Farewell, Michael Eisner
I'll cherish those witty notes you used to send me.
Disney already had a reputation for litigiousness but Eisner took it to a new level once he was unfettered by the counsel of Wells (who was not only a lawyer but a Rhodes scholar, thereby trumping Eisner's college degree and commanding his respect). Katzenberg sued to get his money, which led to the airing of Eisner's now-famous line: "I think I hate the little midget." The same lawsuit also produced the less-remembered but equally beguiling, "I'm the cheerleader and he's the tip of my pompom."
Shareholders delivered another memorable piece of theater by suing over the $140 million severance package lavished on Michael Ovitz after a mere 14 months as Disney's president. In that trial, it came out that Eisner had called his erstwhile friend incompetent, untruthful, and "a psychopath." Name another executive—at least, one who hasn't done hard time—who's delivered that type of entertainment.
More recently—with the end in sight—Eisner published the book Camp, a valentine to his boyhood summertime experiences. Who else would have the chutzpah to publish a book about teamwork and fair play just as he's under oath explaining how he'd shivved his erstwhile best friend, aka the psychopath?
What Eisner will do in the wake of leaving Disney is, of course, the subject of dinner-party speculation in Hollywood. He once told Charlie Rose that he'd stay at Disney until he died. Now he's out at just 63. There's time, perhaps, for another act, and meanwhile, he's got a little empire to build. Eisner loves architecture (all that control!) and he's had Robert Stern working on an enormous oceanfront property on the western edge of Malibu. A prominent Malibu neighbor admirably describes the Eisner project as a "Hyannisport thing," referring to the famous Kennedy family compound in Massachusetts. Eisner is the only guy in Malibu who's received permission to build a two-story elevator into the bluff to whisk family and friends partway down the steep embankment to a cabana overlooking the beach.
This project has given him plenty to fight about. With the litigation and bureaucratic battles that have been under way for some years now, Eisner's architectural plans, permit applications, and other documents now take up more than 8 feet of shelf space in a California Coastal Commission office. So, even if Moby Dick is temporarily beached, with that kind of conflict, he'll feel right at home.
Kim Masters is an NPR correspondent and the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everyone Else.
Photograph of Michael Eisner with Bob Igery by Hector Mata/AFP/Getty Images.