronics store near you. It’s kids getting a buzz off of glamour. It’s people making tremendous amounts of money.”

But were things ever otherwise?

It was back in the old Hollywood of 1946 that Lew Wasserman took over MCA, the talent agency whose clients at the time included Bette Davis, Clark Gable and just about everyone else in the industry.

In the February Vanity Fair, Peter J. Boyer details the all-American story of how the then-33-year-old Wasserman built MCA into the entertainment conglomerate that the Japanese corporation Matsushita bought last year.

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In the wake of the Japanese deal, two relatively new aspirants were seen as contenders to capture Hollywood’s throne of power: Michael Ovitz and David Geffen. Boyer neatly weaves the three men’s lives and ambitions together, in a soft-edged but readable business adventure yarn.

Now Geffen, who, as a major stockholder made perhaps $500 million on the MCA deal, “is transported by the wealth, intoxicated by it, entranced by the sheer weight and arithmetic of it,” Boyer writes. And Ovitz, of course, is adding political clout to his industry juice in the fashion of Wasserman before him.

Even as the ink on the MCA deal dries, the lower echelons of the industry are swarming with the new breed of aggressive young Wasserman, Ovitz and Geffen wanna-bes. But the rules of how to cash in on the Hollywood lottery may have changed.

For attorney Pierce O’Donnell, there was never much question of whom he should represent on the ever bloody Hollywood litigation battlefields.

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“I love suing studios,” he says in the February California magazine. “There are only six studios to represent, but there are thousands of people screwed by them every year. I would say it’s a pretty obvious business decision.”

As a result of O’Donnell’s victory over Paramount Pictures on behalf of Art Buchwald, in the “Coming to America” financial fiasco (which Paramount is appealing), the Hollywood accounting system may be revolutionized; a minor redistribution of wealth may be at hand.

REQUIRED READING

Entertainment Weekly’s cover this week announces “TV’s Second Season.” But the real second season, as everyone knows by now, has been the war. How the networks covered Operation Desert Storm is the subject of another piece in the magazine. The centerpiece is a behind-the-scenes look at how CNN covered the first days of the war, achieving “total air superiority over the networks.”

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The Los Angeles skyline, writes Leon Whiteson in the February Angeles magazine, resembles a dinosaur’s backbone. “Seventeen miles long, it snakes along Wilshire Boulevard connecting the downtown forebrain to the Westwood hindbrain, with the tail dipped in the Santa Monica Bay.” Whiteson has his doubts whether this dinosaur can survive given the size of its brain: too big, in this case, he says.

But the magazine goes on to celebrate that brain--downtown Los Angeles--with a package of articles. The spreads on loft life and the exploration of Chinatown are particularly interesting, making downtown seem vital, workable and even beautiful.

So what if photographer Michael D. Garland, while shooting the sweeping cityscapes featured in the magazine, happened to get mugged? Twice.

ESOTERICA

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Virtually every outdoorsy magazine these days caters to women as well as men, so what could a publication called Outdoor Woman offer that the others don’t?

Besides such gender-specific topics as the challenges of menstruating in the wilderness, Outdoor Woman offers a warm tone of pleasant camaraderie.

The newsletter-sized publication is only 12 pages but fat with information on such activities as caving, canoeing and cross-country skiing. (1 year, 10 issues, for $22.50, Outdoor Woman, P.O. Box 834, Nyack, NY 10960).


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