Pulitzer Prize-winning author James B. Stewart (Den of Thieves, Blood Sport, Heart Of A Soldier) reveals the strife, strain, and overall inner turmoil of America’s most beloved entertainment company. Stewart gives intricate details on all the players inside Disney: Michael Eisner, Roy Disney (Walt’s nephew), Jeffrey Katzenberg, Frank Wells, Michael Ovitz and a horde of others. The infighting and struggles between them reads like a soap opera, with salacious details on who thought and said what to whom and the consequences of their actions on business as well as personal relationships. Between the scenes of drama, Stewart gives a wealth of fascinating facts on everything from box office numbers to what actors got paid for certain roles, and it’s all written with a great narrative flow.
Besides the facts and figures and personal, life-and-death drama (the death of lyricist Howard Ashman by AIDS is quite emotional), the most entertaining and intriguing things to me were the personal memos. Here is Eisner’s memo that circulated widely in Hollywood and became gospel while he was at Paramount: “We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make a statement. But to make money, it is often important to make history, to make art, or to make some significant statement… In order to make money, we must always make entertaining movies, and if we make entertaining movies, at times we will reliably make history, art, a statement, or all three. We may even win awards… We cannot expect numerous hits, but if every film has an original and imaginative concept, then we can be confident that something will break through.”
Later on in the book, there would be this memo from Katzenberg: “Passion is the only word that can explain why one would choose to burrow through 10 to 15 scripts every weekend on the chance of uncovering something great. Passion is the only word that can explain why one would spend a 60 hour work week at a studio and then, for fun, on the weekend go see three movies… So let’s go back to the drawing board and get back to basics. And, as we do, let’s not be afraid to admit to others and ourselves, upfront and with passion… that we love what we do.” Eisner felt that this memo was unmitigated self-promotion on Katzenberg’s behalf. He would later write that he felt that Katzenberg had anointed himself “genius” or “ Mr. movie mogul.”
The clashing of egos of everyone from Disney board members to actors, directors, designers, and producers gives this book an interesting twist, turn and development on almost every page. Fascinating story and a great book.