The Toxic Bully Mentality-- The Entertainment Business

Some people need to feel better about themselves by abusing others around them

I was lucky to have spent most of my professional career at Warner Bros Records working for Mo Ostin, Lenny Waronker, Russ Thyret and Danny Goldberg, very enlightened, progressive bosses who used the company as a vehicle to advance the interests of a diverse coalition of stakeholders: our artists, our employees, our customers, our shareholders, the public. I had worked for a short time at CBS where there was no interest in advancing the interests of anyone of anything but the greed and avarice of upper-level management and shareholders. I learned everything I would ever need to know at CBS about how not to treat artists, employees, customers and the public.

But I was one of the lucky ones. Have you been reading about the legendary entertainment industry capo, Scott Rudin and the trouble he's in? The Biz seems to breed people like him-- up and down the chain of command. There are lots of Scott Rudin types and even more budding Scott Rudin types. I never met the man; but I met lots of Scott Rudin doppelgängers. According to a NY Times report yesterday-- Volatile And Vengeful: How Scott Rudin Wielded Power In Show Business. He won, wrote Michael Paulson and Cara Buckley "an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and 17 Tony Awards while developing a reputation as one of the vilest bosses in the industry. Respected for his taste and talent-- with films like The Social Network and No Country for Old Men and shows including To Kill a Mockingbird and The Book of Mormon-- he is also known within the entertainment world for terrorizing underlings, hurling staplers, cellphones, mugs and other improvised projectiles in moments of rage. But the abuse of assistants is just a small part of the way he has wielded his power... [He] benefited from his reputation for ruthlessness: Many of those harmed by his wrath have been afraid of retaliation if they speak out."

I was president of my company; I can't imagine treating a co-worker that way under any circumstance. But I know lots of people who did and some who took pleasure in it. Vile like Rudin, even if not on as grand a scale. Why is the entertainment business filled with people like that? "He’s like a mafia boss," said the playwright Adam Rapp, whose play The Sound Inside was unceremoniously dumped by Rudin when Rapp refused to part with the agent with whom Rudin was feuding. "If he breaks his leg, other people suffer."

This month the Hollywood Reporter exposed him and Rudin is "stepping back from 'active participation' in his projects on Broadway, in Hollywood, and in London’s West End. And... he is resigning from the Broadway League, which is the trade association of producers and theater owners... Even some of his biggest backers say he needs to change. 'He’s had a bad temper,' said the billionaire David Geffen, who alongside his fellow mogul Barry Diller has been co-producing Mr. Rudin’s recent Broadway shows, 'and he clearly needs to do anger management or something like that.' The New York Times interviewed dozens of actors, writers, agents, producers, investors and office assistants who have worked with Mr. Rudin, examined financial records of his stage shows and reviewed court papers from his many legal disputes. What emerged confirmed much of what was detailed by the Hollywood Reporter and provided a fuller picture of how he used and abused power, not only in his offices, but also as he alternately cultivated and castigated colleagues at all levels of the entertainment industry."

Reading the Times story I found a clue, albeit not a complete answer to the question about why The Biz spews out and then tolerates characters like Rudin: "For some, this was Tinsel Town boot camp, a place to gain irreplaceable insight into the entertainment world. Many former assistants have risen in the Hollywood ranks, and credit Scott Rudin Productions with versing them in the ways of the industry. They laud Mr. Rudin’s perfectionism, his acumen, instincts-- 'a golden gut,' said one-- and his relentless work ethic. Some former assistants defended him, saying that employees were always warned that the job was high stress, and suggesting that he was becoming a fall guy for widespread bad behavior in show business."

The myth of the "golden gut" is always an excuse inside these big companies for the terrible, tyrannical behavior-- the ego-centrism gone wild. "Rudin has made strenuous efforts to prevent people from talking about him, not just through intimidation, but also as a prolific user of nondisclosure agreements." Sound familiar at all? I sometimes thought that this particular psychosis was a product of an industry that requires no formal training or license or degree and yet yields immense amounts of money. Sometimes people feel unworthy for becoming millionaires and have a need to lash out to obliterate those feelings. They see characters like Rudin behaving that way and assume that's how top guys behave. Women are often the targets of the kind of bullying that became second nature to Rudin and clones of Rudin. (Again, Warner Bros was the polar opposite. I couldn't imagine in a million years people like Mo, Lenny, Russ or Danny ever thinking that way, let alone behaving that way. They were the exceptions though.)