Tommy Mottola article "VANITY FAIR 96"
JUST CAME ACROSS THIS, FOR ANYONE WHO CAN BE BOTHERED READING IT
By Robert Sam Anson
From Vanity Fair - November 1996
"Even by the standards of the wild and woolly music industry. Tommy Mottola, chairman of the $5.9 billion Sony Music Entertainment, plays by his own rules. Robert Sam Anson spins the Mottola story: his fanciful Mob voguing, the vengeful plans of his former mentor, Walter Yetnikoff, and his Svengali-esque marriage to top Sony star 26 year old Mariah Carey."
The book on Tommy Mottola begins with the blinds in his office. They're really fairly ordinary as window coverings go: blood red in color, thin in construction-not what you'd expect in a sanctum where notables from Johnny Mathis to the members of Alice in Chains have schmoozed. The blinds in fact possess only one distinguishing characteristic: they are always drawn. Why this is so is a matter of speculation. Some say it is to prevent Walter Yetnikoff-who used to be Sony Music chief-from taking a shot at Tommy. others say that the blinds are closed to prevent God from peeking at what Tommy is up to. But, since Tommy says the only deity he reveres is Billboard, no one much believes that. Which leaves the Lake Tahoe hypothesis: At the conclusion of The Godfather Part II, you'll recall, Michael Corleone, having disposed of all his enemies, retreats to a lodge on Lake Tahoe, a body of water upon which brother Fredo unwisely chooses to go fishing. You'll no doubt remember what happens next. Just as you will recall-provided you loved the movie as much as Tommy did-the condition of the blinds in the office where the Don orders the hit. They were always drawn, too. As for some other things, such as why the CEO of a $5.9 billion company tucks a nine-mm. Glock into his briefcase, and travels in an armor-plated limo with a cop badge on the back, let's just say that the music business is not as carefree as selling Amway products. But back to Tommy's office blinds, which, on this leaden day in New York, are, as usual, closed. Beyond them, a violent storm is gathering which will pelt the Sony Corp. headquarters to a sodden fare-thee-well. In the gloom of the 32nd floor, however, Tommy Mottola is smiling. According to the latest Soundscan, 5 of the top 10 records in the US are Sony releases. Profits are up, market share is increasing, and Tommy's masters in Tokyo have just awarded him a new, 5 year contract worth $35 million. Tommy's wife isn't doing badly, either. Her name is Mariah Carey, she is 26 years old and gorgeous, and has sold more than 80 million records, making her husband, who is 22 years her senior and the director of her career, very happy. This is not however, why the chairman of Sony Music is smiling. It is the joke he has just played on a reporter he was not eager to entertain. What he did was switch identities with his PR man. "I'm Dan Klores," Tommy said, shaking hands at the door. Then pointing to the real Don Klores, he added "and this is Tommy Mottola." There are laughs when the reporter falls for it, and laughs again-thinner this time-when Tommy says, "You can always tell it’s me. I'm the fat guy." His middle is bulging the confines of his pressed linen safari jacket, and his slicked-back black coif is thinning, too. He's sensitive about both, friends say, as a middle aged man with an idolized young wife is apt to be. Which may explain why Mariah's under wraps. "She won't be talking," Tommy announces, the smile evaporating. "It's not good for her. it's not good for me, it's not good for the company." Whether Mrs. Mottola participated in these calculations, he does not disclose. But from the gossip-that she exits the big house in the suburbs only after checking with Tommy, and then with a chase car always trailing-it seems unlikely. Tommy in any case, isn't in a mood for domestic revelations. "I'm uncomfortable doing anything like this," he says. "You wanna talk about the business? O.K. Let's go. All day we'll talk, all night. But talking about your life-it's like having some guy with a rocket launcher aiming at you." He leans forward, eyes hooded, nails manicured to a fine sheen. In the half-light, you can almost imagine you're in Tahoe. "What's the slant of this?' Tommy Mottola demands. "What's this about?"
