In its new issue, Fortune talks at length to David Geffen, the most powerful man in Hollywood for a generation. Peerless in his ability to merge artistic and financial instincts, Geffen has been agent; manager; record-industry mogul; movie and Broadway producer; and co-founder of a film studio.
The 70-year-old Geffen rarely gives in-depth interviews, but in a Fortune Q+A conducted over many sessions this spring and summer with David A. Kaplan, the mogul opened up about the Clintons, Steve Jobs, his multi-billion-dollar art collection, big yachts, why he left DreamWorks (DWA), why he won’t sign the Giving Pledge, growing up gay, and what it’s like to have a celebrated song written about yourself.
Geffen talks about his first experience with Hollywood’s less-than-honest ways. He recalls how, after he got a job interview at Ashley-Famous agency, Al Ashley chastised him for admitting on his resume that he didn’t go to college. “You should’ve lied! Who would hire you with this resume?” Ashley said. Geffen didn’t get the job. But when he later applied to William Morris, he dutifully lied and said he graduated from UCLA. But on day one, he learned that someone else had just gotten fired for lying about his resume. “So I came in early every day for six months till I intercepted the letter from UCLA saying they’d never heard of me,” Geffen tells Fortune. “I replaced it with a letter that said I’d graduated.” On lying, he says, “Look, I’m not setting an example … But it’s an idiotic thing that you have to be a college graduate to be an agent … Did I have a problem with lying to get the job? None whatsoever.”
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He says he learned an important lesson while at the prestigious agency: “The epiphany for me at William Morris was realizing, “They bullshit on the phone! I can bullshit on the phone too!”
Geffen admits to Fortune that the Joni Mitchell song “Free Man in Paris” — whose lyrics include “I deal in dreamers and telephone screamers” — was about him.
Geffen also discusses his relationship with the late Steve Jobs. He notes that they had different attitudes about wealth: “Jobs and I are not similar in that regard,” Geffen says. “He didn’t give a shit about money, and I do give a shit about money. I wanted to have a lot of money. I thought it would change my life, which it did, but not in the ways I expected.” Geffen reveals he has almost a billion dollars in Apple (AAPL) stock and is a believer in the company.
Geffen says he did not join Warren Buffett and Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge because he is against the idea. “It’s grandstanding,” he tells Fortune. “You’re just saying you’re going to do it. There’s no legal obligation. I know more than one member of the club who’s told me, “Well, you’re not actually required to give anything away, but you look good.”
He even answers whether he’ll support Hillary Clinton in 2016: “Absolutely,” he says.
“David Geffen Unplugged” is a revealing portrait of an American entertainment icon.