Clifford told Harry Truman how to do it; he told J.F.K. and L.B.J. how to do it; he told Jimmy Carter how to do it…
Clark Clifford's face looks as if it belonged on a hundred-dollar bill. It has that patrician expression which the Founding Fathers usually assumed when they posed for their legal-tender portraits. The perfect nose and the wavy hair add a classical touch, so the face would not look out of place stamped on a Roman coin, either. At any rate, when you look at Clark Clifford, you think of money: old money, new money, but mainly lots of money.
When clients visit Clifford's paneled office overlooking the White House, they often must wait a few minutes to see the busy lawyer. They pass the time sitting in the outer office in a chair that once belonged to Daniel Webster. When ushered into the inner office, clients may drop into the Cabinet chair that bore Clifford's weight in 1968, when he was Secretary of Defense, or into one that once belonged to Alben Barkley, the fat Vice‑President.
Once seated, clients are caressed with charm. Clifford has kept his firm small so that he can give personal attention to most cases. While other Washington offices have up to two hundred lawyers, Clifford's has just fifteen. "In my view, Clark Clifford's law firm is a boutique," a partner in a larger firm told me. "On the other hand, firms like Covington and Burling are Bloomingdale's. If you want to be waited on, catered to by a special person, you go to a boutique." And you pay for special handling.
On Clifford's desk, hundreds of phone messages and other notes are arranged in small piles. They form a compulsively neat checkerboard. And each of the piles is held down by a commemorative medal, most of the medals bearing the likenesses of Presidents. Clifford seems to collect presidential heads.
"One President Truman gave me” Clark Clifford said in a voice so resonant that it seemed to rise from a mahogany larynx. "One Johnson gave me. One Kennedy gave me. One's a core from a very successful oil well in Midland, Texas."
The top of Clark Clifford's desk ‑with its checkerboard and its Truman, Johnson and Kennedy checkers‑ looks like a game. The Washington Lawyer Game. But what is that oil checker, a gift from the Phillips Petroleum Company, doing in there with all those presidential checkers? That is the problem with the Washington Lawyer Game. Nowhere do business interests and the national interest become so confused as inside the paneled offices of Washington attorneys. In order to play this game well, a lawyer has to be able to move not only business clients but also Presidents. Naturally, the more presidential checkers he has on his board, the more valuable business checkers he will ultimately win. For who would not want to be advised by a man who advises the President? After all, the lawyer might someday be in a position to advise the President to do the client a favor.
The Washington Lawyer Game is a loaded game, because the same lawyers advise both the government and corporations with government problems. This amounts to de facto if not de jure conflict of interest. Like many other games, this one is often played in a court ‑the imperial President's imperial court. The players are a new class of courtiers who represent the interests of the boardroom in the Oval Office. Clark Clifford is the most courtly courtier of them all, perhaps the most manipulative intriguer since the Marquise de Pompadour.
John Kennedy ‑who knew that most Washington lawyers ask not only what they can do for their President but also what their President can do for them- once said of Clifford: "Clark is a wonderful fellow. In a day when many are seeking a reward for what they contributed to the return of the Democrats to the White House, you don't hear Clark clamoring. All he asked in return was that we advertise his law firm on the backs of one‑dollar bills."
During his campaign, Jimmy Carter drew his loudest applause when he painted out that (1) he was not from Washington and (2) he was not a lawyer. People hoped Jimmy would put Washington lawyers in their place once and for all. When Carter was elected President, many thought he would ruin the Washington Lawyer Game by refusing to play.
The moment the Washington legal community knew everything was going to be all right was when the Carter White House turned to Clark Clifford to defend Bert Lance. Washington was going to run the way it always had, oiled by the charm
by David McClintick, followed by a Washington Post exposé by Jack Egan and John Berry ‑how in the world could Columbia's board of directors ever have put him back at the helm? For that, after discovering an additional $74,208 in forgeries and expense‑account theft, is what they did.
It is a story that speaks to the power structure of Hollywood, certainly, and to that community's ethical perceptions; but it goes further, inasmuch as the members of the company's board of directors, the final authority, come from a broader community. Matthew B. Rosenhaus, for example, the board member with the greatest number of Columbia shares (some 710,000 out of a total 8.4 million), is also vice‑chairman of the board of Nabisco, a $2 billion company. Herbert A. Allen, thirty‑seven, the board member with the most power, is president of a Wall Street investment‑banking firm (Alen & Co. Inc.) and the principal second-generation member of an investment-banking family whose fortune has been estimated at half a billion dollars. With his father, he made available $80,000 to Hugh Carey’s New York gubernatorial campaign. He is a good friend of Vice-President Mondale.
How could a man like David Begelman, born without money but Yale‑educated, highly cultivated, handsomely compensated ($4,500 a week plus bonuses and elaborate perquisites), forge checks?
