How to Get Ahead postsSunday March 09, 2014
Secrets to Their Success: Tactical Self-Delusion
I'm reading Garson Kanin's memoir, “Hollywood,” which is fast becoming one of my favorite insider memoirs of the movie business, and the first chapter is all about how Kanin came west in the late 1930s at the behest of producer Samuel Goldwyn, and how Kanin kept pushing to become a director even though Goldwyn didn't want him to become one. It became a big battle between the two. It raged. Everything about Goldwyn raged. He was a major asshole but with personality.
Eventually Kanin freed himself from Goldwyn's contract and his clutches to direct “A Man to Remember,” a B picture for RKO that did well at the box office. Shortly thereafter, Kanin ran into Goldwyn at a party, and the great man was enthusiastic. He called him a double-crossing little SOB, but then asked, quietly and sincerely, “Why didn't you ever tell me you wanted to be a director?” It's a laugh-out-loud moment.
Later, Kanin has a conversation with director William Wyler about it. “How do you explain it?” Kanin asked. Wyler replied:
Well, I’ll tell you. He believes with all his heart that you spent a year at his studio and never mentioned the subject of directing. He believes it because he has to. He’s convinced himself that’s the truth, because—don’t you see?—if he admits to anybody or to himself that there you were, under contract to him, begging him every minute for a chance to direct, with him turning you down, then you go out and become a successful director for another studio, he’s made a blunder. He’s used bad judgment, so rather than admit this, he convinces himself you never mentioned it. That's his mentality. I think it may be one of the main reasons for his success. To himself, he's never wrong.
See also: Donald Rumsfeld; Dick Cheney.
I did a few of these “How to Get Ahead” posts in the past, but let them lapse. No more. They're a good antidote to the All-American, FOX-News notion that if you just work hard enough you'll be a millionaire; and that if you're not a millionaire you just didn't work hard enough.
Other paths to success?
Goldwyn: never wrong.
How to Get Ahead: Billy Martin
In honor of pitcher and catchers reporting and hope springing eternal...
“In 1969, we [the Minnesota Twins] started the season 0-4. We're in Anaheim for a series against the Angels and I'm sound asleep in my hotel room when the phone rings at 3:30 a.m. It's Ted Uhlaender, and he says: 'We've got an unbelievable party going on. You've got to come down to room 203.' I could hear women and music and laughter in the background. I was 22 years old and single at the time, but there was no way I was going down to that party. It was the middle of the night, we'd just lost our first four games and I wasn't going to do anything that might get me sent to the minors. I told Ted I wasn't coming down and he tells me to hang on because someone wants to talk to me. Another guy gets on the phone and says, 'Hey Big Shooter, this is Billy. You've got five minutes to get your ass down here.' It was Billy Martin, our manager. I said, 'I'll be right down.'
”I get dressed and go down to the party. Half of our ballclub is there with a bunch of Hollywood types. Billy comes over and asks what I'm drinking and I say, 'Billy, I just got up. I'll have what you're having.' So he give me a scotch and I have a seat. I remember thinking: 'This is the big leagues.' I left the room at 6 a.m. and the party was still going on.
“We won our next seven games.”
How to Get Ahead: Be Ravenous, Mad, and Want
“Ambition! You must want a big success and then beat it into submission; you must be as ravenous to reach it as the wolf who licks his teeth behind a fleeing rabbit; you must be as mad to win as the man who, with one hand growing cold on the revolver in his pocket, with the other hand pushes his last gold piece on the 'Double-O' at Monte Carlo.”
—Marcus Loew, who formed the Loew's theater chain, in “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” by Neal Gabler.
How to Get Ahead in America: Carl Laemmle, the Founder of Universal Pictures
“Laemmle's first two decades in America didn't conform to the inspirational immigrant sagas where industriousness was rewarded with escalating success. Instead, Laemmle failed at virtually everything he did, and, if anything, his life testified not to the justice of hard work, but to the powerful engine of failure...
”'I went over to Chicago to close the deal [on a five-and-dime [he was buying]],“ he told one journalist, ”and one rainy night I dropped into one of those hole-in-the-wall-five-cent motion picture theaters. ... The pictures made me laugh, though they were very short and the projection jumpy. I liked them and so did everyone else. I knew right away that I wanted to go into the motion picture business. ...
“Not everyone was as optimistic about the movies prospects. Even [Laemmle's mentor] Cochrane tried to dissuade him. His friends, he recalled, were 'shocked, disappointed, and almost humiiated,' and Laemmle admitted that 'most everyone in the United States regarded moving pictures about the same way that I did' before he had resolved to become a theater owner himself—which is to say, as a 'toy' or 'peephole sensation.' This was, in fact, one of the reasons Jews like Laemmle were able to gain a foothold. Big money, gentile money, viewed the movies suspiciously—economically—as a fad; morally, as potential embarrassments.
”Laemmle was certainly the beneficiary of some extraordinary timing. Harry Davis' nickelodeon, an empty storefront outfitted with one hundred to two hundred seats and dedicated exclusively to showing movies, had opened in Pittsburgh just three months before Laemmle opened The White Front. Until then, movies were shown primarily in the back of penny arcades or at vaudeville shows while audiences exited.“
—Neal Gabler: ”An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood," pp. 49-55
- Perseverance (he kept trying, despite failures)
- Perceptiveness (he recognized, even anticipated, the zeitgeist)
- Fortitude (he ignored those who didn't recognize the zeitgeist)
- An opening (respectable money stayed away from the zeitgeist—similar to hostile M&A takeovers in the '50s and '60s, according to Malcolm Gladwell)
- Timing (all of this occurred as movies were becoming accessible)
- Courage (this is particularly later when he took on Thomas Edison's trust, which is how he wound up not only exhibiting and distributing movies, but producing them as well)
How to Get Ahead in America: Dick Cavett
In 1960, after eighteen months of poverty and rejection, this obsession [with stars] led to his big break. As Cavett tells the story, he was working as a copyboy at Time when he read that Paar was unhappy with the material his writers were giving him for the opening monologue. Cavett wrote some jokes, put them in an envelope on which the Time logo was prominently displayed, and sneaked backstage at the “Tonight Show,” which was then on the sixth floor of the RCA Building (a.k.a. 30 Rock). He figured that he would be taken for a reporter. He positioned himself between Paar’s dressing room and the bathroom, where he duly intercepted Paar and handed him the envelope. Paar used some of the jokes in his monologue and, a couple of weeks later, gave Cavett a job. It all feels about one standard deviation away from Rupert Pupkin, but it got him where he wanted to be, on the inside of a network.
- Slightly unethical behavior I (using the prestige of one employer to get a job with another)
- Slightly unethical behavior II (sneaking backstage at “The Tonight Show”)
- Balls (both of the above as well as confronting Paar)
- Talent (hey, the jokes had to work)