Edgar in line for Hollywood's top table

The Seagram chief has stardust in his eyes
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The Independent Online
The Hollywood gossip mill is rarely short of bones to chew on, but last week the pickings were especially rich. The key question: did Edgar Bronfman Jr, head of a Canadian drinks empire, really mean it when he said he had "no personal interest in being a movie mogul"?

His pronouncement came after he finally inked the much-anticipated $5.7bn (£3.5bn) deal in which Seagram, 36 per cent owned by the Bronfman family of Montreal, purchased 80 per cent of Hollywood entertainment group MCA from the Japanese electronics giant, Matsushita, an acquisition which - as Mr Bronfman also excitedly pointed out - gives him one of the "six major seats" at Hollywood's table.

Few would deny that MCA, with its Universal Pictures studio, theme parks, television shows and record labels, is just as prestigious or glamorous as Hollywood's other giants. What they would dispute, though, is that Mr Bronfman, a 39-year-old billionaire, will keep his promise, and resist slipping into a silk suit, lighting a cigar, and heading for the studio lot.

Everything that Tinseltown knows about Edgar Bronfman Jr suggests that he is a mogul manqu. His friends include Michael Douglas, Barry Diller - who's still seen as a major Hollywood heavyweight, despite his failed attempt to buy Paramount - and Michael Ovitz, the super-agent who brokered the deal that saw Matsushita into MCA in 1990. There has been speculation that Mr Bronfman may ask either Ovitz or Diller (owner of QVC, the cable shopping channel) to run MCA for him, although both have poured cold water on the suggestion.

Mr Bronfman, a dapper figure known as "Effer" to his friends, has had a love affair with show business which goes back more than 20 years, and which was probably inherited from his father Edgar Snr had a controlling stake in MGM for two years during the 1960s - an excursion that cost him $10m in losses. Edgar Jnr was still in his teens when he began flirting with Hollywood by co-producing The Blockhouse, a flop starring Peter Sellers, for his then mentor, David Puttnam. He has since made a clutch of movies, mostly box office disappointments.

Although rather shy, his private life smacks more of Hollywood than the corporate world in which he has spent his professional life. In 1980 he eloped with, and later married, the actress Sherry Brewer. The two were introduced by the singer Dionne Warwick, with whom Mr Bronfman had become friends while pursing his other great interest - writing love songs. She recorded two of his songs, In Your Arms and Whispers in the Dark. He has since married again, to a Venezuelan oil heiress.

Whatever Mr Bronfman eventually decides to do, he is entering an industry that is in a state of upheaval - apart from the rapid changes brought about by the multimedia revolution.

The impact of DreamWorks, the new entertainment conglomerate and studio being set up by Steven Spielberg and partners, has yet to become clear, but their rivals are bracing themselves - not least because they expect recruiting raids on their best staff.

Many predict that Seagram's takeover will herald the end of Hollywood's longest-running executive partnership, that of the 82-year-old chairman Lew Wasserman, the so-called "godfather" of the movies who has been with MCA since the Great Depression, and his president, Sidney Sheinberg, who - at 60 - has put in a mere 38 years.

If this happens, it could bring about another change, with substantial commercial ramifications. For years, MCA/Universal has made a fortune by distributing Steven Spielberg's blockbusters, including Jurassic Park. Their partnership was built around Mr Spielberg's close personal relationship with Mr Steinberg, whom he regarded as a mentor. Before Matsushita sold MCA, Mr Spielberg's DreamWorks reportedly agreed that some of its products could be distributed by MCA - a deal that could have been worth $1bn over the next decade - but only if the Japanese would keep Mr Wasserman and Mr Sheinberg, with whom they had fallen out badly.

Mr Bronfman now faces a difficult choice. Does he sideline Mr Wasserman and Mr Sheinberg, and jeopardise a potentially lucrative alliance with DreamWorks? The new Spielberg outfit also has close ties with Time Warner - the group which owns Warner Brothers studio and cable TV interests - so may chose to form an alliance there instead. Does he keep at least one of them on - Sheinberg? Does he bring in someone else? Or does he do what he said he wouldn't: succumb to his addiction to stardust and move to Los Angeles, in effect taking one of the six seats at the table himself?