In The Keys to the Kingdom: How Michael Eisner Lost His Grip, the Disney mogul is portrayed as "Nixonian." That's one of the politer adjectives used in a new unauthorized biography that paints the Mouse House honco as, well, a bit of a rat.
The successful CEO, who held sway at ABC and Paramount before moving to Disney, is revealed as identifying with the undistinguished Potsie on Happy Days, the ABC hit sitcom he helped create. Eisner is described as uneasy in the touchy-feely entertainment world to the point of not even being comfortable shaking hands because of hypochondria. Although from a well-off background, he was inculcated by his father with a fear of taking success for granted and authored an internal memo at Paramount in 1982 that read: "We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. To make money is our only objective."
But at least, the long married Eisner is not subjected to the same exposé of his sex life as Hollywood music tycoon and DreamWorks cofounder David Geffen is in just-published The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys and Sells the New Hollywood.
A Disney spokesman tells the Los Angeles Times that Eisner has not and will not read the book that, reportedly, he made considerable efforts to abort. He refused to be interviewed by author Kim Masters and is believed to have pulled strings to forestall, though not ultimately prevent, its publication.
According to the Times, although Eisner had spoken extensively with show-biz and political journalist Masters in the past, he turned down her requests for interviews for the biography because of the harsh Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood that she coauthored in 1996. Although she told Eisner she was "painting a subtle and nuanced portrait of you, and you are not Peter Guber," he chose to see her as setting a trap. Based on advanced word, he was right.
Masters, meanwhile, believes pressure from Eisner has not just prevented her from hyping her book on Disney-owned ABC's Good Morning America, but was also behind the decision by Random House to cancel her Broadway Books contract and demand she repay half her reported $700,000 advance on the grounds that the work was less revealing and hard-hitting than anticipated! Another possible factor in Random House's rejection: the publisher had come out with Eisner's self-serving autobiography Work in Progress in 1998.
Masters, a contributing editor to Time and Vanity Fair, sued. Her tenacious Hollywood lawyer Bert Fields, (the same lawyer then representing ex-Mouse studio boss Jeffrey Katzenberg in his name-calling $250 million lawsuit against Eisner and Disney) won her a settlement and freed up the rights. William Morrow, a division of HarperCollins (now owned by Eisner's rival media tycoon Rupert Murdoch), is now publishing the book, due out next week.
Master's book is compiled from Disney memoranda, unpublished material from the court records in the Katzenberg legal battle and interviews with Eisner rivals and cohorts, including Barry Diller, the mercurial tycoon who worked with Eisner at both ABC and Paramount, and Katzenberg. Those who wouldn't take part included childhood friends and Luanne Wells, widow of former Disney President Frank Wells. (It was the 1994 death in a helicopter crash of Wells, Eisner's trusted second in command, that marked the beginning of a downturn in Eisner and Disney's successful image and fortune. )
After that came the very costly, nasty feud with Katzenberg, the disastrous hiring and firing of überagent Michael Ovitz, Eisner's emergency heart surgery, Disney shareholder dissatisfaction and the fierce competition, particularly in the animation field, with DreamWorks.
That's quite enough to make anyone feel paranoid, even Eisner, the highest paid chief executive in America, whom a press release for Keys to the Kingdom describes as having painted himself in his autobiography as "an isolated and brilliant ruler who lacked introspection," an image that Master's book reportedly re-enforces.