Milestone Award: Ron Meyer

Studio topper shows Universal appeal

Stability is often a foreign concept in Hollywood, where who’s in power and who’s not can change with each weekend’s box office grosses. But throughout his career, Ron Meyer has put a premium on it.

First appointed president and chief operating office of Universal Studios in 1994 (when it was still known as MCA), Meyer is the longest currently serving top studio exec in town — despite the studio having been bought and sold four times during his tenure.

That achievement is all the more notable when you consider who his bosses have been: first a Japanese electronics manufacturer (Matsushita, which bought U from Lew Wasserman in 1995); then Edgar Bronfman Jr., who was steering the family liquor business into the entertainment field; then Jean-Marie Messier, who wanted to transform a French water-treatment company into a high-tech media concern; then Barry Diller; then Jean-Rene Fourtou, brought in to clean up Messier’s mess.

But last year was a year of change for U. Meyer, who runs not only the film studio but also U’s theme park and production facilities division, tapped Marc Shmuger and David Linde to be, respectively, chair and co-chair after Stacey Snider’s departure for DreamWorks.

A raft of internal exec shuffles followed, including the creation of a new foreign distribution arm.

Meyer started his show business career after leaving the Marines in 1964. His first gig was as a messenger at a talent agency. Six years later he became a TV agent himself at William Morris, before leaving with four fellow tenpercenters to start CAA in 1975.

While fellow CAA founder Mike Ovitz created a long list of enemies during that era, Meyer probably has more folks who count him as their best friend than most people have on their Christmas card list. And though CAA is in different hands these days, Meyer, more than any of the founders, maintains the closest relationship with the agency.

To find a more successful agent who moved over to the buying side of the biz, you’d probably have to go back to Wasserman himself. Though he’s known as a relatively hands-off manager when it comes to his film production unit, Meyer’s long-running relationships with filmmakers are one of the studio’s most important assets.

The changing economics of the movie business may be creating some tensions at other studios, but Meyer continues to play it cool. In an appearance on AMC’s “Sunday Morning Shootout,” hosted by Daily Variety Editor-in-Chief Peter Bart and veteran producer Peter Guber, Meyer remarked on Sumner Redstone’s decision to show Tom Cruise the exit at Paramount, “Frankly, I don’t understand it.” He then added, “Being an asshole doesn’t get you results.”

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