You can understand the uneasiness. All his professional life, people have been asking questions about Thomas D. Mottola Jr., including, now and again, agents of the F.B.I. And always they've wondered: How is it that a so-so talent manager who used to call himself "Don Tommy" got to the top? The questions keep on coming. Even now, with the Ahmets, Irvings, Dougs, and Davids of the industry attesting to the sterlingness of his character, Tommy and his methods are still the source of jitters. It’s said that his acquaintance with racketeers is more than passing; that he employs threats as well as cajolery; that he's even knowledgeable about a few racehorses meeting untimely ends. Tommy denies all three. His marriage has not gone unremarked, either. Depending on which enemy is doing the alleging, she owes her career to him, he owes his job to her, and the arrangements that has brought riches to both may not last forever. Especially if the stories of Sony's principal assets (MC & TM) exchanging "@#%$ you's" and hurling objects are true. Tommy denies them. And then there are the goings-on at the office, where Tommy's been quoted as saying that if the Japanese don't stop griping about profits and market share, he just might take their shiny company away from them. Tommy emphatically denies it. In the manner of Mario Puzo novels, its all very complicated. And to begin sorting it out requires going back some-to the Bronx, specifically. Here, as Tommy tells the tale, he was born into a "traditionally warm Italian family," headed by Thomas Mottola Sr., a downtown customs broker with rumored connections to, shall we say, unusual businessmen.
The Mottolas, in any event, were music-lovers, and by the time they moved to the middle-class suburb of New Rochelle, 8 year old Tommy was playing the trumpet. Playing it so well, in fact, that he won a scholarship to a private school. There were 2 hitches: one, Tommy didn't like playing the trumpet; two, he didn't like going to school. The first was resolved by a switch to a guitar, an instrument Tommy calls "way cooler." The second Tommy's parents tried to fix by packing him off to a military academy in New Jersey. Only Tommy kept running away. Finally in what might be regarded as the start of his negotiating career, Tommy cut his parents a deal: he'd stay out of trouble if they let him come home. Like virtually all of Tommy's contracts it worked out swell. Tommy grew helmet sideburns, took up drag racing, joined a rock band (Saturday nights, they played the WMCA "good Guys" sock hops), partied hearty. He became, in all so neat that movie producer Lynda Obst-who used to sneak out her house in tony Harrison to hang around him-remembers Tommy as the "baddest boy in New Rochelle." Obst recalls another quality about Tommy: a hunger for places like Harrison. "That was the pattern of the ambitious Italian guys" she says. "If you wanted to get out, you ended up crossing the tracks and dating one of the Jewish Harrison girls. That's what Tommy did. It was the first sign that he was going to go somewhere." Tommy's girl was Lisa Clark, and for a young charmer about to drop out of Hofstra to become the next Sal Mineo, there could hardly have been a better catch. For Lisa's father, Sam, was an entertainment-industry power, an arms-and-elbows macher who'd come up from Tin Pan Alley to create ABC Records. He was also by all accounts, no one to mess with. "That was a Mob business," an industry veteran says of the jukeboxes, where Sam made his bones. "Not everyone in it was a hood. If Sam wasn't tough, he wouldn't have survived." Along with his muscles, Sam had dim views about his little girl's taking up with one of the goyim. "Not a Jew?" he said, upon meeting Lisa's Catholic date. "Not in this house." Tommy had no problem with that. He converted to Judaism and married Lisa in 1971. His acting career didn't proceed as smoothly, however, and after bit parts in 4 forgettable films, Tommy embarked on becoming the next Dion DiMucci. As the nasal voiced "T.D. Valentine" ("The producer asked my initials, and it was Valentine's Day," Tommy explains), he cut 2 45's for Epic that moaned of evil women and the traps of love. Both stiffed. Admits Tommy, "I was really mediocre." the experience wasn't a total loss. While at Epic, Tommy became friendly with Sandy Linzer, a producer-songwriter whose pop hits-"Working my way back to you" "Native New Yorker" and "Opus 17 (don't you worry bout me)" would become fodder for K-tel commercials beyond counting. They were still close when Tommy, now working as a song plugger for the music publisher Chappell, came across a pair of singer-songwriters who billed themselves Whole