Contrary to the insistence of some, the Jews do not run Hollywood. But for a time, one particular Jew named Lew Wasserman came very close. With a “dress British, think Yiddish” attitude, he transformed MCA from a talent agency into a massive multimedia empire that dominated movie and television production throughout the middle decades of the last century.
The Saturday Evening Post once compared MCA to an octopus, which would make Wasserman the Ernst Blofeld of his very own SPECTRE, an invisible puppet master pulling the entertainment industry’s strings (his motto: “The client should get the publicity, not the agent”). He is a similarly shadowy presence in The Last Mogul. When Wasserman died in 2002 he didn’t leave behind a single written word, so director Barry Avrich patches this superficial documentary together with interviews from fawning associates like Jack Valenti, who calls himself a “comrade in arms” as he cheerfully recounts lobbying Washington to ensure MCA’s vice-like grip on network television production. Avrich’s Wasserman is less a man than a list of accomplishments, a Kane without a hint of a Rosebud and nary a whiff of significant criticism. Everyone is so quick to bemoan modern Hollywood and mythologize the good old days that they seem oblivious to the fact that MCA’s vertically integrating tentacles helped invent today’s culture conglomerates.