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David Geffen is an ambitious, energetic music and movie executive who established a vast Hollywood-based empire, featuring Geffen Records and DreamWorks.
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Talk on the phone. This I can do."
Geffen began developing relationships with musical talent. He was made a junior agent a year and a half after joining William Morris Talent Agency and was soon managing the career of the promising singer/songwriter Laura Nyro. That led to contacts with other up-and-coming stars such as Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, and Janis Joplin. In 1969, Geffen made his first million dollars by selling out the music publishing operation that he had started with Nyro.
In 1970, Geffen cofounded Asylum Records with Elliot Roberts, a friend from his days at William Morris. It was at Asylum Records that Geffen cultivated his knack for spotting new talent and trends in the entertainment industry. Often on the basis of a single demo tape, Geffen signed up some of the hottest rock and roll acts of the early 1970s, including Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, and The Eagles. Once he signed them, Geffen nurtured the relationship he had established with these artists by treating them fairly and giving them artistic and career advice. When he sold Asylum Records in 1971 to Warner Communications, it was one of the largest deals in the music industry up to that point.
Geffen stayed on as Asylum Records president through its merger with the Warner label Elektra in 1973. His major coups during this period were signing Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and The Band for the new Elektra/Asylum label, which became one of Warner Communications most profitable subsidiaries. Geffen had become a major player in the recording industry and was on the lookout for new challenges.
One of those came in 1975, when Warner Communications chief Steve Ross asked Geffen to take on the job of vice chairman of Warner Brothers Pictures. With no experience in the movie business, Geffen leapt at the chance but only had middling success during his first year on the job. He felt stifled by the corporate decision-making structure and asked for a less structured portfolio.
After a four-year semi-retirement precipitated by a mistaken diagnosis of terminal cancer, Geffen returned to his first love, the music business, in 1980. He founded Geffen Records with capital assistance from Warner and began gobbling up new and established talent. John Lennon, Elton John, and Donna Summer were among the acts who released records on the Geffen imprint. Two years later, again with help from Warner, the Geffen Film Company was launched. The company's initial release, the 1983 comedy Risky Business was an immense hit with audiences and it helped make a star out of then-unknown Tom Cruise. During this period, Geffen also expanded his portfolio to include Broadway and off-Broadway theater. He helped bankroll such successful productions as Dreamgirls, Little Shop of Horrors, and the hugely profitable Cats.
Geffen re-upped his record deal with Warner in 1984, commanding a 100 percent equity stake in the company. While he still dealt personally with older acts like Neil Young and Cher, Geffen increasingly began to rely on the evaluations of younger executives more in tune with the musical tastes of the 1980s.
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