Cinema fans of a certain age will no doubt recall the grand films
of the 1940s and 1950s with a wry thought of "They don't make them
like that anymore." The current boffo box office consists of
pyrotechnical sequels starring beefcake (and cheesecake)
performers, not matinee idols like Peck, Hepburn, Bogart and
But in the old days . . .
Connie Bruck, a veteran writer for The New Yorker, has
compiled this fulsome biography of Lew Wasserman, one of the most
powerful movers and shakers of an era when movies were virtually
the only form of popular entertainment. The power wielded by
Wasserman and his contemporaries could mean the difference between
professional (and sometimes personal) life and death. (Bruck often
discusses the Hollywood "gang" in terms of organized crime. Indeed,
there was a great deal of dubious dealings with labor unions, often
considered under the concern of the gangster trade.)
Wasserman was the type of leader who drew a mixture of respect and
fear. He was "an entertainment mogul without peer," according to
one admirer. To another, "he had an aura. He was my god." And like
many such men, "his explosive tirades were legend."
Most of the book concerns the wheelings and dealings of the
industry. For such a potentially juicy subject, Bruck dishes very
little dirt/gossip. Instead she seems more concerned with the
financial aspects, which readers will either find fascinating or
tedious. There is often too much background that detracts from the
overall sense of entertainment a book like this would seem to
merit. In fact, Wasserman isn't even mentioned until well into the
first chapter. Even the title is a bit hard to get through.
Another concern is that the author can't quite decide the direction
of her book. The depth of research indicates a scholarly tome, but
the voice seems more "popular" in nature.
Taken as a whole, however, Bruck offers a respectful look at
Wasserman and a homage to the system when, to paraphrase a popular
expression of today's younger crowd, "Hollywood ruled."
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan (RonKaplanNJ@comcast.net) on January 24, 2011