Oates. "They were like a couple of guy from Mars," Tommy says of his first encounter with "the short little guy," John, and the 6 foot 6 inch, platform shoed, lime-jacketed Daryl whose long blonde hair made him "look like a woman from the torso up." But, oh, what music they made. Part folk, part pop, part blue-eyed soul, it flat blew Tommy away. Sandy was knocked out too, when he listened to the demo tape. The clunks at Epic, however passed. Not to worry, Sandy told Tommy; from now on, they'd pool their money and split it down the middle. Tommy began pulling his weight when, with the promise of a record contract, he got Whole Oates to drop their manager and sign with him. A lawyer friend of Sandy's named Allen Grubman drew up the deal. For Tommy, who quickly became Allen's even better friend, it was a doozy. he was to receive 25% of every gross dollar that came in and, along with having his own expenses fully reimbursed, own the name of the act, which switched to Hall and Oates. Daryl Hall and John Oates made out less well. After 3 albums, they owed the label Tommy found for them $230 000. A move to RCA substantially improved their fortunes-not enough, though, to get Hall and Oates out from behind the financial eight ball. With Tommy disbursing the funds and overseeing the accounting, what had become the best-selling pop-rock duo of all time had to borrow $250 000 to pay their taxes. More loans and multi-million dollar advances followed , with Tommy raking in 25% off the top every time. "Tommy was selling their future," says a former RCA president. "It was his meal ticket, and Tommy likes to eat a lot." By the time RCA dropped Hall & Oates, they were into the label for $7 million and had yet to collect a nickel in royalties or airplay fees. Tommy, though was cruising Broadway, good pal Allen in the Limo seat beside him. They were a strange duo: Tommy always toned the Bronx tale slick; Allen-who'd begun as a lawyer for Veg-O-Matic-usually fat and sloppy. Ambition, though, they had in common. Looking to expand operations in 1975 they filed incorporation papers for Tommy's new management company. It was christened Don Tommy Enterprises.
Theories for Tommy's choice of corporate moniker abound. One of the more popular contends that it had something to do with his enlarging circle of chums, who by now included Morris Levy (owner of the Northeast's largest chain of record stores and a longtime associate of the Genovese crime family) as well as Father Louis Gigante, an oft investigated Bronx priest who says he introduced Tommy to his brother Vincent, better know as Mob boss "Vinnie the Chin." Where Tommy fitted in this firmament was debated. Some such as later client John Mellencamp, thought Tommy's friends-like his exulting at an act's listing him on liner notes as "capo di tutti capi"-were merely accouterments in a wiseguy act. Yeah, Tommy had John Gotti's move of slipping his hand into his jacket down cold, and, yeah Sire records chief Seymour Stein liked to call him "Tommy Mazola" after his gold chains and purple leather jackets. But Tommy a mafiaso? Mellencamp laughs: "He couldn't whip sit with an eggbeater." Others weren't so sure, which was fine by Tommy. "Hey" he says, "if that gives me the edge, O.K. All I want to do is win, man. Period." That at the very least, Tommy played the thug role well is widely remembered. "he was capable-more than capable-of doing what had to be done, even if it was unpleasant," says publicist Richard Gersh, who had Tommy as a client after the young music man switched the name of his management company from Don Tommy to the more decorous Champion Entertainment. "If there were people who Tommy had to get rid of, he would do it without a second thought. He'd just say, "we're making a change. You're out.' Right away, I had the feeling that this guy was going to be very successful in the entertainment industry." Sandy Linzer thought so, too. Clients were even writing songs about "little Gino," as a Hall and Oates number called him, telling the world, in the words of "Cherchez La Femme," by Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, that 'Tommy Mottola lives on the road." A partner like that was to be treasured, and Sandy did. "I loved the guy," he said, "and I knew that he loved me." The love got lost in 1984, when Linzer learned he'd been cut out of Champion. According to court papers, Grubman pointed the finger at Tommy, claiming that even though he was Linzer's friend and attorney he'd had no choice but to ice him. Tommy, who settled the whole business out of court, didn't miss a beat. "Things happen in this business," he says. "You get hot, you get cold. Sandy got cold."