And then how could a man like Herbert A. Allen, born into "serious" money, Williams‑educated, forthright, articulate and well‑intentioned, lead the board fight to reinstate him?
Let's start with David Begelman (the name is pronounced like the dog, not the doughnut), who, incidentally, is not Yale‑educated, after all. He lists himself in Who's Who as having graduated with the Class of '47, but Yale has no record of his ever having attended.
David Begelman was president of Columbia Pictures before he resigned on February 6.
Hollywood: Long Shot
In Hollywood you are what you drive, and anyone who is anyone is a Mercedes‑Benz. David Begelman, even as Columbia Pictures was fighting to stave off bankruptcy when he signed on in 1973, was a Rolls‑Royce. (Leased but who would know?)
In Hollywood you must live in Beverly Hills, Bel Air, or the Hollywood Hills (unless you work for Universal, which keeps a lower profile, or unless you live out at the beach); and you must live in a house that, especially in light of your car payments, you cannot realistically afford. You think I'm joking, but it's true. It's not that the houses are so grand, either, many of them‑just that, bid up and up by the status seekers, they are so expensive. David Begelman's modest house‑with-pool in Beverly Hills might go for $150,000 anywhere else; in its present location it is worth half a million or more.
This is an example of the kind of financial pressure everyone in the business who hasn't yet made millions lives under. It is a poor example with respect to David Begelman, however, because in David Begelman's case the house is not owned, it is leased; and the lease ‑at some $5,000 or more a month‑ is mostly picked up by Columbia Pictures. It is a perk the company agreed to when it lured Begelman from Creative Management Associates, the talent agency he headed with agent/producer Freddie Fields.
What Columbia did not know until the recent investigation was who owned the house Begelman leased: Ray Stark's lawyer. But that is an entanglement that rightly comes later in the story.
This is Hollywood, and in Hollywood two kinds of people drive expensive cars. First, there are the actors and producers, and even a few agents and directors, who have hit big: and then there are their good friends who have power and status but no meaningful piece of the action‑namely, the studio executives.
Ray Stark, for example, one of Columbia's prime producers (and owner of 90,000 shares), is a Rolls‑Royce of the first kind. (Well, the Rolls is his wife's; he drives a Dodge station wagon‑but you get the idea.) He is worth in excess of $10 million for having produced such movies as Funny Girl, The Owl and the Pussycat, and The Way We Were. David Begelman, who has long been a close friend of Ray Stark's ‑not least for his role in keeping client Barbra Streisand in line for Stark's movies while still her agent at C.M.A.- is a Rolls‑Royce of the second kind. (Nixon had the same problem. He was always socializing with men vastly more wealthy than he was, and it hurt.)
To the rest of the world, a quarter-million‑dollar studio‑head salary looks rich. But when the government takes half that salary in taxes and your friends are all millionaires, it pales. On at least one occasion David Begelman found himself borrowing money from Ray Stark. At the same time, it was part of his job to deal with Stark on behalf of Columbia Pictures. A potential conflict of interest?
Leonard Goldberg of Spelling Goldberg Productions, a highly successful television production company, is another good friend of Begelman's ‑and he, too, is a Rolls‑Royce of the first kind. It is alleged that at one time, while Begelman was still an agent and during the period when he was gambling heavily, Len Goldberg arranged to send $300,000 in cash to Begelman in Las Vegas. Both men (through their lawyers) deny that any such loan ever took place‑the source is a shady character who claims to have carried the money‑but it is the kind of loan that a man like Goldberg could have afforded to make, and it is the kind of loan that a man like Begelman could never have made. (Begelman described his gambling as having stretched over a "four‑ or five‑year period" in the early 1960's, when, as he told Dan Dorfman, now an Esquire contributing editor, he wasn't so much a compulsive gambler as a "compulsive loser." And yet, in four or five years of compulsive losing, he estimates he lost only $50,000 or $60,000. Others estimate he lost a great deal more. It is said that Freddie Fields would get threatening calls in the middle of the night from Shylocks and casinos trying to collect on his partner's debts, and that Fields, after negotiating the best deals he could, would pay off out of Begelman's share of the agency's proceeds. Fields denies this. In any case, no evidence whatever has been turned up‑despite considerable digging‑to suggest that Begelman has gambled at all since 1973, when he joined Columbia Pictures.)
Whether Len Goldberg ever loaned money to David Begelman or not‑and I hasten to add that as far as I know there is nothing wrong with one friend's lending another a large sum of money‑it is true that when David Begelman and his current wife, Gladyce, got married, they invited Len and Wendy Goldberg along with them on their honeymoon. It is also true that shortly after David Begelman was reinstated at Columbia this past December, he signed a multi‑picture deal with ‑that's right‑ Leonard Goldberg. Was this a coup for Columbia? "Well," says a longtime friend of Len Goldberg's, "let's just say that Len's been out here a long time and people haven't exactly been begging him to make feature films."
