The important moments of our lives and careers are often defined not just by great leaders and deep thinkers, but also by the great mistakes. So in my 20 years at the helm of Variety, here are some of the memorable head-scratchers.
1. The French bankers at Credit Lyonnais delivered the writhing corpse of MGM into the hands of an Italian rascal named Giancarlo Parretti. Parretti appointed his daughter as his chief financial officer, telling associates, “Don’t worry, she’ll spend all her time shopping in Beverly Hills.” He also named Alan Ladd Jr. as his production chief, announcing, “I’ll fucka the girls, he mak-a the deals.”
2. Lew Wasserman engineered the sale of Universal to Matsushita with the understanding that the Japanese would regularly consult him and his associates on policy. Variety’s headline (in Japanese) read “Buyer Beware.” Instead the Japanese ignored all their American colleagues, ran the company ineptly, and, when Wasserman tried to intervene, they kept him in the waiting room for hours.
3. Gerald Levin fostered a flurry of deals, buying out Ted Turner (thus sidelining one of the truly original media minds) and then selling Time Warner to AOL, instantly immobilizing his entire empire. Since Levin’s dealmaking was so fast-paced and complex, investment bankers (who loved the fees generated) proclaimed him a genius — until, that is, everyone realized the cosmic mess he had created.
4. Michael Ovitz, surely the most gifted agent of his era, decided he was too smart for agenting and proceeded to negotiate himself out of the presidency of Universal, then clashed with Michael Eisner during a brief reign at Disney, then constructed and de-constructed a management company and then bid farewell to the community by making bizarre statements to Vanity Fair that seemed at best confused and at worst anti-gay. Ovitz ended up in the restaurant business.