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Sidney Sheinberg

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Sidney Sheinberg
Born(1935-01-14)January 14, 1935
DiedMarch 7, 2019(2019-03-07) (aged 84)
Other namesSid Sheinberg
Alma materColumbia University (B.A., J.D)
Occupation(s)Hollywood studio head, Lawyer President of Universal City Studios (1982)
Years active1958–2019
Employer(s)MCA Inc.
Universal Studios
Revue Productions
Known forDiscovering Steven Spielberg
Responsible for:
Schindler's List
Jurassic Park
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Board member ofSee Boards and Honors
(m. 1956)
AwardsSee "Boards and Honors"

Sidney Jay Sheinberg (January 14, 1935 – March 7, 2019) was an American businessman, lawyer and entertainment executive. He served as president and CEO of MCA Inc. and Universal Studios for over 40 years.[1]

Early life and education


Sheinberg, the son of Jewish immigrants, a Ukrainian mother, Tillie (Grossman), and a Polish father, Harry Sheinberg, grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas where he was born on January 14, 1935.[2][3][4][5] In 1955, Sheinberg graduated from Columbia University and subsequently attended Columbia Law School, as both a Harlan Fiske Stone and James Kent Scholar, where he obtained his JD.[6] Sheinberg was a recipient of Columbia Law School's highest honors awarded to alumni: the Medal of Excellence and the John Jay Award. [citation needed]



In the summer of 1958, Sheinberg arrived in California where he accepted a teaching position at UCLA School of Law. In 1959 while awaiting the results of his California Bar Examination, he joined the legal department of Revue Productions, the former television subsidiary of MCA Inc., and the predecessor of Universal Television, and began his career in the entertainment industry.[6] In 1962, Sheinberg was involved in MCA's acquisition of Universal.[7]

Sheinberg is credited with discovering director Steven Spielberg. In the late 1960s, Sheinberg had seen Spielberg's first short film, Amblin, and signed the director, then 20, to a 7-year contract to the MCA/Universal Television in 1968.[8][9] As recounted by Spielberg on numerous occasions, Sheinberg famously told him, "a lot of people will stick with you in success; I'll stick with you in failure."[10]

In 1971, Sheinberg became president of Universal Television.[7]

In June 1973, Sheinberg was elected president and chief operating officer of MCA, Inc. and Universal Studios, serving alongside Lew Wasserman. Having the benefit of being guided by Lew Wasserman, Sheinberg acknowledged that an essential part of being a mentor is having confidence in the people you're guiding and mentoring. Together they transformed Universal from a second-string studio, dependent on its television productions, into a major player: by July 1995, when Wasserman stepped down as chairman and Sheinberg formed an independent entertainment company, they "had turned MCA into a nearly $5 billion entertainment conglomerate."[11]

Under Sheinberg's leadership, Universal[12] released what were, at the time of each of their releases, the highest-grossing films of each of the last three decades of the twentieth century. All three films were Universal/Spielberg projects, beginning with 1975's Jaws, 1982's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and concluding with 1993's Jurassic Park.

During pre-production, Jaws was always on thin ice. Sheinberg attached Spielberg to the project and despite many headwinds, pushed for the picture to be released. He hired his wife to appear in the film.[7] When 1975's Jaws ran over budget, Sheinberg had Spielberg's back—what skeptics dismissed as an overpriced B-movie became a horror classic that defined the new summer-blockbuster genre. (The $471 million it collected worldwide would be more than $1.9 billion today.)[13]

Other high-performing films credited to him are Schindler's List (1993) and Back to the Future (1985). Sheinberg famously wanted to change the name from "Back to the Future" to "Space Man From Pluto" despite the film having nothing to do with outer space, spacemen, or the dwarf planet Pluto.[14]

