David Lawrence Geffen (born February 21, 1943) is an American business magnate, producer, film studio executive and philanthropist. Geffen is noted for creating Asylum Records in 1970, Geffen Records in 1980, and DGC Records in 1990. Geffen was also one of the three founders of DreamWorks SKG in 1994.
David Lawrence Geffen was born in Borough Park, Brooklyn, New York, to Abraham Geffen and Batya Volovskaya. Geffen's mother owned a clothing store in Borough Park called Chic Corsets by Geffen. Both parents were Jewish immigrants who met in British-mandated Palestine and then moved to the United States. Geffen graduated from New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, then attended Santa Monica College (then known as Santa Monica City College) in Santa Monica, California, but soon left. He then attended night school at Brooklyn College for three semesters before again dropping out. He also briefly attended the University of Texas at Austin.
After a brief appearance as an extra in the 1961 film The Explosive Generation, Geffen began his entertainment career in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency (WMA), where he quickly became a talent agent. In order to obtain the WMA job, he had to prove he was a college graduate. As he later reported in an interview, he claimed in his job application at WMA that he had graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Because he worked in the mailroom, Geffen was able to intercept a letter from UCLA to WMA which stated that he had not graduated from UCLA. He modified the letter to show that he had attended and graduated, then submitted it to WMA.
His colleagues in the mailroom included Elliot Roberts, who later became Geffen's partner in a management company. Geffen left William Morris to become a personal manager and was immediately successful with Laura Nyro and Crosby, Stills and Nash. When Geffen was engaged in the process of looking for a record deal for young Jackson Browne, Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegün suggested that Geffen start his own record label.
Geffen founded Asylum Records in 1970 (with Elliot Roberts) after Geffen was unable to get Jackson Browne a record deal anywhere else. The name Asylum was chosen because of the owners' reputations for signing artists who would struggle to find a record company that would contract with them. The label was distributed by Atlantic Records at this time. Asylum signed artists such as the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, Judee Sill, and J.D. Souther. Asylum was later acquired by Atlantic's parent company, Warner Communications and merged with Elektra Records in 1972 to become Elektra/Asylum Records.
Geffen remained in charge until December 1975, when he went to work as vice chairman of Warner Brothers film studios. He then retired and in 1977 was informed (erroneously) that he had cancer. During his retirement period he spent a short time (the fall of 1978 and spring of 1979) teaching a noncredit seminar on the music industry and arts management at Yale University, where he featured classroom guests Jackson Browne and Paul Simon. In 1980 a new medical diagnosis revealed the error in the original diagnosis and Geffen was given a clean bill of health, whereupon he decided to return to working in the entertainment industry.
In 1980, he founded Geffen Records and recruited Warner Bros. Records exec Ed Rosenblatt as president. The Geffen label's meteoric rise to prominence within the year proved a bittersweet success. Geffen's first artist to sign on was Donna Summer, who was anxious to leave Casablanca/PolyGram Records. Geffen shortly after released her The Wanderer album, the lead single of which reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the album certified gold. Casablanca countered by releasing more singles off her 1979 Bad Girls album such as the song Walk Away and a similarly named hits compilation to compete, but the then New Wave sound was now dominating the airwaves.
The December 1980 release of John Lennon's album Double Fantasy seems an impressive feat for a new label, but at the time Lennon stated that Geffen was the only one with enough confidence in him to agree to a deal without hearing the record first. Yoko Ono, Lennon's wife and partner, stated that Geffen was the only label head to pay attention to her. In December 1980, Lennon was shot dead and Double Fantasy became a massive seller. Over the years Geffen Records/DGC has become well known as a label, releasing works by the likes of Olivia Newton-John, Asia with Steve Howe and John Wetton, Elton John, Cher, Sonic Youth, Aerosmith, Whitesnake, XTC, Peter Gabriel, Lone Justice, Blink-182, Guns N' Roses, Nirvana, Lifehouse, Tyketto, Pat Metheny, Sloan, The Stone Roses and Neil Young.
The label was distributed by Warner Bros. Records since its inception but, in 1990, the label was sold to MCA Records. Geffen continued to run the label before leaving Geffen Records in 1995. The Geffen label is today is part of the Interscope-Geffen-A&M division of MCA's successor, Universal Music Group, formed as the result of the 1999 merger between the MCA and PolyGram families of labels.
Geffen Film/DreamWorks SKG
Through the Geffen Film Company (now Geffen Pictures), Geffen produced dark-tinged comedies such as Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Risky Business (1983) and Beetlejuice (1988). In 1989, Geffen was the executive producer of the American-Canadian animated dark comedy series; Beetlejuice: The Animated Series (1989-91), along with Tim Burton. Geffen was the Broadway backer for the musicals Dreamgirls and Cats. In 1994, Geffen co-founded the DreamWorks SKG studio with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. In 2008, Geffen left DreamWorks.
