Talk about your rags to riches to even greater riches story, David Geffen has lived it all.
About the only thing I have in common with David Geffen besides our taste in music is that we were both born in Brooklyn, New York. While he went on to find fame and fortune in the recording and film industries I’ve managed to struggle along pretty much anonymously.
Such is life.
Born in relative obscurity back in 1943 David Geffen managed to struggle his way through high school and then headed out to California to attend Santa Monica College. Apparently it wasn’t to his liking and he dropped out and headed back east. He tried Brooklyn College and called it quits after only three semesters. It was time to get a job.
He got his start by lying his way into a position in the mailroom of the William Morris Agency. At the time he was given a job under the provision that he could prove he was a college graduate. When the agency went to check his credentials the ever-resourceful Geffen managed to intercept a letter from UCLA (where he claimed he graduated from) and manipulated the wording to show the he had indeed graduated and a career was about to be born.
After quickly rising through ranks Geffen was soon an agent and began signing larger clients the likes of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Laura Nyro and tried to land a record deal for the up and coming Jackson Browne. After having no success industry legend Ahmet Ertegun advised him to start his own label.
Geffen took that advice and formed Asylum Records back in 1970. The name itself came as the result of the label signing artists who had been turned down by other studios. It wasn’t long before he gathered a pretty impressive list that include the likes of The Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Linda Ronstadt and Warren Zevon. Not bad for a relatively newcomer to the industry.
As a side note, Joni Mitchell’s tune Free Man in Paris was written with Geffen in mind.
After a cancer scare in 1975 (which turned out to be false) Geffen briefly retired. He turned up again in 1980 when he formed Geffen Records and landed Donna Summer as his first big name client. He also managed to ink John Lennon for the album Double Fantasy and when Lennon was shot and killed later that year by Mark David Chapman sales of the album went through the roof. Over the years he would go on to sign and record albums for such acts as Asia, Elton John, Cher, Sonic Youth, Aerosmith, Peter Gabriel, Blink-182, Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana and Neil Young.
That’s a pretty impressive client list if you ask me.
In the mid 80’s Geffen began to expand his horizons and ventured into the film industry where he produced movies such as Little Shop of Horrors, Risky Business and Beetlejuice. He then took his talents to the neon lights of Broadway and was one of the original backers of Dreamgirls and Cats. He later teamed up with Steven Spielberg as one of the original founders of DreamWorks but left in 2008.
On a personal note, Geffen has never been ashamed of being openly gay. He was even rumored to have been married to quasi movie star Keanu Reeves whose sexuality was and still is open for debate. Those rumors have been widely discredited.
Today, Geffen is estimated to be worth about $5.5 billion dollars.
If you ask me, that’s not bad for a kid from Brooklyn who lied his way into a job in the mailroom and proceeded to go about living the American Dream
I should be so lucky.