David Geffen

David Geffen
David Geffen
Born February 21, 1943 (1943-02-21) (age 68)
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Ethnicity Jewish[1]
Occupation Record executive
Film producer
Theatrical producer
Net worth increaseUS$4.6 billion[2]

David Geffen (born February 21, 1943) is an American record executive, film producer, theatrical producer 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.


Early life and career

Geffen was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Abraham Geffen and Batya Volovskaya. Both were Jewish immigrants who met in British-mandated Palestine and then moved to Brooklyn.[citation needed] 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. His mother owned a clothing store, Chic Corsets By Geffen, in Borough Park, Brooklyn. David's older brother Mitchell Geffen 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 began his entertainment career in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency, where he quickly became an agent. In order to obtain the WMA job, he had to show proof of graduating college. Geffen forged a letter and submitted it to WMA. His colleagues in the mailroom included Elliot Roberts, who later became Geffen's partner in a management company. He left William Morris to become a personal manager and was immediately successful with Laura Nyro and Crosby, Stills and Nash. In the process of looking for a record deal for young Jackson Browne, Ahmet Ertegün suggested that Geffen start his own record label.

Asylum Records

Geffen, with Elliot Roberts founded Asylum Records in 1970, which signed artists such as Jackson Browne, The Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Linda Ronstadt and J.D. Souther. The label was distributed by Atlantic Records at this time. 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 1975, when he went to work as Vice Chairman of Warner Brothers film studios. He then retired and was soon informed (erroneously) that he had a life-threatening illness. During his retirement period he spent a short time teaching business studies at Yale University. 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.

Geffen Records

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 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. An alternate view is that Geffen was the only label head to pay attention to Lennon's wife and partner Yoko Ono. In December 1980, Lennon was fatally shot 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, XTC, Peter Gabriel, Lone Justice, Blink-182, Guns N' Roses, Nirvana, Lifehouse, 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 and 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, Geffen produced dark-tinged comedies such as (the 1986 version of) Little Shop of Horrors, Risky Business and Beetlejuice. 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.[3]

Philanthropy and politics

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.

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.[4]

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.[5][6]

Geffen was an early supporter of Barack Obama for president and raised $1.3 million for Obama in a star-studded Beverly Hills fund raiser. 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.[4][7]

Awards and honors

Geffen was named one of the 2010 recipients of Ahmet Ertegun Award from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[8] 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.[9]

Personal life

Geffen has an estimated net worth of $4.6 billion, making him one of the richest people in the entertainment industry.[2]

Geffen is openly gay. In May 2007, Out magazine ranked Geffen first in their list of the fifty "Most Powerful Gay Men and Women in America."[10]

Geffen is the subject of Joni Mitchell's song "Free Man in Paris".[11] Mitchell and Geffen were close friends, and in the early 1970s made a trip to Paris with Robbie and Dominique Robertson.

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.[12] He resides in Malibu, California. He, along with other celebrities including Steven Spielberg and Brad Pitt, donated money to stop Proposition 8 from becoming law in California.[13]

Geffen is the subject of several books, most recently The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood (2001) by Thomas R. 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. Geffen is also a featured character in the books "Mailroom: Hollywood History From The Bottom Up" by David Rensen, "Mansion On The Hill" by Fred Goodman and "Hotel California" by Barney Hoskyns as well as several books about Michael Ovitz.

Court battles

Geffen's Malibu home (5 adjacent parcels comprising Doris Day's old beach house) on the Pacific Coast Highway has been a battlefront in an ongoing struggle between property owners and beachgoers over access to public beaches in front of private residences. In 2002, Geffen sued to block access to the public beach in front of his home. His publicly stated concern was safety.

While the sand mean high tide is public property, residents have fought to keep the public out of the area and the beaches private and Geffen "fought an infamous battle for decades to keep the public from using an easement he was supposed to grant under terms of building his home on Carbon Beach" before losing the court battle 2005 and having to open the gates beside his home to the public.[14] In 2005, facing a rising tide of anger, Geffen relented and allowed access through a non-profit group. Garry Trudeau parodied this dispute in his daily comic strip Doonesbury.

Other homeowners along the beach have hired security guards to keep people out.[14] The LA Urban Ranger group has explored the access issues along the beach area.[14]

Art collection

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."[4]

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 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.[15]

See also


  1. ^ http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/JewishFeatures/Article.aspx?id=187427
  2. ^ a b "The 400 Richest Americans: David Geffen". Forbes. September 17, 2008. http://www.forbes.com/lists/2009/10/billionaires-2009-richest-people-search.html?Name=Geffen&Age=0-99&NetWorth=1.0-70.0&City=&Source=. Retrieved July 20, 2009. 
  3. ^ The New York Times "David Geffen,Savior of Dream Works, Makes a Sudden Exit." Cieply,Michael. Oct. 27, 2008.
  4. ^ a b c "Faces of the week". BBC News. February 23, 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6387615.stm. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  5. ^ N.Y.U. Medical Center Gets Another $100 Million Gift
  6. ^ "David Geffen Gift to School of Medicine / UCLA Spotlight". Spotlight.ucla.edu. http://spotlight.ucla.edu/special-guests/med-school_renamed/. Retrieved March 23, 2011. 
  7. ^ "What Geffen Said About Hillary". Newsmax.com. February 22, 2007. http://newsmax.com/archives/ic/2007/2/22/00733.shtml?s=ic. Retrieved March 23, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Congratulations to the 2010 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees!". http://www.rockhall.com/induction2010/. Retrieved December 15, 2009. 
  9. ^ "53rd GRAMMY Awards Season Hits High Notes". http://www.grammy.com/news/53rd-grammy-awards-season-hits-high-notes. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
  10. ^ "The Most Powerful Gay Men and Women in America". Out Magazine. May 2007. http://www.out.com/detail.asp?id=22394. Retrieved January 15, 2009. 
  11. ^ "News Archive - Your link to SouthCoast Massachusetts and beyond". SouthCoastToday.com. http://www.southcoasttoday.com/daily/12-96/12-07-96/b01ae065.htm. Retrieved March 23, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Album of the Month for BarbraNews.com by Steven Housman". Barbranews.com. http://www.barbranews.com/albummonth.htm. Retrieved March 23, 2011. 
  13. ^ "Proposition 8 contributions". The San Francisco Chronicle. http://www.sfgate.com/webdb/prop8/?appSession=587482278271008&RecordID=14493&PageID=3&PrevPageID=2&cpipage=1&CPIsortType=&CPIorderBy=. 
  14. ^ a b c Group's 'safaris' find Malibu beaches behind mansions July 27, 2007 Scripps News Services
  15. ^ "David Geffen Takes Possession Of "Rising Sun", World's Sixth Largest Yacht". boatworktimes.com. October 25, 2010. http://boatworktimes.com/yacht-mainmenu-26/luxury/4439-david-geffen-takes-possession-of-qrising-sunq-worlds-sixth-largest-yacht.html. Retrieved October 2, 2011. 

External links

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