Eszterhas to Eisner: Go for the Throat
To: Michael Eisner
Re: The art of war
When I was a young screenwriter and you were the head of Paramount, you told me that you’d always wanted to be a writer, that you’d even lived in a smelly garret in Paris writing plays -- one of which, I will never forget, was called “To Metastasize a River.”
The script I was then writing, it seems obvious to me now, launched both of our careers. “Flashdance” was released, and I, the successful screenwriter, went on to write “Showgirls”; you, the failed playwright, left Paramount to run Disney.
The truth is that we both contributed to the success of “Flashdance.” I wrote the script; you (and Jeff Katzenberg) cut 40% of it out of the movie. But then you stood up in front of a room full of Teamsters and gaffers and showed them the screen tests of three young women and asked them which one they wanted to sleep with. And Jennifer Beals won the vote and was cast.
I’ve always admired the moxie of that, and the reason I’m writing you this note is because I want to help you continue to run Disney. The reason I want to help you is because A) you didn’t cheat me out of my net points when you were running the studio; B) we’ve both survived knock-down fights with Michael Ovitz; C) I’ve always felt a responsibility to try to help failed playwrights or screenwriters.
By gosh, Michael, the boys are really and truly coming for you this time, aren’t they? Your former aide, Stephen Burke, is in cahoots with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, who just so happens to be one of Big Harvey Weinstein’s best pals. And hovering nearby is the ghost of Walt Disney himself, in the person of his nephew, Roy Disney, literally singing “Ding dong, the witch is dead!” to reporters.
Meanwhile, Michael, you, who could once command a roomful of Teamsters and gaffers, are being described in the press as “a cold, imperious leader” with a reputation for “proud isolation” and “patrician manners.”
Aw, come on, Michael, get off the darn throne! Yes, I know that in anatomy class you couldn’t dissect a cat. And I know that you sing “Once in Love With Amy” in the shower. And I know that you absolutely refused to believe, when you were a little boy, that your dog, Butch, had been hit by a car and was dead.
But if you don’t stop isolating yourself, Michael, and stop being cold and imperious and stop with the patrician junk -- these old boys are going to dissect your cat for you.
I know what I’m talking about. You grew up on Park Avenue in New York; I grew up on Lorain Avenue in Cleveland. Your great-grandfather manufactured army uniforms; my great-grandfather robbed stage coaches sometimes guarded by men wearing army uniforms. You spent your summers at camp in Maine; I spent mine in trouble in back alleys. Your favorite word is “synergy”; mine is much shorter.
My advice to you is this: Get back up on that stage with the Teamsters and gaffers and give Comcast and the shareholders hell, Michael. Tell it the way it is. Kick some booty. Be the angry failed playwright, not the spoiled corporate titan. I know you’ve always been interested in Woodrow Wilson, but forget about him now. Think Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman -- might I even suggest George W. Bush?
Get your foot soldiers who go up and down Burbank’s boulevards and have them blow their hostile, invading, Comcast brains out. To effect that, you only have to do two things: 1) rehire Ovitz; 2) rehire Katzenberg.
There is no better tough guy than Ovitz. I wholeheartedly recommend him. He invented the art of war. It doesn’t matter that you canned him; you also paid him more than $50 million when you canned him. If need be, give him $50 million more to come back. It’s only money.
There is no better schmoozer than Katzenberg. It doesn’t matter that you called him a “midget”; you also paid him more than $50 million afterward. If need be, give him $50 million more to come back to your side. It’s only more money.
Michael, listen to me, please. Don’t let your ego stop you from rehiring these two guys. You can’t afford to lose this fight.
If you do, your dog Butch is finally, undeniably dead meat, and I guarantee that selling “To Metastasize a River” won’t be easy.
Joe Eszterhas wrote “Jagged Edge,” “Basic Instinct” and many other films. He is the author most recently of “Hollywood Animal: A Memoir” (Knopf, 2004).