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Lewis Robert Wasserman

Age: 84

Net worth: $460 million

Source of wealth: Entertainment

Resident of: Beverly Hills

Lew Wasserman’s vision is as legendary as his signature, oversized glasses. He turned a talent agency into a movie studio in the 1940s, snapped up movie rights for television in the 1950s and in the 1960s turned a studio back lot into a theme park.

All those moves helped turn Music Corporation of America now Universal Studios Inc. into an entertainment powerhouse.

Now Universal’s chairman emeritus following the sale of the company to Seagram’s Bronfman family for $5.6 billion in 1995, Wasserman was also a Hollywood pioneer when it came to campaign contributions.

MCA came under attack from the federal government for possible antitrust violations in the early 1960s and was forced to give up its talent agency business. Wasserman soon became a major political contributor.

“Wasserman was one of the first to realize that Hollywood could have clout in government,” Samuel Goldwyn Jr. once said.

He remains an active contributor giving a $300,000 contribution to the Clinton reelection effort (and netting an overnight stay in the White House).

He also had an eye for talent pulling a senior director from a summer blockbuster called “Jaws” in favor of a young director named Steven Spielberg the start of a long and profitable relationship.

In 1990 Wasserman sold MCA to Matsushita for $6.6 billion. It was a bad fit; Matsushita execs kept Wasserman and his right hand man, Sid Sheinberg, in the dark over major developments. In one notorious incident, Wasserman and Sheinberg were kept waiting for two hours for a scheduled appointment with Matsushita officials in Osaka.

Two years ago, Matsushita sold the studio to Seagram’s Bronfman family for $5.6 billion and Wasserman moved away from day-to-day operations.

Although his politics are liberal, Wasserman is a trustee of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. That’s not surprising: As a talent agent, he signed a young star named Ronald Reagan to a seven-year contract the first million-dollar deal for Wasserman.

Julie Sable

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