I have been working in the business of television for almost 50 years. With the exception of my three years at CBS, every company I was with was dependent on the success of their motion picture division. Early on, no matter the company, no matter how successful our television division became, if the theatrical features failed, the company failed as well. Not as true today because of the diversity of the motion picture companies.
The writer William Goldman said all that needed to be said about the movie business — something like “nobody knows anything.” However, when people say yes to spending a couple of hundred million dollars for the production and marketing of a film, they had better be right most, if not all of the time.
A finance group rescued Columbia Pictures when it took control of the company in 1973. The new head of the motion picture division was an agent, David Begelman. I worked with David for about six years. He was everything that you could want as a studio head. He was very bright, charming, outgoing, creative, and anything else that was positive that you could say about a man in his position. He was the best executive I ever reported to. Sadly, he had one minor character flaw: he was a crook. In the late seventies, following a monstrous scandal, he left the company.
David was not unemployed very long — he was hired to run the moribund MGM. He was responsible for creating a full slate of motion pictures that were released during the following years, and, as a group, they failed miserably. He was fired.
It was at lunch a few months later with David that I told him he didn’t deserve his fate, in that there was no way to tell what movies would or would not be successful. I will always remember his reply. He said “Norman, I was hired to do a job, and I didn’t get the job done, and I deserved to be fired.”
This brings me to our secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. There is no one in my memory better prepared for his role than Rumsfeld. Apparently very bright and charming, he brings to his role all of the attributes that one would expect from a defense secretary. HOWEVER, he did not get the job that was needed done — he should have resigned or been fired.
When Begelman’s movies failed, no big deal to the United States, just a big deal to the MGM owners. Rumsfeld’s failures have caused our country irreparable harm; he should not continue in his present role. He put us where we are in Iraq and Afghanistan and has failed to fix what he was responsible for.
Is it fair to blame all of this on Rumsfeld? Probably not, but as is said, life is seldom fair.
How about having Rumsfeld run a motion picture studio? Come to think of it, he does resemble Begelman.