David Geffen Biography (1943-)

Born February 21, 1943, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Abraham and Batya (an owner of a corset business) Geffen. Addresses: OFFICE--Geffen Films, 9130 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

David Geffen's unique entrepreneurial career spans the recording industry, the movies, and Broadway plays. By his mid-forties Geffen established himself as a bi-coastal mogul who earned rich profits by backing such varied projectsas albums by Jackson Browne, the Broadway musical Cats, and the feature filmRisky Business. In a July 21, 1985 New York Times Magazine feature, Don Shewey called Geffen a tastemaker with proven good judgment who "mediates betweenthe interests of businessmen in making money and the interests of artists indoing good work." A self-made man who earned a million dollars before he turned twenty-five, Geffen stepped away from the entertainment industry between 1976 and 1980 when he was told he had cancer. Since returning to the business,he has recouped his position as one of the most important individuals in itscorporate structure. New York Times reporter John Duka wrote on October 3, 1982, that Geffen's recent triumphs "are proof that he is still capable of replicating the success he experienced when ... he became the most sought afteragent in the business. Proof, too, against those who forsook him during his retirement ... that he has not lost his touch. And proof, finally, that he maynot have been simply a pushy and loud upstart."

Geffen was born in Brooklyn, the second son in a struggling family who livedin a cramped, three-room apartment. His father was unemployed, but his motherstrove ceaselessly to better the family's position. She created a company, Chic Corsetry by Geffen, that eventually moved from the family living room toits own storefront. "I was a terrible student," Geffen told the New York Times. "I learned by lessons by watching {my mother}. She taught me to tell the truth, to make sure that whatever I put out was good stuff. I believe that with every fiber of my body." While visiting his brother who was attending law school in Los Angeles, Geffen drove with a friend around the stars' homes in Beverly Hills. In a May 17, 1982 New York article, Geffen recalled: "All I could think was how angry I was at my parents that they chose Brooklyn instead of Beverly Hills. I thought, 'Why ... would anybody not want to live here. Look at this. This is fabulous! ... I'm gonna live here."

College did not seem to be the answer for Geffen. He flunked out of the University of Texas, then dropped out of Brooklyn College. He was dismissed from two entry-level jobs at CBS, and then he went to work in the mail room at theprestigious William Morris Agency. In order to advance at William Morris, Geffen fabricated the story that he had graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles. When he learned that the agency was trying to verify his claim, he haunted the mail room until he intercepted the college's answer, steamed it open, and forged a false response. "It was either give William Morriswhat they wanted or give up my dream," he told the New York Times. Even so, as a journeyman talent agent, Geffen was almost fired for being "too aggressive." He had to plead for his job on at least one occasion.

In 1968 Geffen quit William Morris for the Ashley Famous Agency, where he "helped build its music department into the second largest in the business," according to Duka. After a term as executive vice president with Creative Management Associates, he joined with Elliot Roberts to form Geffen-Roberts, whichquickly became one of the most profitable music management agencies in the country. Next he formed his own production company, Asylum Records, which foundimmediate success in 1971 with records from Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, America, and the Eagles. So formidable were Geffen's gains that Warner Communications quickly bought Asylum for seven million dollars, merged it with their own failing Elektra label, and gave Geffen direction of the new division. Once again, Geffen excelled. Out of forty Asylum-Elektra releases in 1973, thirty-eight were hits.

Warner Communications made Geffen vice-chairman of Warner Brothers Pictures in 1975. He oversaw production of Oh! God and a few less successful films, buthe clashed with the bureaucracy of the movie business and alienated his associates with his forceful personality. Just as he was contemplating leaving the company, he was diagnosed as having cancer. He retired to await his expected death, but he did not stop making money. A series of lucrative real estatedeals netted him an estimated $23 million between 1976 and 1980. Then it wasdetermined that he did not have cancer after all. He decided to return to theentertainment industry--to prove a point. "By 1979 I was a forgotten guy," he told the New York Times. "I was called a flash in the pan.... The people Ihad thought were my friends and that I once had no trouble reaching by phonewould not answer my calls." Of his comeback he went on to say, "I am driven."Geffen Records opened in 1980 with such top-name stars as Bob Dylan, Donna Summer, and Elton John in its ranks. Dreamgirls and Cats, two plays Geffen backed, opened to long and profitable runs on Broadway in 1981 and 1982 respectively. The film Risky Business earned in excess of $50 million. And once again, Geffen became the courted hero, making and receiving more than one hundredphone calls a day.

In the New York Times, Geffen has called himself "Billy the Kid, the fastestdraw." He added: "It's not arrogance. It's the truth. I'm good at decidng what people like. I'm gifted at knowing what will be a success before it is a success." Where once his romances with singer Laura Nyro and with Cher, both clients, put him in the tabloids, Geffen has kept a lower profile since 1980. He spends some of his profits on fine art and works to keep in good physical condition. Although Geffen admits that he is happy only when the bottom line is securely in the black, he nonetheless told the New York Times Magazine thathe loves his particular business. "The truth of the matter is I don't work to make a living," he claimed. "I work because I like this. If I had to pay somebody else for the opportunity to do this, I would."

Birth Details
February 21, 1943
Brooklyn, New York, United States

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