By then, anyway, Tommy and Allen had acquired a new best friend who could do them a lot more good than Sandy. That was CBS records chairman Walter Yetnikoff, boss of what was at that time the largest music company on the planet. Brash, bumptious, foul-mouthed, the self-proclaimed "King Of The grooves" was a creature of outsize appetites: for "schmingling and bingling," for deals, booze, for women, for drugs. It was his liking for characters with similar backgrounds (Brooklyn-bred, Jewish, up from the streets) that bonded Yetnikoff to Grubman, who introduced him to Tommy. That friendship soon took off, and in 1977, CBS announced a production deal with Champion Entertainment. Tommy, however, neglected to inform RCA in advance-a sizable oversight, given that RCA was home to Champion's major acts. When with considerable pricliness, RCA pres. Bob Summer pointed this out, Tommy went to Yetnikoff, who let him out of the deal. "From that point on." Tommy told journalist Frederic Dannen, "I knew the kind of guy Walter was. If he was your friend he was really and truly your friend." They were all friends. Or so, for a long time, it seemed. Knowing he could count on Grubman to keep the artists in line, Yetnikoff steered the attorney more and more acts. "Steered" actually doesn't do justice to the dimensions of Walter's assistance. In the case of Billy Joel, "muscled" comes closer. As in Walter's (A) telling Billy he would not deal with his current lawyer (B) informing him he could have anything he reasonably wanted; and (C) pressing into his hand the telephone number of Allen Grubman, Esq., who happened to do legal work for CBS Records as well. Was there a conflict of interest? not for Grubman, who collected a $750 000 fee. Tommy had no complaints, either. With an addition of clients such as Mellencamp and Carly Simon and new friends including Rob De Niro and Mike Ovitz, he was able to move Lisa and their 2 kids to a mansion on a golf course. Tommy didn't see the place much, however. he was too busy being the pal of Walter Yetnikoff. Night after night they would be together, sometimes at one of the Mob joints in Little Italy, Tommy grinning at the curbside soldati. "Relax just a couple of civilians coming in." Other times the buddies hit the Mayflower Hotel, off Columbus circle, where Tommy had the key to Hall & Oates suite. A member of what Walter called his "shiksa farm" would get the call, a bottle would be cracked, and out would come the cocaine-untouched by Tommy ("I was the guy who was always in control," he says). Senior CBS officials knew of "Walter's personal valet," as was dubbed and were not ecstatic. Their pique swelled when Tommy was showed up in a 1986 NBC report on Mob infiltration of the music industry. It increased further when Tommy invested in a racehorse syndicate operated by the ubiquitous Morris Levy, who was about to get slapped with a dime term on a federal extortion rap. "There was always a sort of shadow about [Tommy]," says a key aide to former CBS chairman Laurence Tisch, "a consideration that he was not above board." No one at CBS produced any evidence to back up the suspicions, nor were any concerns relayed to Yetnikoff, who by 1986, had wearied of battling tightfisted Tisch and was scouting for a new owner. He found one, finally, in Japanese electronics giant Sony, which, eager to add software to its hardware, paid $2 billion for CBS's record division in January 1988. Hardly was the ink dry on the sale papers when Yetnikoff began sounding out Tommy about up heading up the US labels, a job held by abrasive M.B.A. named Al Teller. Though widely respected in the industry, Teller had never been a Yetnikoff intime. He also lacked Tommy's street experience, a commodity that CBS desperately needed. Tommy's outstanding credential, though, was proximity. "Walter likes to surround himself with cronies" former Sony of America Chairman Mickey Schuloff told a reporter. "And Tommy was basically taking care of Walter. He would take him to parties, he would take him home from parties. He was always there. That is Tommy's greatest strength. He is great at managing people."
