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Insider to Head Disney’s Hollywood Label : Music: The promotion of Bob Pfeifer is seen by some as an interim step.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After months of speculation that it would recruit a big-name executive, Walt Disney Co. on Monday named a little-known insider to run its languishing Hollywood Records unit.

The promotion of Bob Pfeifer, a former Epic Records executive who has been vice president of artists and repertoire at Hollywood since August, is widely viewed in the industry as an interim step.

But Pfeifer shrugged off that suggestion, saying, “I’m running the company.”

Two apsects of Disney’s announcement are unusual: Pfeifer’s title is merely executive vice president, not president of the label, and the company said he succeeds former Executive Vice President Wesley Hein rather than Peter Paterno, who ran the label as president until last fall.

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Pfeifer said he cannot explain the title discrepancy, but he reiterated that he is running the show and said he plans to develop an artists-driven label.

Industry executives speculated that the move allows Disney to let Pfeifer prove himself while keeping its options open if a better-known executive becomes available.

Executives who have worked with Pfeifer said he has good relationships with artists, which they attribute in part to his background as a recording artist himself. They also credit him with strong creative skills.

Said Pfeifer: “This is a label run by a musician, which is attractive to musicians.”

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Disney previously was rumored to be in discussions with some of the industry’s top executives, including Warner Bros. Records Chairman Mo Ostin.

One music executive said Disney “put a full court press on Mo” before Ostin chose to extend his contract with Warner. Other executives who had been in the running include former Capitol chief Hale Milgrim.

Music executives expressed surprise at Disney’s choice.

“It ain’t a Mo,” said one.

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Another suggested that Disney is taking a safe route, with little or no downside if Pfeifer doesn’t work out. “They don’t want to be a laughingstock twice,” he said.

In a statement, Disney President Frank G. Wells said Pfeifer, 38, has “proved himself capable of leading Hollywood Records to a strong position in the industry.”

Disney’s started the company in 1989, choosing the start-up route rather than buying an existing company. But Hollywood Records so far has had little impact on the industry.

The company has failed to consistently “break” new artists. It also suffered from an embarrassing episode in 1991, when a memo leaked out in which Paterno trashed his competitors, referred to Disney Chairman Michael D. Eisner as “Mr. Natural” and acknowledged that the company would lose $25 million that year.

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Artists signed to the label who proved to be disappointments include Liza Minnelli and teen group The Party. Its main success came from revived interest in the British group Queen and sales from the “Sister Act” soundtrack.

Hollywood has the soundtrack for the Disney film “The Three Musketeers” domestically, which includes the top-selling single “All for Love” sung by Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting. Pfeifer said the album has sold about 250,000 copies, but some industry sources believe it should be doing better. Pfeifer said the album should get a boost if the song receives an Oscar nomination this week.

At Epic, Pfeifer was responsible for signing Alice Cooper, Screaming Trees, Ornette Coleman, Sepultura and Eve’s Plum.

Some believe Pfeifer will try to build Hollywood in the way Interscope Records was built--on the strength of cutting-edge acts.

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“They’ve spent a lot of money one way or another, but they’ve signed the wrong acts for whatever reason,” industry lawyer Jay Cooper said. “They’ve certainly got more resources than Interscope to put to it.”


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