Hollywood's newest player is sitting in a temporary office on the top floor of MCA Inc.'s charcoal-colored tower on Lankershim Boulevard in Universal City. It's somewhat lonely at the top for Edgar Bronfman Jr. on this day, an unusual period of solitude for someone who has become the most watched man in Hollywood. There are no other executive offices on the floor. The elevator doesn't even travel there. One has to ride it to the 15th floor, where most of MCA's top managers work, then climb a flight of stairs.
Bronfman sits in an elegant, wood-paneled office that has the feel of a living room. There is a big-screen television and stereo system, supplementing couches, a coffee table and a wooden desk. This was once the office of the late Dr. Jules Stein, who founded MCA and ran it with Hollywood patriarch Lew Wasserman, 82, who is working one floor below Bronfman.
Bronfman is less than half Wasserman's age, having just turned 40. And as chief executive of Seagram Co. Ltd., he has plunged the $11-billion beverage and liquor giant into Hollywood by buying 80% of MCA and its Universal Pictures unit from Japanese electronics maker Matsushita Electric Industrial for $5.7 billion. He is betting a good chunk of his family's fortune, estimated at more than $4 billion and invested largely in Seagram, that he can prove the exception to the rule, an outsider in Hollywood who finally succeeds. Plenty of insurance companies, electronics giants and soft-drink makers all thought they could make it but ended up bailing out. Should Bronfman fail, he risks not only similar public embarrassment, but probably the wrath of every Bronfman heir born during the next century.
An Armani-clad figure, the lanky, impeccably coiffed Bronfman has been described by reporters as "Hollywood handsome." Augmenting that handsomeness is a neatly trimmed, reddish-brown beard that adds maturity to a face that otherwise would look a decade younger. Today, Bronfman is following a breaking development at entertainment giant Time Warner Inc. About two hours earlier, he was meeting with MCA's top music executive, Al Teller, when they were interrupted by the news that Time Warner's domestic music chief, Doug Morris, had been abruptly fired. The dismissal of the grandfatherly Morris has rocked the entertainment community, and Bronfman wants to know if it hurt Time Warner's stock price.
He has two competing reasons to be curious. Turmoil at a competitor creates opportunities. But Seagram is also Time Warner's largest stockholder, with nearly 15% of the company's stock. Bronfman calls up the stock quote on his personal computer. He sees it wasn't affected, but notes there wasn't much time for it to react because the firing occurred shortly before the market closed.
Bronfman also has a more personal interest. He is a part-time songwriter, and his composing partner of 20 years, Bruce Roberts, is about to release his debut pop album on Time Warner's Atlantic Records. Bronfman wrote three songs, including the title track, "Intimacy," for the album, using the pen name Junior Miles. (Miles is his middle name, and Junior stems from the fact he shares his father's name.) Morris had championed Roberts' album, which is how Bronfman met and got to like the music executive.
Later that afternoon, Bronfman tracks down Morris, still upset over his firing, by car phone and tells him that he and Teller would love to make him a home at MCA. "Doug, have you seen 'The Shawshank Redemption?' " he asks Morris. The Oscar-nominated movie includes a scene in which a down-and-out character played by Morgan Freeman, on parole from prison, is finally reunited on a beach with a friend from prison, played by Tim Robbins. Yes, Morris says, he saw it.
"Well, you're the guy who just got out of prison, and I'm the guy who is waiting for you on the beach," Bronfman says. Within three weeks, Bronfman established Morris as head of Rising Tide, a new New York-based record label for MCA whose name was inspired by Bronfman's beach analogy.
Since buying control of MCA on June 5, Bronfman has been positioning himself as that guy on the beach for a lot of people in Hollywood. To that end, he three weeks ago signed one of Hollywood's most popular talent agents, Ron Meyer, president of Creative Artists Agency, as president of MCA in a move that shocked Hollywood. Bronfman declared the signing of Meyer, whose clients included Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Sylvester Stallone, as an attempt to make MCA "the most talent-friendly studio" in town.
Ironically, the move came just after negotiations between Bronfman and Meyer's partner, Michael S. Ovitz, broke down over a number of issues, including the $250-million-plus pay package and Ovitz's reluctance to leave the agency he founded.