By David Villano
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By Frank Owen
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Aside from the usual jaunts down the humiliation highway, the pointless theatrics and endless hook-up requests to dark world, the onerousness of being considered a combination of Michael Aller, Fredo Corleone, the social director on the Love Boat, and a dumbed-down Samuel Pepys, and the cruel dichotomy of living in the gutter while reaching for the stars of society -- most of whom crave slumming tours of nightclubs -- it's been quite a week. I even managed to get out of Miami, the never-ending holiday from hell and hunger, and took some comfort at the ad hoc Lourdes of publishing, the 1995 American Magazine Conference at the Boca Raton Hotel and Club, three days that sort of shook the world.
In step with the new age of information abundance, the convention's speakers ranged wildly across the cultural spectrum. Being a huge, if nauseating, name, Newt Gingrich beamed in his speech via satellite, but Sen. Bill Bradley and author Gail Sheehy made personal appearances, along with Dr. William J. Bennett, the former politician who's making a killing on the morality beat with The Book of Virtues, and Tina Brown, now straddling the Olympus of The New Yorker. Mutual interest festivals always bring out the better classes of people.
But save for the Newt, no one was as big on the conference pecking order as the DreamWorks SKG studio heads, the triumvirate of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen, making a very rare public appearance together. The back-scratching frolic was arranged by Susan Lyne of Premiere magazine, with the "Making DreamWorks a Reality" panel moderated by ABC News political and media analyst Jeff Greenfield. Although I missed the presentation, a helpful someone did send down a tape, and it's juicy stuff indeed.
To set a light, just-us-guys tone, Greenfield introduced the panel as exploring the "myth of Jewish influence in the media." Spielberg, the man with a true grip, working on some sixteen movies in development, with several projects scheduled for release in 1996: "We're making both some small, personal films and larger-scale movies, reflective of our commitment to social values A I wouldn't make Kids or Showgirls, for instance. You have to feel good about the way you make money. And after 46 movies, DreamWorks gives me an opportunity to own the real estate; I've always rented before."
From there the team addressed lame questions about possibly producing magazines A why bother when you already rule? A and daytime talk shows of an elevating nature. Geffen stepped in with record-industry matters, boutique-studio procedures, and name hurling: "My good friend Calvin Klein told me some advice that he got from a 'garmento' A his word A when Calvin was just starting out: 'Volume has killed more Jews than cancer.'" Although somewhat less convincing as a moral force than his colleagues, Geffen also addressed the family-values question: "We're not going to be producing negative music, material that glamorizes drugs or advocates hurting people, like gangsta rap. When I was down in Barbados on vacation, one of the shows did something on Charles Manson, sitting there with a swastika between his eyes, and they brought in the fact that Guns N' Roses, one of our bands, had recorded a song written by Manson, which was actually harmless enough. Of course they showed the Geffen Records headquarters on-camera, and all I could think about was Roman Polanski calling me. I was so embarrassed I had my name taken off the building."
At that point the topic switched from Geffen's good name to his good money, Katzenberg making a joke about being in the will and Geffen lobbing out more show-biz lore: "Paddy Chayevsky, who was Bob Fosse's best friend, visited Fosse after his massive heart attack and asked the same thing. When Fosse told him he wasn't in the will, Chayevsky said, 'Fuck you, live then.'" From there the questions-from-the-audience segment, a witness to the feast asking what the DreamWorks boys considered the worst aspects of journalism. Katzenberg went jokey: "You're all perfect -- how that's for sucking up?" Spielberg -- who's probably received more positive publicity than anyone since Abe Lincoln -- worried over fact-checking procedures and the use of anonymous sources, gossip's most sinister tool. Just to be perverse, the entire team jumped in on the matter of magazines being cozy with celebrities: reporters putting up with more from entertainers than from politicians, the deals for magazine covers, and the worrying over agents denying editorial access to their star clients.
Naturally Geffen, the most controversial principal of the trio, brought up his own media controversies, most notably the innuendoes that swirled around a rumored marriage to Keanu Reeves. A baseless, scurrilous falsehood, of course, although the romantic in me wants the perfect couple to get hitched, Geffen being so good-humored about it all: "You can imagine how I felt, written about as being secretly married to someone I'd never met. Since then I actually did meet Keanu at a play premiere in New York, while I was talking to my friend Lesley Ann Warren. The only thing I could think to say was 'I hope it was as good for you as it was for me.'"