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A Well-Nourished Mogul

Casey Wasserman, Grandson of the Late Lew Wasserman, Is Emerging as an L.A. Power Broker, Nurtured by His Grandfather's Tutelage and the Family Fortune

October 27, 2002|DAVID DAVIS | David Davis is a Los Angeles writer who last wrote for the magazine about boxer Sugar Shane Mosley.

Wasserman claims he is frustrated, not angry, at opposition to the stadium. The County Board of Supervisors voted to sue Los Angeles, claiming that including the project in the city's downtown redevelopment plan would usurp tax revenue from the county. Faced with the prospect of extinction, the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission, which operates the Memorial Coliseum, dusted off a plan to renovate the stadium and demanded a seat at the NFL trough. Community groups derided the stadium as a lucrative windfall for multimillionaire developers in an area of the city that desperately needs affordable housing. (Those developers--Anschutz, Roski and Burkle--are all on Forbes' magazine's list of the nation's 400 wealthiest people.) Finally, except for Hahn, no elected official endorsed the proposal.

According to Wasserman, the Coliseum's efforts were the deal-breaker. ''We didn't think the Coliseum would come back because the NFL couldn't have been more clear: They're never going back there,'' he says, his voice beginning to rise. ''For some reason, the commission doesn't understand this. Let's be clear. Six professional and college teams have left that facility--the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Los Angeles Chargers, the Los Angeles Rams, the Los Angeles Raiders, the UCLA Bruins . . . '' Actually, the sixth never played at the Coliseum. The Los Angeles Clippers had played at the Sports Arena, which is administered by the commission, before departing for Staples.

Wasserman says his group has surrendered most of its options to purchase the downtown land. He says he's pursuing other deals that he politely, but firmly, refuses to detail. Besides the Avengers, he owns minor league indoor-football franchises in Fresno and Bakersfield.

He doesn't deny, however, that the partners might reenter the fray, perhaps after the football season. ''In six months, if the Coliseum's dead and there's a groundswell to bring us back, we would step back in,'' he says. ''I'm a very strong believer in football and its value to the city of Los Angeles. But we're not going to get our heads handed to us every day in the press, and we're not going to get manipulated and abused by city politicians who don't have the city in their best interests.''

Wasserman operates from the third floor of a squat, glass-enclosed office building he owns at the western edge of Beverly Hills. He knows the neighborhood well, having grown up in 90210, just blocks from his grandparents' house. He still lives nearby, with his wife, Laura, who works as a music supervisor in the movie industry. He's long been a regular at Dan Tana's restaurant and Nate 'n' Al's, the old-school Jewish deli.

His spacious corner office looks like a sports junkie's fantasy hideaway. An ''NBA Blitz 2000'' video game stands sentry at the doorway, while a muted television shows the U.S. Open golf tournament. Framed autographed jerseys of baseball slugger Mark McGwire and L.A. Kings forward Ziggy Palffy compete for floor space with a box of footballs. An autographed copy of "The John Wooden Pyramid of Success'' sits on a windowsill, near a ticket from the second Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson heavyweight bout. On one wall is a gift from the NFL's Goodell: a poster-sized photograph of the 1932 title game, played indoors because of inclement weather.

Next to his desk, opposite two computer screens, are family photographs, including one featuring his grandfather, sleek silver mane in place, smiling behind his trademark oversized black glasses, which director Steven Spielberg once quipped looked like ''two movie screens.'' To describe Lew Wasserman simply as MCA's chairman is like saying Shaquille O'Neal plays basketball. Wasserman's influence in Hollywood was unsurpassed. He resolved labor disputes between the studios and the Screen Actors Guild, championed television production when the new medium was considered a threat to movies, built Universal CityWalk to increase revenue streams, raised millions for the Democratic Party, and funded numerous local charities, including the Jules Stein Eye Institute and the Motion Picture & Television Fund.

By the time he sold control of MCA to Matsushita Electric Industrial in 1990, he was among the wealthiest men in America. Lew and his wife, Edie, had it all--power, money, entree to movie stars and U.S. presidents. Everything but a son. ''I was unfortunate not to have a son,'' he once told Los Angeles magazine.

In his biography of Wasserman, author Dennis McDougal wrote that Lew and Edie's only daughter, Lynne, struggled to find her identity as the child of a ''workaholic absentee father and a spotlight-hungry mother.'' Lynne's first marriage, to MCA agent Ron Leif, ended in divorce. (They had a daughter, Carol Ann, Casey's half-sister.) So, too, did her second marriage, to stockbroker Jack Meyrowitz. The two were married in 1970, and changed their name to Myers.

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