TV: Geffen's life makes for a fascinating documentary

Television • Media mogul isn't exactly fond of the media.
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When David Geffen flew from Sardinia, where his yacht was anchored, to Los Angeles to meet with television critics, he made it clear he wasn't happy to be there promoting PBS' "American Masters" profile of him.

The media mogul wasn't rude. Just abrupt. And, if anything, there was a lot of admiration in the room for the guy.

Rising from the mailroom at the William Morris Agency, Geffen quickly became a major force in the music industry. He produced Oscar-winning films and Tony-winning shows, built and sold several companies and became a billionaire as well as a political mover and shaker.

He's a leader in the fight against HIV. He helped elect presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, despite having no musical talent.

Just don't ask him something untoward, like — where do you think you've had your greatest success? "I had successes with music, movies and Broadway shows," Geffen said, looking oddly put out. "I couldn't tell you what I think is the most successful."


In the fascinating two-hour documentary "Inventing David Geffen," we learn that he's a great friend and a terrible foe. Apparently, he considers the press, in general, a foe.

It's not as if "American Masters" is a puff piece. Producer Susan Lacy lined up an incredible array of people to talk about Geffen. To name a few: Warren Beatty, Jackson Browne, Tim Burton, Cher, David Crosby, Clive Davis, Barry Diller, Rahm Emanuel, Nora Ephron, Glenn Frey, Tom Hanks, Don Henley, Elton John, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steve Martin, Joni Mitchell, Mike Nichols, Yoko Ono,Steven Spielberg and Neil Young.

They were honest, but not necessarily nice. But Geffen's toughest critic is Geffen. Lacy uses his words from four extensive interviews to frame the documentary. "His interviews were extensive, candid, funny."

His press conference to promote the film, not so much.

• What would you do if you were starting out in the music business today?

"I would kill myself," Geffen said.

• What's it like watching this documentary?

"You watch yourself get old and bald. It's a sobering experience."

• Why didn't Laura Nyro ever become a big star?

"When she decided not to go with Asylum Records, we were no longer together and she never had another success."

• Do you have special memories of any of the artists you worked with?

"I have special memories about all of them."

• Do you have any other ideas for doing something new in the music industry?

"I have no ideas, none whatsoever."

• Is there any job in show business that you would love to take now if offered?

"I'm 69. I don't want a job."

• What did you think about stories that you were the subject of Carly Simon's song "You're So Vain" — stories that turned out to be true?

"I thought the same thing about it as when I heard the story that I married Keanu Reeves, who I had never met. You are a journalist. You know about this."

He might be confusing TV critics with people who make things up for the tabloids, but, yeah, Geffen clearly doesn't like journalists. —

"American Masters"

"Inventing David Geffen" airs Tuesday at 7 p.m. on PBS/Channel 7.