Tommy, for his part, had little to lose by joining CBS. While Champion had fattened his wallet, its stars were rapidly fading. CBS, on the other hand, was an unmined mother lode, with a 400 performer deep talent roster that stretched from Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, and Bob Dylan on one end to Barbara Streisand, Michael Bolton, and Harry Connick Jr. on the other. To be sure, the CBS labels, Columbia and Epic, had flaws -namely a reputation for artist alienating arrogance. But then, Tommy was not without his own little smudges. He knew from nothing, he admitted, about such stuff as "budgets or board of directors." But hey, he said, "it's really only all about music. It’s not like a big rocket scientist kind of philosophy or anything." So it wasn't, and 2 days after attending a testimonial dinner for Teller, Tommy and Walter closed the deal. The appointment boggled the industry. "Walter could have done better by opening the L.A. phone book and choosing at random," one manager was quoted as saying. The news also brought a quick call to Sony from a CBS corporate officer. "Do you know this guy has a Mafia background?" a senior executive quotes the CBS man as saying. "What are you doing tainting this wonderful company you just bought from us with a guy who has a background that could make the F.B.I cringe?" Rattled Sony contacted the F.B.I. director William Sessions, requesting a quiet background check. The response was a qualified O.K. 'The F.B.I. said, 'No this guy is not somebody who will start dealing with people we should worry about, but he has friends who do," says a former senior executive at Sony. "We said as long as he's clean, we won't worry." And that was the basis on which we didn't." Aware of the probe, Tommy quickly began assembling a coterie of executives loyal to himself. Trading in the purple leathers for custom tailored Armani's, he also stepped up the talent search, a quest that led to that one memorable 1988 night to a party hosted by CBS blues artist Brenda K. Starr. As the guest mingled, someone slipped him a demo tape which he popped into the cassette deck in the limo. He knew at once he could make the kid a star. By the time he raced back to the party however, the mystery vocalist had vanished. But fairy tales have happy endings, and within a week Tommy found the Cinderella with the five octave pipes. She turned out to be 18 year old Mariah Carey.
So at least goes the press release version. The truth is more mundane. At the time of Tommy's 'discovery’," Warner's chief Mo Ostin had already offered Mariah a $30000 advance. Notified of competing blandishments, Yetnikoff authorized Tommy to immediately up the ante 50 grand. Another item which the official rendition omits is that when Mariah showed up in Tommy’s office she was accompanied by the man who was her producer and steady amour. He was not destined to endure in either capacity. "The boyfriend" recalls an old Tommy pal, "was out of there in nothing flat." Into his place stepped Lisa Mottola's husband who was being spotted entwined with Mariah in New York nightspots. Tommy denied any romance. "With God as my witness," he told reporters nothing's going on between us. "But the relationship was common knowledge at CBS, where one executive remembers Tommy regaling him with descriptions of intimacies with Mariah. The extracurriculars didn't bother Walter, who awarded his new charge a $3 million bonus after he'd only been on the job a few months. "One of the more interesting facts about Tommy is that he's extremely smart," Yetnikoff assured the trades. "He's hidden that from the world until recently." When Tommy allegedly warned a troublemaker, "You better @#%$ watch it or you're going to be sleeping with the fishes," Walter smiled. He smiled again when in the middle of Grubman's divorce from his longtime wife, who suffered from Multiple Sclerosis, he heard Tommy phone attorney Barry Slotnick, who has represented Vinnie "the Chin" Gigante and John Gotti. "You tell your friend Raoul Felder [a famed divorce attorney, representing Mrs.Grubman] to go easy on Allen." Tommy is said to have advised. "He's part of the mishphoca." A Yiddish term that, in Italian translates as la Famiglia. (Mottola denies both incidents.) As time went along, however, Walter got distracted: first by a month-long drying out at Minnesota's Hazelden clinic, then by his role in the arrangements for bad boy producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters to take the helm of Sony's latest acquisition, Columbia Pictures. During those negotiations, which wound up costing Sony $800 million in assorted payouts and contract settlements, the newly sober Yetnikoff managed to alienate nearly everyone, most fatefully his Japanese bosses, who packed him back to the record company.
