David Geffen (right) with Joni Mitchel (left) and Mama Cass (background) from the PBS American Masters program "Inventing David Geffen," which will air in November. (Photo: Henry Diltz)
American Masters creator and executive producer Susan Lacy premiered her latest installment of the Emmy-winning series, Inventing David Geffen, at the Toronto International Film Festival, but the two-hour rags-to-riches tale will air in the U.S. nationwide on PBS Nov. 20 at 8 p.m. (ET/PT).
Now 69-years-old, the notoriously interview-shy Geffen told the TIFF audience in a Q&A alongside Lacy that he was "incredibly flattered" by the film and that he had "forgotten most of it." "I thought, 'Wow, did I do that?" He added that he had nothing to do with the content, bad or good. "I didn't ask her to change anything," Geffen said of Lacy and later added, "I just wish my mother was around to see it. She'd be so proud."
Described as everything from "outspoken" to a man "not known for being warm and fuzzy," Inventing David Geffen begins with comments from a range of Geffen's friends, colleagues and clients, including Neil Young, Tom Hanks, Don Henley, Cher, Jackson Browne and Steve Martin. In all, Lacy interviewed more than 50 people (Elton John to Irving Azoff, Elliot Roberts to Mo Ostin, Jimmy Iovine to Steven Spielberg) to tell this unparalleled story of a young man with movies on his mind who left Brooklyn for Hollywood the day he graduated from high school.
When he learned "you can be an agent and know absolutely nothing," he knew he fit the bill and returned to NYC to take a job in the mailroom of The William Morris Agency - after lying on the application. From there, the hard-working Geffen with an eye and ear for musical talent signed his Jessie Colin Young and The Young Blood and Laura Nyro. He avoided military service by telling the psychiatrist he was gay (he did not come out publicly until 1992) and dove right into his career.
So began a trajectory in show business that made him one of the most powerful entertainment figures in America - and a billionaire.
Lacy packs a lot into Inventing David Geffen: most notably the building of Asylum Records, Geffen Records, Geffen Films and DreamWorks; the partnerships he formed; his passion for deal-making; the artists for whom he went to the ends of the earth; the betrayal he felt when Nyro signed with Columbia (he calls it "the single most devastating thing that happened to me at that time"); the devastation his artists felt when he sold Asylum; his love affair with Cher (she calls him "the most loving boyfriend in the world"); a misdiagnosis of bladder cancer that changed his view on life; his acceptance of his sexual orientation; and phenomenal philanthropy, particularly to a range of medical causes. She also covers the source of his drive: a passion for movies that began as a child, troubles with school that stemmed from dyslexia and his ultimate fear of failure.
As he says at the clip from his 2010 Rock And Roll Hall of Fame induction, included towards the end of the documentary, "I never thought I'd be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. I have no talent, except being able to enjoy and recognize it in others." In the epilogue to Inventing David Geffen, we see that he bought the home that once belonged to Jack Warner, the Canadian-born movie studio mogul whose accomplished and creations lured him to Hollywood.
Now in its 26th season on PBS with more than 180 documentaries to its credit, American Masters has earned 24 Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Non-Fiction Series eight times since 1999, 12 Peabodys, three Grammys, an Oscar, and the 2012 Producers Guild Award. Lacy's writer-director credits include Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note (1998) and Judy Garland: By Myself (2004). As a producer she has won Grammys for Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart (1998) and No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005).