superagent bernie brillstein becomes studio head -- 8/5/22

Today's selection -- from Where Did I Go Right? by Bernie Brillstein. In 1987, Bernie Brillstein, who had been a career-long agent, was given the job as CEO of a movie studio:
"When I became CEO of Lorimar Film Entertainment in January 1987. I felt like I'd finally arrived. For thirty years I'd played the game, the game being to protect myself and keep from getting killed. Surviving for that long in show business had counted not only for something but, along with instinct, probably everything. Maybe I'd planted the seed when I said that I loved the old studio moguls' biographies. Sometimes I'd go on and on about how awe-struck I was to work on the old MGM lot. That's not enough to run a movie division, but having made the com­pany millions and millions of dollars in television might have been. I had a reputation for bringing in projects under budget and for a profit. Since Merv [Adelson] treated me like a son, it seemed reasonable that he might trust my judgment and instincts in other areas.

"However I got the job was fine with me. I didn't fight it. I was too sur­prised to find myself with a couple hundred million dollars and the free­dom to spend it, especially since I'd never considered myself CEO material. For that, I'd always believed that the blander you are the better. I'd always been an outsider: of the Establishment but not in it. I had strong opinions and I didn't hesitate to speak up when others shut up. My humor was street and cutting, my hockey-jersey-and-designer-sweats dress code out of place in the boardroom. I could wear a business suit, but I'd always fought for the talent against the suits. Today, John Register's painting of headless dummies wearing suits in a clothing store window hangs in the Brillstein-Grey reception lobby; it's Brad's and my way of saying how we sometimes feel about the business we're in.
If I'd ever wanted anything from the Establishment it was for the powers-that-be to recognize me for having made it without becoming one of them. To have Merv accept my quirks and give me the corporate stamp of approval was a sign that they had.

"Running the movie studio was like being allowed to eat all you want in a candy store that your father owns. The town reacts to the guy with the money, and everyone knew very quickly that I had deep pockets. Peo­ple treated me differently and it fed my ego. I was no longer the seller, I was the buyer. Even though 90 percent of all Hollywood meetings are horse manure, I could ask for and have a get-together with anyone. I did breakfasts at the Polo Lounge, at my regular corner table. Every day I had the same waitress, the same food: orange juice, oatmeal, and coffee -- unless I was angry or nervous, and then I ate anything not nailed down. Lunches were at the Lorimar commissary or an industry watering hole, like the Palm Restaurant or The Grill, where I might run into a producer, director, actor, or another studio boss. Some guys like to keep a low pro­file. I wanted to let everyone know I was around and in control. But I never forgot the bottom line: The business world didn't really care about Bernie Brillstein, the man. People just wanted to schmooze me because I wrote the checks. I got it, and it was fine. Maybe I'd make a real friend or two along the way; go to a couple ball games and casual dinners. But as long as everyone else treated me with respect, didn't lie to me, or talk about me behind my back, I didn't take it personally."



Bernie Brillstein


Where Did I Go Right?


Little Brown & Co


Copyright 1999 by Bernie Brillstein


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