In his absence, the company had become a different place. "This is my team; these are my people," Tommy bragged. The new hires were his people; since Yetnikoff's Hazelden sojourn Tommy had been positioning himself to be their leader-in-title as well as in fact. Schulhof knew of his ambitions-"Tommy," he says, "has always been power-hungry"-and knew as well that a number of industry figures were assisting in furthering them. By far the most formidable was David Geffen, the billionaire record impresario and implacable Yetnikoff foe. More than once Geffen had urged Schulhof to get rid of Yetnikoff, and Geffen also urged Michael Jackson, Yetnikoff's most prized act to leave CBS. Jackson was unwilling to do that but did drop several key members of his entourage closely identified with Yetnikoff. In their place, he installed figures tightly linked to Geffen. Notable among them was an attorney Tommy had recommended to David years before, Allen Grubman. Oblivious to the forces which were gathering against him, in June 1990 Yetnikoff drew up a deal memo which called for Tommy to receive an estimated 15 million over the next 5 years not including annual bonuses. Tommy meanwhile was doing some negotiating of his own. First he secured a quickie Dominican divorce from Lisa ("cultural differences," Tommy said of the breakup). Then, with Grubman, he drew up a fresh contract for Michael Jackson. When Yetnikoff saw the precedent shattering terms, he exploded. "this is ridiculous," he roared. "You're giving away the @#%$ store!" Yetnikoff there upon ordered Grubman banned from the premises and told Tommy to begin directing CBS acts to other lawyers. "Bust him." Walter commanded. "Take away Living Color (a rock act) Then tell Mariah to move." instead Tommy went to Schulhof. Walter, he reportedly claimed, was being irrational, unsettling the team, hurting Sony. "Tommy was really shook up" says a witness. "His loyalty at that point was more to Allen than it was to Walter." By mid-August, this dawned on Yetnikoff, and he presented the Japanese with an ultimatum: it was either Tommy or him.
Word of the threat promptly reached Mottola, who began planning countermeasures with Geffen and Grubman. Among the first, according to a highly knowledgeable source was reaching out to Sony co-founder Akio Morita, through his goddaughter, Seiko Matsuda, a Japanese pop star with whom Mottola had spent many very long yet-according to Mottola-wholly professional evenings. That attempt failed, but an approach to the Wall Street Journal did not. Long suspected as a repository for Mottola leaks, the Journal reported on Aug. 17 that Yetnikoff had recently signed a contract which would phase him out of the record groups management. The most "logical candidate" to replace him, the paper noted, was his trustworthy lieutenant, Tommy Mottola. Matters at last came to a head on Labor day, when Tommy allegedly warned Sony that were he to be forced out the entire top tier of the record company would depart with him. "I'm the one who's out on the streets looking for talent," a Sony executive quotes Tommy as saying. "Walter is sitting in his office drinking." ('That's not the kind of thing that I say or would say," Tommy says. "That's completely untrue.") But 24 hrs later, the King of The Grooves had his walking papers. Tommy though did not take his place. To his consternation Sony corporation chairman Norio Ohga assumed the chairmanship of the music group and delegated day-to-day authority to Schulof. Another embarrassment for Tommy followed two months later: Lisa Mottola filed suit against her ex and his employers, accusing them of conspiring to commit fraud by concealing the terms of the contract which Walter had drawn up in June. After Yetnikoff threatened that he'd back up Lisa's claims in court, Tommy settled, parting with a sum put in the millions. "Tommy's lucky Sam Clark's dead," the corridor crack went. "Otherwise, there's a bullet in his forehead."
