Katzenberg, Jeffrey

▪ 1996

      In September 1994 Jeffrey Katzenberg, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, resigned in a dispute with his longtime boss, Michael Eisner, head of Walt Disney Co. Within days Katzenberg founded DreamWorks SKG with his friends filmmaker Steven Spielberg and record impresario David Geffen. Together they shared two-thirds of the equity in the new entertainment studio, planning to make movies, animation, television shows, and records and produce interactive computer-based entertainment.

      Katzenberg's strained relationship and eventual split with Eisner was widely viewed as familial strife engendered by his desire to break from the mold cast by his mentor-father. He was born in 1950 and attended New York University for one year. He worked as a political organizer and held odd jobs (including talent agent) before securing a position at Paramount Pictures. While Eisner was president of Paramount (1976-84), Katzenberg became his protégé, working his way up from the mail room to president of production of motion pictures and television. When Eisner took over the reins at the moribund Disney with Frank Wells from Warner Brothers in 1984, Katzenberg joined them as a junior partner.

      Over the next decade Eisner, Katzenberg, and Wells built Disney from a beleaguered $2 billion not-so-magical kingdom into a $22 billion empire. Katzenberg oversaw film and television production, with special responsibility for Disney's animation division and Touchstone Pictures, Disney's first adult feature subsidiary. A ruthless cost cutter, he expanded studio revenues from $320 million to $3.7 billion and pretax profits from $2 million to $800 million. The highly profitable animation features he produced—The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King—fueled Disney's growth. Moreover, they made Disney once more a weaver of richly textured fantasies comparable to those of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s.

      Katzenberg quit when it became clear Eisner would not bestow wider-ranging responsibilities on him following Wells's accidental death in April 1994. Only six business days after he left, the contracts were signed with Spielberg and Geffen for their new entertainment studio, wherein Katzenberg would run animation and television production. Given the fusion of talent and vision, Hollywood was optimistic about their success. Katzenberg's first animated feature, The Prince of Egypt, was scheduled to be released for Christmas 1998. (DANIEL LATHAM)

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Universalium. 2010.

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