Saturday, August 23, 2014

Twenty Years Ago This Day ...

Jeffrey Katzenberg announced he was leaving Disney.

Walt Disney Co. shocked Hollywood and Wall Street on Wednesday by announcing that veteran studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg will leave the company next month after losing a highly publicized campaign to be named second in command to Chairman Michael D. Eisner.

Katzenberg--who helped engineer the company's staggering success with animated movies such as "The Lion King" and new ventures such as the Broadway adaptation of "Beauty and the Beast"--was rebuffed by both Eisner and Disney's board of directors on grounds that he was not right for the No. 2 job.

Eisner delivered the news late Wednesday morning. "The job that (Katzenberg) would have wanted does not exist in this company," Eisner said. "We're going to strengthen the company through the divisions."

Katzenberg's departure leaves Burbank-based Disney without one of its chief creative forces. In 10 years he helped build the studio into a perennial box office leader, and encouraged its growth into the lucrative TV production market and other areas. Operating income for filmed entertainment rose steadily under Katzenberg's regime, from $2.2 million in 1984 to $622.2 million in 1993. ...

This wasn't a big surprise to anybody.

It had been an open secret that Katzenberg and Eisner weren't getting along. Jeffrey wanted the late Frank Wells' old job, and Michael said "no" (with Roy Disney's concurrence). Jeffrey felt he had been stabbed in the back, but out he went, straight into the warm embrace of Steven Spielberg and David Geffen ... and the new studio named DreamWorks was born.

Jeffrey stayed on at the House of Mouse for another month after the announcement. Michael apparently wanted Jeffrey to finish out his contract; one of the lead directors on The Hunchback of Notre Dame told me at the time that Eisner insisted on coming along with Jeffrey to a storyboard pitch at the Flower Street animation studio, and that Jeffrey's body language told the sour tale that it wasn't his idea for Michael to be there. Sitting next to Eisner, Katzenberg was hunched down, as far away from the tall CEO as he could get, as the story artists went through the boards. For the first time in anyone's memory, Jeffrey had nothing to say.

(Shortly after, there were a lot of gag drawings speculating about Katzenberg's next occupation decorating the walls at Feature Animation: Jeffrey as real estate agent, Jeffrey as over-bearing car mechanic, etc. etc.)

Interesting times.

But here we are, two decades further on, with Michael Eisner retired from Disney and running his company Tornante, and Jeffrey the CEO of DreamWorks Animation, the friend of Presidents and worth almost as much (if "Celebrity Net Worth" can be believed) as the man who pushed him off the main deck of the S.S. Mouse.

Time, it does have a way of flowing on.

(H/t to TAG President Emeritus Tom Sito).


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