The ousted Sony U.S. chief waxes philosophical on how the laws of physics can also be applied to showbiz.
In light of his abrupt dismissal by Sony this week, I thought it would be timely to phone Mickey Schulhof in New York to elicit his thoughts on the future. Schulhof has always been diffident about interviews with “showbiz people,” reminding us all that he has a Ph.D. in physics and considers Hollywood glitz to be irrelevant. Nonetheless, last week when I reached him, Schulhof was in a talkative mood and seemed quite willing to reflect on his 21-year career at the Japanese-owned megacompany.
“The Japanese keep saying they don’t intend to replace you, Mickey,” I said. “They want to follow the model that Matsushita tried at MCA – which, to say the least, didn’t work. What do you think?”
“I can only deal with this in terms of physics,” Schulhof replied. “Einstein pointed out that gravitational effects must be thought of in terms of space-time distortion. Therefore Sony’s model is designed to reduce this distortion.”
Pausing briefly to digest this wisdom, I plunged ahead with my next question. “The New York Times carried a rather savage article last week about your close relationship with Peter Guber. It suggested that, despite the fact that the Guber regime at Sony culminated in a $2.7 billion writeoff, you nonetheless agreed to give him a $275 million revolving fund and also let him cherry-pick projects to jumpstart his new company.”
“Whoever wrote that article,” Schulhof declared, “is clearly unfamiliar with Archimedes’ Principle, which states, ‘A body wholly or partially immersed in a fluid will be buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid that it displaces.’”
“Ah, then you are suggesting that Sony is the body and Guber the fluid.”
“Anyone with a mere B.A. in physics could figure that out.”
Consulting my notes, I decided to move on. “But Alan Levine, who now runs Sony in Hollywood, was Guber’s former attorney, and Mark Canton handled ‘the Guber account’ during his days as production chief at Warners. Don’t you feel that the club’ is continuing to roll along even though you’ve been tossed aside?”
“You can only understand this in the context of Kepler, who reminded us that the square of the period of any planet is proportional to the cube of the semimajor axis of its orbit.”
This one stopped me for a beat. “Could you remind me, Mickey, do you consider yourself the axis or the planet?”
“Exactly,” Schulhof responded.
“Can we move on to the question of Sony’s future?” I offered. “My information is that you had proposed taking Sony Entertainment public, or at least creating joint venture opportunities, whereas the Japanese were reluctant to do so. Is that true?”
“Yes and no,” Schulhof answered. “My plan of action stemmed from the Newtonian precept that every body in the universe attracts every other body. I felt, therefore, that the time had come to put this law into action.”
“Good thinking,” I said. “But, then, why haven’t the Japanese gone along with this notion?”
“Because, according to Japanese physics, energy may be transformed from one kind to another only within an isolated system, provided the total energy of the system always remains constant. The next five years will clearly illustrate whether Japan’s approach to the laws of thermodynamics will apply.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” I said. “And while I appreciate your theoretical approach to these issues, I must now ask you a more personal question. In one of your very rare interviews, with Vanity Fair earlier this year, you told Ed Klein that ‘Sony’s culture has always been not to fire people but to accept them for their strengths.’ Why, then, did Sony fire you?”
“I was not fired,” Schulhof replied. “I left of my own volition upon reminding myself that a particle cannot have both a precise momentum and location. You see, I believe that the laws governing particles govern humans as well.”
“I often feel like a particle – I can appreciate that,” I blurted. “In view of that, however, what are your future plans?”
There was a slight pause at the other end of the phone. Then Schulhof s voice reiterated, “Einstein pointed out that gravitational effects must be put in terms of space-time distortion…”
“With due respect, Mickey, you said that before…” “… a body wholly or partially immersed in a fluid…”
Realizing that something had clearly gone awry with this interview, I punched the star and pound buttons on the phone out of frustration. A woman’s voice cut in.
“Mr. Schulhof s office,” she said.
“I was conducting an interview with Mickey Schulhof when some sort of replay device seemed to intrude,” I explained.
“Oh, that wasn’t Mr. Schulhof,” she said. “That was a highlight tape we play for reporters – ‘The Best of Mickey,’ we call it. Isn’t it awesome?”
“But I thought I was getting Mickey live,” I protested.
“As you know, Mr. Schulhof has a Ph.D. in physics and doesn’t give interviews,” the secretary admonished. “If you’d care to leave your name, however…”
“Just tell Mr. Schulhof that, in my humble opinion, all planets move in elliptical orbits and his orbit is too damned elliptical for me.”
“I shall certainly tell him,” she said. “And what did you say your name was?”
“Archimedes,” I answered. “I have a multipic pact at Sony. Archimedes Prods. Peter Guber personally redesigned my offices.”
“I shall see that he gets the message.”
I hung up the phone. Perhaps, I concluded, it would be more useful to place a call to Nobuyuki Idei, the new chief at Sony. He, at least, has a degree in economics.