THE LAST MOGUL: THE LIfe and Times of Lew Wasserman (Barry Avrich). 110 minutes. Opens Friday (July 29). For venues and times, see Movies, page 97. Rating: NNN
Rumour has it Hollywood is run by robot accountants who feed on skinny lattes and orphans' flesh. In the old days, there were moguls. Jack Warner and Louis B. Mayer have long been mythologized, but arguably the most powerful mogul to walk the earth was MCA Universal's Lew Wasserman . We owe him our imaginations.
The Last Mogul charts Wasserman's rise from a Cleveland tenement to become one of the most powerful men in America. He was the first to understand that whoever controlled movie stars controlled industry power. He was the first to negotiate a cut of the box office for a star, and the first to make TV movies. One of his films reinvented summer: as producer David Brown notes, "I believe the only orgasm Lew Wasserman ever had was with the opening of Jaws."
The Last Mogul makes for fascinating Hollywood history, though the straight TV-doc style bleeds life from quotes like that.
When Wasserman landed in Hollywood in 1939, Ronald Reagan and Gone With The Wind mammy Hattie McDaniel were MCA's only clients. The Last Mogul argues that Wasserman helped steer Reagan to the governor's mansion, and eventually to the White House. Makes you wonder what would have happened if he'd chosen McDaniel instead.