Another headache was journalist Frederic Dannen, whose best-seller, Hit Men, had sketched the darker chapters of Tommy's past all too vividly. Now Dannen had another story, told to him by a reputed Mottola acquaintance named Michael Franzese. According to Franzese, whom Mottola doesn't remember meeting, he'd lately been approached about buying Tommy's stake in Champion. Franzese passed, though not out of lack of regard for Tommy. "I heard from guys on the street that, you know, Tommy was a guy that understands us," Franzese told Dannen. "Let's put it this way: I don't know what affiliation he's had. I'm not going to say that about him. But he's a guy that could relate to somebody like me....Tommy, we knew he was a friend of ours." What made Franzese's comments noteworthy was his previous occupation. Until he became a cooperating government witness, he'd been a high-ranking caporegime in the Colombo crime family, a career at which he'd been so proficient that Fortune listed him as one of the top Mafia bosses in the country. Amidst the hubbub, The New York Times weighed in with a withering assessment of Tommy's management. Headlined SONY MUSIC'S MR. BIG SPENDER, the Dec 91 story lambasted Tommy for signing a series of "rich unprecedented deals" - -among them a $25 million contract for aging Aerosmith, a group which had just been dumped by Geffen. In response, Tommy minions began planting stories that the Times was prejudice against Italian-Americans. When the negative press didn't cease, Tommy became the anything-to-please charmer. "It's better to be my friend than my enemy," he confided to a critical female reporter he invited for drinks. "I have connections. You wanna meet Michael Jackson? The Rolling Stones? I can arrange it. Just tell me: what is it you want?" By the time the session was over, the reporter recalls, Tommy was offering to set her up with studio time. He was already doing that and then some for Mariah, authorizing the expenditure of $800 000 to produce her debut album, $500 000 to redo the video for her first single and an additional $1million in promotion and marketing to grease the launch of both. The strategy worked like gangbusters for all concerned including Mariah's management company, Thomas D. Mottola's Champion Entertainment. Industry figures giggled at the serendipity and giggled more when Tommy, branding the talk about his concern for Mariah's exist," started slicing years off his actual age. There was no giggling at Mariah's talent though. Critics including Time might call her synthesized coloratura offerings "NutraSweet Soul," but the cool, curvaceous product of a blonde Irish mother and a black Venezuelan father was genuine phenom. David Geffen has called her an act "any label would be thrilled to have."
