Docu taps town's longing for old-school power players

HOLLYWOOD — What’s next? Lew Wasserman: The E! True Hollywood Story?

Hollywood’s interest in its legendary dealmakers — Sam Goldwyn, Robert Evans, Wasserman — is as keen as ever.

But Wasserman, who eschewed interviews and drew a sharp cone of secrecy around his life and work, suddenly, two years after his death at age 89, runs the risk of being overexposed.

Last year brought two books on Wasserman — “When Hollywood Had a King” by New Yorker writer Connie Bruck, and “Mr. and Mrs. Hollywood,” by the Boston Globe’s Kathleen Sharp.

Now ThinkFilm, the distributor of such documentaries as “Spellbound” and “Bus 174,” is co-financing “The Last Mogul: The Life and Times of Lew Wasserman,” a doc directed by Barry Avrich.

Though Avrich hasn’t yet shot any interviews, ThinkFilm CEO Jeff Sackman hopes the pic will be ready in time for the Toronto Film Festival next fall, and for a theatrical release sometime thereafter.

Why the frenzy for all things Wasserman?

The interest, Avrich says, rests in part with the era that Wasserman straddled — one before entertainment companies like Wasserman’s own MCA Universal fell into the hands of diversified, transnational media companies.

“There’s something fascinating about how this man conducted his life and built his empire,” Avrich says. “This was a man who didn’t need consensus.”

In a year rife with polarizing labor disputes, piracy woes, and concerns about the proprieties of Oscar campaigns, there also may be an abiding nostalgia for a unifying figure like Wasserman, who appeared to give industry concerns a single voice in Hollywood and Washington.

As Bruck puts it, “There was always a question about who’s the next Lew Wasserman, and there is no next Lew Wasserman.”

Today, media companies are as secretive as ever. But their CEOs often aren’t.

Wasserman’s aloofness seems almost quaint compared with the posturing of outsize media titans like Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone and Michael Eisner, who trumpet their corporate achievements to investers and journalists on an almost weekly basis.

Sharp, who was in San Francisco last week touting her tome, certainly thinks so.

Wasserman, Sharp says, “had the old-style elegant philosophy that you stay out of the media, and that public relations is just for your clients.”

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