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David Begelman (August 26, 1921 – August 7, 1995) was a Hollywood producer who was involved in a studio embezzlement scandal in the 1970s.
Born in New York City, Begelman worked at the Music Corporation of America (MCA) for more than 11 years, eventually becoming vice president. He left in 1960 to co-found the talent agency Creative Management Associates (CMA) with Freddie Fields. Their clients included Jack Carter, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Marilyn Monroe, Liza Minnelli, Woody Allen, Richard Burton, Peter Sellers, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, Rock Hudson, Carol Channing, and others.
He left CMA in 1973 to take over the floundering Columbia Pictures. Begelman recruited big-name stars from his former company, dramatically changing the company's image by producing such hits as Tommy (1975), Shampoo (1975), Murder by Death (1976), and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Begelman became among the first Hollywood agents to cross over and rise to the top of the studio system.
In February 1977, actor Cliff Robertson received a 1099 form from Columbia Pictures indicating he had received $10,000 from Columbia Pictures during 1976. He had never received the money, and discovered that his signature on the cashed check had been forged. Robertson's report started a criminal investigation. The LAPD and the FBI verified that the $10,000 check was a forgery, and it was tracked to Begelman. He was ultimately sentenced to community service for the forgeries.
Columbia Pictures suspended Begelman on a paid vacation and announced its own investigation. The studio discovered that Begelman had embezzled an additional $65,000 through other forged checks. However, the studio board of directors wanted to keep the matter out of the press. The Begelman scandal led to a rift between Columbia executives. Columbia Pictures CEO Alan Hirschfield was ousted from the studio in 1978 following his refusal to reinstate Begelman on moral grounds. Following a brief reinstatement, Begelman was quietly fired. The studio released a statement saying he had suffered emotional problems.
Despite the pressure to remain quiet, Robertson and his wife Dina Merrill spoke to the press. David McClintick broke the story in The Wall Street Journal in 1978, later turning it into the best-selling 1982 book Indecent Exposure. Robertson later claimed he had been blacklisted during the 1980s for coming forward about the Begelman affair, and had few roles during this period.
A writer for New West magazine, working on this story, queried Begelman's claimed alma mater, Yale University, listed in his Who's Who entry. Yale responded that Begelman had never attended that university. The New West article said that "although Begelman was indicted for forgery and grand theft, the Hollywood types were more outraged that he had listed Yale in Who's Who. Apparently they figured that everybody steals money. It was the fact that he lied about Yale that drove them crazy."
Judy Garland management
In 1993, a book by Coyne Steven Sanders, "Rainbow's End: The Judy Garland Show" (Morrow 1990), about the history of Judy Garland's CBS Television series The Judy Garland Show (1963–64) devoted a chapter to possible embezzlement of Garland's funds by Begelman. Garland's estranged husband at the time, Sid Luft, hired an attorney to audit her income from the time Begelman began representing her with fellow agent Freddie Fields. It was discovered that several hundred thousand dollars were missing, much of it written in checks to "Cash" and endorsed by Begelman at various casinos in Las Vegas. Other entries in her accounts showed large sums paid for "protection" with no authorization, all approved by Begelman, though Garland had no personal security. In addition, a 1963 Cadillac convertible, given to Garland as partial payment for appearances on Jack Paar's television program, was titled to Begelman. Garland never knew the car was part of her compensation for her appearance.
In addition, Begelman told Garland a photo existed of her, partially nude, having her stomach pumped in a hospital emergency room after a drug overdose in London, and that blackmailers were demanding $50,000 to turn over the picture and all negatives. As she was in negotiations with CBS at the time for her new TV series, Garland paid rather than face the adverse publicity and potentially damaging the deal's prospects. Luft's attorney eventually determined that the check went to a holding company with a business address in New York City owned by Begelman, and was further traced to a personal account of Begelman.
Rather than confront Begelman at a time when he was playing such a pivotal role in her show business re-emergence, Garland decided to eat the financial losses based upon the promise of millions coming from the deal with CBS. Once her show was cancelled, however, she and Luft sued Begelman for the hundreds of thousands he had allegedly stolen as well as $1 million in punitive damages. Due to her dire financial situation at the time, Garland was forced to settle the suit for royalties owed her by Capitol Records that Begelman and Fields, as her agents, had collected but were holding because of the lawsuit.
Later career and suicide
In 1980, Begelman returned to the production world and became CEO and president of MGM, but with the exception of Poltergeist, he was unable to repeat his success at Columbia. His apparent slump led to his departure from MGM before his four-year contract expired. After leaving MGM, Begelman was offered a position to run a production company, Sherwood Productions, by backer Bruce McNall. Under Sherwood, Begelman backed WarGames (which started production at MGM), Mr. Mom, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, and Blame It on Rio.
When investor Nelson Bunker Hunt pulled out of Sherwood in 1984, Begelman took the slack and founded Gladden Entertainment (named after Gladys, his wife) with the remaining assets. There, he greenlit Mannequin, Weekend at Bernie's, and The Fabulous Baker Boys.
According to the makers of Buckaroo Banzai, Begelman continued to be engaged in fraud: reporting inflated figures to investors but producing the films for much less to pocket the difference. By the mid-1990s, however, Begelman declared bankruptcy.
Begelman was found shot dead in a room at the Los Angeles Century Plaza Hotel on August 7, 1995 at the age of 73. His death was ruled a suicide; he was interred at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City.
Begelman had one daughter, Leslie Belskie (née Begelman).
- David McClintick, Indecent Exposure: A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1982)
- "Blowing the Whistle on Fake Alumni", Time magazine (February 5, 1979)
- Coyne Steven Sanders, Rainbow's End: The Judy Garland Show (1993)
- Stedman, Alex (2015-01-16). "Alan Hirschfield, Former Columbia Chief Exec, Dies at 79". Variety. Retrieved 2015-02-08.
- McNall & D'Antonio, pg. 88
- McNall & D'Antonio, pg. 94–98
- McNall, Bruce; D'Antonio, Michael (July 9, 2003). Fun While It Lasted: My Rise and Fall In the Land of Fame and Fortune (1st ed.). New York City: Hyperion. ISBN 978-0-7868-6864-3.