Three's Company: A guide to all the Hollywood hullabaloo

Steven Spielberg‘s mama always said: If you’re going to start your own movie studio, do it with your friends — your rich friends. Apparently, Jeffrey Katzenberg‘s and David Geffen‘s moms offered similar advice. Last week, the three amigos shook the entertainment world by joining forces to create a potentially historic media conglomerate. But now that the hoopla over the news has settled, Hollywood is scratching its head in Gump-like confusion, wondering, will everyone get along like peas and carrots? Below, a guide to the biggest Hollywood marriage since Lyle and Julia.

*What’s in it for them? For Katzenberg — who left Disney in a huff last month after chairman Michael Eisner nixed his requested promotion to the No. 2 spot — the new studio is a major psychological boost. If the venture works, it could transform Katzenberg, 43, into a bigger player than any of his former bosses (including former Paramount honcho Barry Diller). For Spielberg, 46, running a studio may be the only way to top himself after Schindler’s List, the capper to what’s being widely hailed as the most successful directing career in Hollywood history. Meanwhile, Geffen, 51, is just looking for something to do. Since unloading Geffen Records to MCA Inc. for about $700 million in 1990, he’s been the most underemployed billionaire in showbiz. ”I haven’t had this much anxiety in 20 years,” he said at the Peninsula Hotel press conference on Oct. 12.

*Are they serious about this? They certainly seem to be. They have ponied up a total of $250 million out of their personal fortunes for start-up expenses (although hundreds of millions more will be needed once the first picture rolls into production sometime in 1995). The investment is a particularly telling gesture from Spielberg, who in the past has vowed never to risk his own money on his own projects. Other signs they aren’t kidding: Last week they were seen shopping for office space in Santa Monica.

*Can three titanic Hollywood egos run a business together — without driving each other crazy? Actually, these guys seem made for each other. Entertainment attorney David Colden predicts, ”Jeffrey is brilliant at organization, motivating, and empowering people — ultimately, he will be the corporate leader. Spielberg has evidenced a desire to remain creative and not get embroiled in running a company. And Geffen is the consummate signer — put Geffen in a room with someone and that individual will ultimately sign.”

*What’s the deal with Matsushita? How does it fit into the picture? The Japanese giant bought MCA Inc. — which is headed by chairman and CEO Lew Wasserman, 81, and president and COO Sid Sheinberg, 59-for more than $6 billion in 1991. Now Sheinberg and Wasserman, chafing under Matsushita’s fiscal restraint, may want to buy back controlling interest, and the new Katzenberg-Spielberg-Geffen troika gives them a big bargaining chip. Spielberg’s cozy relationship with Sheinberg (who gave Spielberg his big break directing a Night Gallery episode) has pumped billions into Matsushita. (Jurassic Park alone earned nearly $1 billion at the box office.) If Matsushita refuses to sell even a portion of the company, Sheinberg and Wasserman could walk and take their ties to Spielberg & Co. with them.

Some insiders speculate that the new studio is merely Spielberg’s bluff to help Sheinberg pressure Matsushita into selling. Others speculate that if Matsushita lets it go, Spielberg and the others will use MCA/Universal as the foundation for their studio. Still others suggest that there’s no link whatsoever. ”Just because MCA is having problems with its parent company, and Jeffrey, Steven, and David are starting a new company, the two are not necessarily connected,” cautions one high-ranking observer.