In 1982, Thomas Keneally published his historical novel Schindler's Ark, which he wrote after a chance meeting with Leopold Pfefferberg in Los Angeles in 1980. Sheinberg sent director Spielberg a copy of the book along with a New York Times review. Sheinberg greenlit the film on condition that Spielberg made Jurassic Park first. Spielberg later said, "He knew that once I had directed Schindler I wouldn't be able to do Jurassic Park." The picture was assigned a small budget of $22 million, as Holocaust films are not usually profitable. Spielberg forwent a salary for the film, calling it "blood money", and believed the film would flop. The film was a box office success, bringing in over $320 million and is considered a historic motion picture that poignantly captured the Holocaust.[13]

Sheinberg saw significant opportunity in the music industry and led MCA Music Entertainment's (later renamed Universal Music Group) acquisition of Motown[15] in 1988 for $61 million and Geffen Records in 1990[16] for $550 million. He led MCA's expansion into music, and under Sheinberg's leadership, the music division grew significantly, becoming a major industry force alongside its film and television businesses. Through his development of the music division and strategic acquisitions, he spearheaded the rise of what is now Universal Music Group (UMG).

In 1982, Sheinberg was quoted saying, "You'd better start saving money to pay your attorney's fees, I view litigation as a profit center" during a meeting to get Nintendo to pay Universal royalties for Nintendo's Donkey Kong franchise. Later when Universal sued Nintendo, this quote was brought up in court. Nintendo was found non-infringing, and it was also revealed that Universal knew King Kong was in the public domain all along.[17] (See also Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Nintendo Co., Ltd.)

In 1984, as part of MCA's potential acquisition of The Walt Disney Company, Sheinberg agreed to vacate his role as MCA President in order to allow Disney CEO Ron W. Miller to assume the role. Despite coming close to actually happening, however, Wasserman strongly disagreed and said that Sheinberg should stay as MCA President, causing the deal to collapse entirely.[18]

His battle with Terry Gilliam over the final cut of the movie Brazil was the subject of a book and documentary entitled The Battle of Brazil.[19]

In 1990, Sheinberg and Lew Wasserman negotiated a $6.59 billion sale of MCA and Universal to Japan's Matsushita Electric in cash and securities.

Sheinberg departed Universal in July 1995, following the takeover of the studio by the Seagram Company.[20] He produced several feature films through his production company The Bubble Factory over the decade that followed.

Boards and honors


Sheinberg served on the National Board of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He was also a member of the Board of Trustees of Pitzer College (one of the Claremont group of colleges), the Board of The American Jewish Committee, the Board of Research To Prevent Blindness and the Board of Trustees of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He was the vice chairman of Human Rights Watch[21] and the co-founder of the Children's Action Network. He was honored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force for his life's work in civil rights and inclusive support of the LGBT community.[22][23]

He received Columbia College's John Jay Award in 1981 for distinguished professional achievement, the American Jewish Committee's Human Relations Award in 1982, the National Conference of Christians and Jews Humanitarian Award in 1983, and Pioneer Of The Year Award in 1984 from the Motion Picture Pioneers, as well as the rank of Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1984 bestowed by the French government.

In 1987, he received the DeWitt Carter Reddick Award[24] at the University of Texas in Austin, and in 1989 he was named a Lifetime Honorary Member of the Directors Guild of America for his decades of service on the DGA-AMPTP Creative Rights Committee. He received the AIDS Project Los Angeles Commitment to Life Award in 1991, the Medal of Honor from the American Academy of Achievement in 1994 and the GLAAD Media Award in 1996.

Sheinberg and his wife jointly received the 1995 Simon Wiesenthal Center's Humanitarian Award.[25] In 2008, he received the Mike Farrell Human Rights Award from Death Penalty Focus.[26]

Sheinberg Place (a street on the Universal Studios lot in Los Angeles), was dedicated in his honor February 4, 2008, at a ceremony honoring the former studio chief. David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg were among those attending.[27]

Personal life


Sheinberg married actress Lorraine Gary in 1956. Together, they had two sons, William and Jonathan, with whom he co-founded The Bubble Factory in 1995.[28]



Sidney Sheinberg died in Beverly Hills, California, on March 7, 2019, at the age of 84 from Parkinson's disease.[29]