Geffen has developed a reputation as a prominent philanthropist for his publicized support of medical research, AIDS organizations, the arts and theatre. In 1995 he donated $5 million towards UCLA's Westwood Playhouse. The theatre was renamed the Geffen Playhouse.
According to Forbes ("The 400 Richest Americans of 2004") and other sources, Geffen has pledged to give whatever money he makes from now on to charity, although he has not specified which charities or the manner of his giving. In 2002, he announced a $200 million unrestricted endowment for the School of Medicine at UCLA. The School thereafter was named David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Along with Kenneth Langone's gift to New York University School of Medicine, Geffen's donation is the largest donation ever made to a medical school in the United States. On December 13, 2012, UCLA announced that Geffen had donated another $100 million in addition to his 2002 donation of $200 million, making him the largest individual benefactor for the UC system.
He was an early financial supporter of President Bill Clinton. In 2001 he had a falling out with the former president over Clinton's decision to not pardon Leonard Peltier, on whose behalf he had lobbied the President.
Geffen was an early supporter of Barack Obama for president and raised $1.3 million for Obama in a star-studded Beverly Hills fundraiser. On February 21, 2007, in an interview with Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, Geffen described Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Clinton in unflattering terms: "Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it's troubling." He said that Hillary Clinton was "incredibly polarizing" and described Bill Clinton as "reckless" and cast doubt on those who say he has become a different person since leaving office.
Along with other celebrities including Steven Spielberg and Brad Pitt, Geffen donated money to try to prevent Proposition 8 from becoming law in California.
Awards and honors
Geffen was named one of the 2010 recipients of Ahmet Ertegun Award from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Geffen was awarded with the President's Merit Award for "indelible contributions to the music industry" from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences at the 53rd Grammy Awards in February 2011.
Geffen has an estimated net worth of $5.5 billion, making him one of the richest people in the entertainment industry. He is openly gay. In May 2007, Out magazine ranked Geffen first in its list of the fifty "Most Powerful Gay Men and Women in America." Joni Mitchell and Geffen were close friends and, in the early 1970s, made a trip to Paris with Robbie Robertson and Robbie's wife Dominique. As a result of that trip, Mitchell wrote "Free Man in Paris" about Geffen. Geffen can be heard on Barbra Streisand’s The Broadway Album, released in 1985. The track "Putting It Together" features Geffen, Sydney Pollack, and Ken Sylk portraying the voices of record company executives talking to Barbra. He resides in Malibu, California. Geffen is the subject of several books, most recently The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood (2001) by Tom King, who initially had Geffen's cooperation, but later did not. An earlier biography was The Rise and Rise of David Geffen (1997) by Stephen Singular. He is also a featured character in Mailroom: Hollywood History From The Bottom Up by David Rensen, in Mansion On The Hill by Fred Goodman, in Hotel California by Barney Hoskyns, and in several books about Michael Ovitz.
He was the subject of an American Masters PBS television documentary entitled Inventing David Geffen. The documentary was directed by Susan Lacy and was first broadcast on 20 November 2012. His older brother Mitchell (born Mischa) Geffen (1933-2006) was an attorney who attended UCLA Law School and later settled in Encino, California. Mitchell Geffen fathered two daughters, who are David's closest surviving relatives.
Geffen is a keen collector of American artists' work, including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. According to the chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Paul Schimmel: "There's no collection that has a better representation of post-war American art than David Geffen's."
In October 2006, Geffen sold two paintings by Jasper Johns and a De Kooning from his collection for a combined sum of $143.5 million. On November 3, 2006, the New York Times reported that Geffen had sold Pollock's 1948 painting No. 5, 1948 from his collection for $140 million (£73.35 million) to Mexican financier David Martinez. Martinez is the founder of London-based Fintech Advisory Ltd, a financial house that specializes in buying Third World debt. The sale made No. 5, 1948 the most expensive painting ever sold (outstripping the $134 million paid in October 2006 for Gustav Klimt's portrait Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, purchased by cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder).
In 2007, Geffen bought a half-share in friend Larry Ellison's luxury yacht Rising Sun, then at 138 meters (453 ft) the sixth largest motor yacht in the world. After Ellison ordered a new and more compact 298 feet (91 m) yacht, he sold his half share in Rising Sun to Geffen in 2010.
In 2009, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich agreed to a divorce settlement with his wife Irina that resulted in her taking ownership of the 115-meter (377 ft) yacht Pelorus. Approached on Geffen's behalf by broker Merle Wood, Geffen bought Pelorus in 2011 for $300 million.