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Leslie Begelman

Leslie Begelman

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One of the first agents to become a studio head, Begelman had a long and distinguished entertainment career that came to be overshadowed by one of Hollywood's most notorious financial scandals. (The episode received book-length coverage in David McClintick's 1982 bestseller, "Indecent Exposure.") The co-founder of a powerful talent agency and the head of two major film studios, Begelman entered show business in 1948 as an agent with Music Corp. of America. There he spent 11 years representing such stars as Judy Garland, Paul Newman and Barbra Streisand. When Begelman resigned in 1960, he had risen to VP of special programs. With fellow MCA alumnus Freddie Fields, Begelman launched Creative Management Associates with just four clients--Garland, Polly Bergen, Phil Silvers and Kirk Douglas. Over the years, CMA grew to become a top agency, representing major talents and packaging projects for film and TV. When CMA acquired General Artists Corp. in 1968, Begelman was named vice chairman and made a member of the executive committee. He left CMA in 1968 to head the financially troubled Columbia Pictures. In 1973, Begelman assumed the position of president of Columbia Pictures and senior executive VP of the...

One of the first agents to become a studio head, Begelman had a long and distinguished entertainment career that came to be overshadowed by one of Hollywood's most notorious financial scandals. (The episode received book-length coverage in David McClintick's 1982 bestseller, "Indecent Exposure.") The co-founder of a powerful talent agency and the head of two major film studios, Begelman entered show business in 1948 as an agent with Music Corp. of America. There he spent 11 years representing such stars as Judy Garland, Paul Newman and Barbra Streisand. When Begelman resigned in 1960, he had risen to VP of special programs. With fellow MCA alumnus Freddie Fields, Begelman launched Creative Management Associates with just four clients--Garland, Polly Bergen, Phil Silvers and Kirk Douglas. Over the years, CMA grew to become a top agency, representing major talents and packaging projects for film and TV. When CMA acquired General Artists Corp. in 1968, Begelman was named vice chairman and made a member of the executive committee. He left CMA in 1968 to head the financially troubled Columbia Pictures.

In 1973, Begelman assumed the position of president of Columbia Pictures and senior executive VP of the parent company, Columbia Pictures Industries Inc. He persuaded a number of his former clients over to the studio and improved Columbia's fortunes with such hits as "The Way We Were" (1973), "Shampoo" (1975) and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977). Begelman's downfall began on September 2, 1976 when the studio issued a check to actor Cliff Robertson for $10,000 which the studio head cashed by forging an endorsement. When Robertson received a missive from the IRS demanding taxes on the income, the actor brought in the police and the LA DA's office.

Begelman blamed the snafu on an underling before finally confessing his misdeed to his superior, Alan Hirshfeld. He was suspended at full pay for two months while the matter was investigated. Two other problematic checks were found--one to director Martin Ritt and one to restaurateur Pierre Groleau. In all, Begelman had embezzled about $40,000 plus another $23,000 in padded expenses. Reinstated after a tumultuous board battle, he eventually resigned his post after a public outcry and forfeited $1.25 million in stock warrants. After pleading no contest to the criminal charges and repaying all the pilfered money, Begelman faced a relatively mild sentence: three years probation for grand theft; a $5,000 fine; and three years of community service (later reduced to one). The latter condition was met by his producing "Angel Dust," a documentary short on the dangers of the drug PCP.

Whereas whistle-blower Robertson was unable to find film work in Hollywood for four years after the incident, the convicted felon landed an independent production deal with Columbia that reunited him with Fields. In 1980, Begelman returned to the executive suite as president and CEO of MGM, which expanded the following year to include United Artists. He had a shaky tenure at MGM/UA with few major hits. With nearly three years left on his contract, Begelman settled with the studio and formed Sherwood Productions in 1982 in partnership with former LA Kings owner Bruce McNall and the Texas-based billionaire Hunt brothers. Sherwood was involved with such diverse fare as "Brimstone and Treacle" (1982), "Mr. Mom," "War Games" (both 1983) and "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension" (1984).

Begelman and McNall next formed Gladden Entertainment which produced a few successes ("Mannequin" 1987; "Weekend at Bernie's"; "The Fabulous Baker Boys" 1989) and many more failures ("Wisdom" 1986; "The Sicilian" 1987). By 1994, Gladden had been sent into bankruptcy by the major talent guilds after defaulting on $4.1 million in residuals. By the following year, McNall had been found guilty and was awaiting sentencing for scamming banks into granting loans backed by inflated or nonexistent assets, a federal offense. As for Begelman, he took his own life with a gunshot to the head at the Century Plaza Hotel Towers on Monday, August 7, 1995. There was no note.

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