See also



  1. ^ Natale, Richard (March 7, 2019). "Sidney Sheinberg, MCA/Universal Exec Who Nurtured Steven Spielberg, Dies at 84". Obituaries. Variety. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  2. ^ Bernard F. Dick (1997). City of dreams: the making and remaking of Universal Pictures. University Press of Kentucky. p. 173. ISBN 0813170044. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  3. ^ New York Times: "NOW LAWYERS ARE HOLLYWOOD SUPERSTARS" by Aljean Harmetz" January 11, 1987
  4. ^ "Archives". Los Angeles Times. August 12, 1987.
  5. ^ "Sidney Sheinberg, Mogul Behind Universal and Spielberg, Dies at 84". June 7, 2019.
  6. ^ a b City of Dreams, page 173
  7. ^ a b c "Sidney J Sheinberg". Daily Variety (Universal Pictures Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Issue ed.). February 6, 1990. p. 20.
  8. ^ "The New York Times: Best Pictures". www.nytimes.com. Retrieved April 7, 2017.
  9. ^ Higgins, Bill (December 16, 2010). "Steven Spielberg and Sidney Sheinberg". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  10. ^ "Steven Spielberg and Sidney Sheinberg". The Hollywood Reporter. December 16, 2010.
  11. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (July 12, 1995). "For MCA and Hollywood, a Generational Shift". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 12, 2023.
  12. ^ "MCA paid its president about $4.5 million in 1985". LA Times. March 26, 1986. Retrieved April 27, 2011.
  13. ^ a b "Steven Spielberg and Sidney Sheinberg". The Hollywood Reporter. December 16, 2010.
  14. ^ Sue Vander Hook (2010). Steven Spielberg: Groundbreaking Director. ABDO Group. ISBN 9781604539004. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  15. ^ BATES, JAMES (June 29, 1988). "Berry Gordy Sells Motown Records for $61 Million". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved April 7, 2017.
  16. ^ Shiver, Jube Jr.; CIEPLY, MICHAEL (March 15, 1990). "MCA Buys Out Last Major Independent Record Label : Entertainment: In a much anticipated deal, the giant conglomerate will get Geffen Records for stock worth $545 million". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved April 7, 2017.
  17. ^ "Universal vs. Nintendo Case | the Gaming Historian". thegaminghistorian.com. Archived from the original on February 11, 2013. Retrieved January 13, 2022.
  18. ^ Connie Bruck (June 3, 2003). When Hollywood Had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent into Power and Influence. Random House. p. 415. ISBN 0-8129-7217-1.
  19. ^ Matthews, Jack (1987). The Battle of Brazil. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0-517-56538-2.
  20. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (July 12, 1995). "For MCA and Hollywood, a Generational Shift". The New York Times. Retrieved October 30, 2016.
  21. ^ Cieply, Michael (April 10, 2011). "It Came Out of the Viral Media Swamp". Media Decoder. The NY Times. Retrieved April 27, 2011.
  22. ^ "No on Prop 8 Ad HIts California Airwaves". The Bilerico Project. September 22, 2008. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  23. ^ "Los Angeles Leadership Awards 2008". National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. September 22, 2008. Archived from the original on March 9, 2011. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  24. ^ andy1 (February 13, 2017). "DeWitt Carter Reddick Award". Moody College of Communication. Retrieved March 10, 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  25. ^ "Humanitarian: Sheinbergs to Receive Award Sunday". LA Times. January 12, 1995. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  26. ^ "Honorees (1996 - 2023)". Death Penalty FOCUS. Retrieved March 3, 2024.
  27. ^ "Steven Spielberg's mentor has street named for him". The Economic Times. February 2008. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  28. ^ "Fathers and Sons - and Grandsons and Daughters and Wives and..." Spy. 6. Sussex Publishers, LLC: 20. February 1992. ISSN 0890-1759.
  29. ^ Richard Natale (March 8, 2019). "Sidney Sheinberg, MCA/Universal Exec Who Nurtured Steven Spielberg, Dies at 84". Variety. Retrieved March 8, 2019.