American Masters (2012 Season) – Inventing David Geffen


Air date: 11/20/2012

American Masters

Inventing David Geffen

Premieres nationally Tuesday, November 20 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS

(check local listings)


David Geffen Biography


One of the most respected and influential executives in the entertainment industry, David Geffen has made an indelible mark on the arenas of film, theatre and, most notably, music over the course of his distinguished career.


Born in Brooklyn, New York, February 21, 1943, Geffen started out at the age of 20 in the mailroom of the William Morris Agency in New York, later becoming an agent and a manager for a number of top talents such as Laura Nyro, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and Joni Mitchell. He launched Asylum Records in 1971 by signing many of the discoveries he had made as a manager, including Jackson Browne, The Eagles, and Linda Ronstadt.


In 1974, lured by the challenge of moviemaking, Geffen joined Warner Bros. Pictures as Vice Chairman, but, six years later, he returned to music to form Geffen Records, quickly building a superstar artist roster that included John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Elton John, Donna Summer, Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith, Don Henley, Cher, and Peter Gabriel. Following the sale of Geffen Records to MCA in 1990, Geffen remained its Chairman and CEO and inaugurated another label, DGC Records, which earned success with Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Counting Crows, Hole, and Beck.


David Geffen has also made significant contributions to the screen and stage. His motion picture company, Geffen Pictures, produced such diverse films as Personal Best, Beetlejuice, Interview With the Vampire, Risky Business, Little Shop of Horrors (1986), and Lost in America. In October 1994, Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg founded DreamWorks SKG, the first new Hollywood studio to be formed in over 50 years, and served as a principal partner. In October 2004, DreamWorks Animation spun off to form a publicly traded company. Geffen served on the Board of DreamWorks Animation.  When DreamWorks SKG was sold to Paramount Pictures in 2006, Geffen became Chairman of DreamWorks Studios. In 2008, Geffen secured funding for DreamWorks Pictures and no longer holds an active role in the company.


David Geffen helped bring several of Broadway’s most celebrated musicals to the stage, including Tony Award-winners Cats, M. Butterfly and Dreamgirls. In December 2006 he helped bring the Golden Globe-winning musical Dreamgirls to the big screen.


Geffen’s professional successes enable him to generously support charitable organizations important to him. His record-setting 2002 donation to the UCLA School of Medicine, now The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, was the single largest donation of its kind to a U. S. medical school. Geffen has been an industry leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS, rallying community support and making substantial personal contributions since the early years of the epidemic. He has been a major benefactor to such groups as AIDS Project Los Angeles, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, amFAR, God’s Love We Deliver, and Project Angel Food.


As a patron of the arts, David Geffen has made substantial gifts to the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Spelman and Morehouse College arts education programs, the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television, and the USC School of Cinema-Television. Numerous other charities receive funding from his private foundation, including the Young Eisner Scholars, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the American Civil Liberties Union, National Public Radio, the Bridge School, Human Rights Watch, the Children’s Diabetes Foundation, Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, the American Society for Yad Vashem, and Save the Children.


In 2010, Geffen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, receiving the Ahmet Ertegun Award. In 2011, the GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons® honored Geffen with the President’s Merit Award in recognition of his significant contributions to the music industry and the impact his efforts have had on music and the business of music.