I imply no sinister quid pro quo. The movie business, like any other (but more than most) is incestuous. Hollywood is a tight‑knit community where everyone knows everyone and where the interlocking favors and feuds and friendships and fiefdoms raise the specter of countless conflicts of interest. But what are you going to do ‑put together movies with sealed bids?
Business is business, and whom you like and trust and owe one to has as much to do with your deals as does merit. And then he or she owes you one. Eventually, the hope is, we'll all get rich together.
It's not like sheet‑rolled steel. How would you write specifications for a movie? "Must run 102 to 106 minutes in length, be highly affecting and 'accessible’, funny in spots, with enormous box-office appeal. Lowest bid accepted." Can't be done. Neither can the choice of directors or producers or writers or studios be put out to bid.
It is a business of people ‑mostly lawyers‑turned‑agents or agents-turned‑producers or agents‑turned-studio‑heads or studio‑heads‑turned-producers (give me a good deal on this one, and when I'm a producer I'll give you a good deal on the next)‑and these people are inevitably torn between two desires: first, the desire to make truly wonderful and important movies; second, the desire to make truly vast and sensational amounts of money. Since you can't make truly vast and sensational amounts of money without delighting at least some millions of people in the process, even if their number does not include Pauline Kael, Frank Rich or Vincent Canby, this second desire is not necessarily such a bad thing. (And there is always Judith Crist.) In any case, the desire will never go away.
Which brings us to: Hollywood: Close‑up
Allan Carr, who made his first millions with a Mexican quickie about athletes eating other athletes called Survive, but who will shortly be giving us the rather more wonderful Grease, is throwing a Christmas party in his Benedict Canyon home for Gladyce Begelman and the book she coauthored, New York on $500 a Day (Before Lunch). Whatever the party cost, complete with six elaborately costumed carolers, dozens of red and white poinsettias, perhaps two hundred guests and a buffet table that would do any caterer's brochure proud, it must have been substantially more than Gladyce could ever hope to receive in royalties from the book. But Allan Carr is nothing if not generous, and book sales are not the point. He loves to give parties, and this one is wonderful.
Each invitation included a make-believe Master Charge card in the name of Gladyce Begelman. The cocktail napkins bear the printed greeting WELCOME GLADYCE, as do the plastic cups (tell me how they print on curved plastic and I will tell you how I fry eggs on my radiator). The guests include David and Gladyce, of course; producer Ray Stark (who was largely responsible for placing Begelman at the head of the studio in the first place); superagent Sue Mengers (who was given her start in the agency business by Begelman and now handles Barbra Streisand ‑and just about everyone else‑ herself); Columbia's head of production, Danny Melnick (number two at the studio to Begelman), with girl friend Tina Sinatra; producer Marty Ransohoff; Candy Bergen; David Geffen; Ed McMahon‑as well as a fair number of the poor‑but‑chic‑and‑aspiring.
The book, an autographed copy of which I later bought at the newsstand of the Beverly Hills Hotel, where I was not a guest, lies on a table off to the right of the enormous living room ‑more in the style of a "great hall." (If you like this house, friends say, you should see Allan's house in Malibu, where the eighty‑foot beachfront lots ‑just the lots‑ go for $500,000 and more.) The book was obviously written with tongue in cheek. "How terribly taxing for you to have to plan whether you'd prefer your massage before your manicure or after," runs one passage. But it purports nonetheless to be based on personal experience‑"We picked up a super sport coat for just $1,300 last year"‑and it was unquestionably socialites, not socialists, who wrote it. ("How anyone manages in New York without a chauffeur is beyond our comprehension.")
The irony of this book, and of this party‑which is taking place while Hollywood's inner circle is all abuzz over David's indiscretions‑does not go unnoticed. Here you have Gladyce Begelman, who all agree is a lovely and right-spirited woman and who used to be married to Lew Rudin, one of the largest realtors in New York and a Genuinely Rich Man. She knew David Begelman in those days because the Rudins and the Begelmans went everywhere together and were, as couples, the best of friends. And then, around 1969, you had Gladyce Rudin deciding to become Gladyce Begelman instead, and suddenly she is living with a man who had a Genuinely High Income, but No Real Money. (The prior Mrs. Begelman, Lee, who had to be divorced to effect this switch, is alive and well in New York and not as bitter as most of the reporters who have called her had hoped. About the only intimate detail she would reveal in her generally glowing description of her ex‑husband is that he used to do the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in ink. The very first Mrs. Begelman, Esther ‑back in the days when David Begelman was just a life‑insurance salesman with a prospect named Freddie Fields‑ was lost to her.