Malibu's Wealthy: David Geffen

David Geffen
David Geffen. Photo: Courtesy Forbes.

Malibu's Wealthy: David Geffen

David Geffen is the "G" in DreamWorks SKG, which he founded with partners Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. All three are on the list of Malibu's wealthiest but Geffen is probably the most successful businessperson in all of the entertainment industry, with net worth estimated at $4.4 billion in 2005 (Forbes).

Geffen made his money the old fashioned way, starting in the New York mailroom of the William Morris Agency. His overly aggressive style fit right in at Morris where he quickly became the agent for rising East Coast music talent. By the time he was 27, he had his first multi-million dollar deal by signing songwriter Laura Nyro with Columbia. As an independent agent, and then with his own Asylum label, Geffen became a force in the music industry, representing established artists/groups or creating new ones, including the Association, Janis Joplin, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, as well as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. In 1971 he was able to sell Asylum to Warner Bros. for $7 million and became head of Warner's Elektra/Asylum label in 1973. He retired the first time in 1976, burned out and impacted by a cancer diagnosis that turned out to be a false alarm.

The second phase of Geffen's career started in 1980 when he came out of retirement to start Geffen Records, again in association with Warner. He signed huge acts including Elton John, Donna Summer, and Neil Young. Always tough and controversial, Geffen was often in legal wrangles with his artists and partners earning him a reputation as a money man who exploited the talent. But Geffen rose above it all, signing Guns N' Roses, Aerosmith, Don Henley, Peter Gabriel, and Cher to propel Geffen Records to sales of $300 million by 1990 and more in the 1990s with follow up success by Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Geffen Records was sold to MCA in 1990 for stock, and Geffen received $710 million when MCA was sold to Matsushita Electric a few years later. The prolific and multitalented Geffen also produced a number of hit movies during the same time period, including Risky Business, Beetlejuice, The Last Boy Scout, Lost in America, and Little Shop of Horrors as well as hit Broadway shows such as Cats, Miss Saigon, and M. Butterfly.

In 1994, Geffen was one of the DreamWorks founders, focused on the music component of the business by running DreamWorks Records. DreamWork's general pop music business was lackluster, but they did catch the trend in country music with their Nashville label and stars including Randy Travis, Toby Keith, Darryl Worley and Jessica Andrews. Toward the end of 2003, Universal Music Group purchased DreamWork's music business for $100 million. Then, at the end of 2005, Viacom/Paramount agreed to pay $1.6 billion to acquire DreamWorks SKG. Geffen paid only $33 million for his founder's shares, worth about $600 million in the acquisition.

Geffen's Beach Access Controversy in Malibu

David Geffen's Carbon Beach home was at the center of a dispute over beach access rights, public vs. private. Property owners like Geffen, who spend millions (even tens of millions) for their beachfront mansions have resisted the well-established California public right to the beach "seaward of the high tide line". Its not that they mind a few people walking in the surf, but they don't want unlimited numbers of gawkers passing through their property to get to the beach and then trespassing on the private areas once on the sand.

At Geffen's home, the nub of the matter was an access lane across his land from Pacific Coast Highway to the beach. When Geffen built his home in 1982, he agreed to the beach access path as part of the approval process for his site plan. The path was never opened. In 2002 Geffen filed a lawsuit attempting to make the closed gates permanent, but he lost in court. With the negative publicity mounting, in May of 2005 Geffen "graciously" handed over keys to the access way to a nonprofit organization. During daylight hours, anyone can now walk past the west wall of his house to reach the public parts of the beach.

David Geffen's Philanthropy

Although he had affairs with Cher and Marlo Thomas, Geffen eventually announced he was gay, becoming a leader of the gay rights movement and the fight against AIDS. Prior to his work with DreamWorks, he donated all profit from his movies and plays to charities. His support of the arts ran into millions of dollars in donations even before 2002 when he gave an unrestricted $200 million to UCLA's medical school, the largest gift an American medical school ever received.

As a major contributor and fund raiser to the Democratic party and its candidates (plus John McCain), David Geffen was a welcome guest at the Clinton White House and the Clinton's often stayed with Geffen in Malibu when in Southern California. He may well be Hollywood's single largest financial supporter of the Democratic Party.

He has been an avid collector of important works of modern art, partially sold off during 2005 for an estimated $100 million.

Recommended Biography of David Geffen

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