Most great men need a number two. Sid Sheinberg was that person for Lew Wasserman who was the revered head of MCA and Universal Studios . Sid Sheinberg, who died at the age of 84, served for more than 40 years as president and Chief Operating Officer of MCA, Inc and Universal Studios and helped build the company into an entertainment conglomerate.
Sheinberg often had to play bad cop that allowed his his boss, Lew Wasserman, to assume the role of nice guy when needed. The plainspoken Sheinberg helped lead MCA Inc. and Universal through a phase of prosperity, expanding the company’s entertainment, theme park and publishing divisions and ultimately helping to mastermind its sale to Matsushita for more than $6 billion in 1989. It was a rocky affair for the two executives who were used to free rein. In 1995, Matsushita sold 80% of its holdings in the company to Seagram, and soon thereafter Wasserman and Sheinberg stepped down.
Despite Sheinberg’s considerable success, his most notable achievement was discovering and nurturing a young Steven Spielberg, giving him his first directing job, one of the most commercially successful directors of all time
When Jaws ran over budget and critics were questioning Spielberg’s directing ability, Sheinberg stood by an inexperienced Spielberg. Sheinberg pushed for Jaws to be completed and it went on to redefine how blockbuster films were made.
Wasserman and Sheinberg transformed MCA from a traditional talent agency into an international entertainment empire that included the development of 420-acre spread that would become Universal City and another one in Orland Florida, building the highly successful theme parks that would be the envy of the other major studios.
While Wasserman was seen as the face of the company, it was Sheinberg’s hard work and behind-the-scenes maneuvering that made the studio a huge success. Sheinberg helped build Wasserman’s reputation as a legendary movie mogul the likes of Sam Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, and Jack Warner.
Rising through the ranks, Sheinberg became the television division’s president in 1971. During the ’60s, , Sheinberg led Universal in pioneering made-for-TV movies and a series concept of alternating shows.
Sheinberg also helped supervise the television and film division, turning the studio into a movie powerhouse and profitable producer of TV drama series like “The Rockford Files” and “Columbo.”
While expanding its television division, Universal also had its share of Oscar glory. It won for “The Sting” in 1973, for “Out of Africa” in 1985 and for “Schindler’s List” in 1993, though none of those films matched the box office success of the studio’s biggest hits, like “Jaws”, “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” and Jurassic Parks some of the top-grossing movies of their time.
In 1989 the Directors Guild of America named Sheinberg a Lifetime Honorary Member for his decades of service on the DGA-AMPTP Creative Rights Committee.
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