The performances of most of Tommy's other acts, however, were not cause for celebration. But Tommy crowed about bright spots, such as the breaking of Michael Bolton and New Kids on the Block (both of who were signed by Teller). He claimed that since he had come aboard the company's profits had tripled (an assertion The New York Times found inflated five fold). But as 1992 began, Mottola’s bottom line was decidedly lackluster-particularly in comparison with the now unassailable Warner's. Tommy's immediate concern, though was Schulhof, who had formally taken over as chairman of the renamed Sony Music Entertainment in Jan 91. As he had with Yetnikoff, Tommy strenuously massaged him. "He made sure that he moved in on me, and he made sure that we had a good relationship," says Schulhof, describing Tommy's daily dollops of solicitude. "He managed me the same way he manages everybody else." Privately however, Mottola was contemptuous of Schulhof- "an opportunistic dunce," he called him to Jon Peters. Schulhof knew of the gibes, but, taken by Tommy's hustle-as well as by his introductions to superstars-defended his management in Tokyo, which was having trouble parsing Tommy's explanations for dwindling market shares. "Maybe you can find out what the facts are" a befuddled Sony board member told a reporter. "Maybe you can tell me." Tommy wasn't doing much talking to anyone. Instead, he was making plans. Already, he'd cleansed the US labels of most of Walter's loyalists. Now he was setting his sights on seizing control of Sony's International division, which was being run in glittering fashion by his old RCA nemesis, Bob Summer. With an elbow from Tommy, the "asset," as he called Summer in public, would be gone in 1993, leaving Schulhof as the last barrier to total music-group control. His ouster, however, require some doing. In the interval, Tommy began casting covetous eye on Sony's motion-picture operations, which, under Guber and Peters, had become renowned principally for office decor. As one expensive flop piled atop another, Tommy, who had dabbled unsuccessfully at being a movie producer, sought the advice of Bobby De Niro, who told him to go for it. "I tried to convince him seriously to do it," says De Niro. "because the people who were running it at the moment-he couldn't have done it any worse." Tommy was tempted, but in the end decided to stick with records, even though his relations with Schulhof were fraying. Some of the disputes were petty, such as Tommy's alleged demand that Sony provide him with round-the-clock bodyguards, a request Schulhof is said to have greeted by throwing him out of his office. ("A joke. Nothing, Absolutely untrue," says Tommy.) Other reported conflicts were, however, more substantive, such as Schulhof's blocking Tommy from purchasing rap specialist Interscope for $450 million. He was having an equally tough time managing Michael Jackson, whose US sales were steadily dropping, in part because of the well publicized allegations from a pre-pubescent boy. "I knew it was always your problem," a Mottola aide claims he heard Tommy tell the singer, when Jackson requesting a $30 million check and a Sony statement of support. "But you better @#%$ stop. You hear that Michael? You better @#%$ stop." ("Absolutely not," Tommy says. "We were totally supportive of Michael during that time. Absolutely never said that." He also denies giving him the check.) Unappreciative, Jackson phoned Schulhof. He wasn't to blame for his slump, he claimed, it was Tommy's devotion outsize energy to promoting his now public girlfriend, Mariah.
Jackson was at least half right. Mariah's career was soaring, and Tommy was guiding it every step of the way. He approved her material, oversaw her arrangements, checked her promotion and, to no one's surprise, made sure her attorney was Allen Grubman, who, in addition to handling a goodly chunk of Sony's legal chores, now represented a third of its talent roster and the bulk of its key executives. "Allen Grubman is my best friend in the world," Tommy says in response to questions about conflicts. "End of subject. Over and out." He continued to feel that way even after Billy Joel filed suit in 1992, accusing Grubman of a laundry list of eyebrow raisers, including stoking Joel's business manager with kickbacks. Grubman said that he was being used as "a deep pocket scapegoat," and Tommy smirked with the little fanfare, the suit was confidentially put to rest a year later. Then Grubman blabbed, boasting to reporters that "there'd been no settlement," that he'd won "total victory" over Joel's "frivolous" claims. In short order the singer's attorney was back in court, with papers tarring not only Grubman but Tommy too. According to the documents, which included a detailed replay of an F.B.I interview with Grubman, things began going awry when Joel's business manager invested his money in a string of racehorses and invited Tommy and Allen to do the same. By and by, Tommy decided to reclaim his cash, only to be informed by the business manager that the money was gone. The manager advised Tommy, however, not to worry: he was going to bump off a nag and collect on the insurance. Without alerting Joel or the authorities, Tommy (who remembers thinking the whole thing a joke) passed the news on to Grubman, who later referred to the alleged scheme as "comic gossip." However, the horse in question did die-officially of natural causes. The suit settlement was even neater. The same day Billy dropped his litigation, a $2.4 million check arrived from Sony, along with a pledge of an additional $600 000-supposedly for future record royalties and commercial endorsements. Few in the industry believed it. "Why would Sony put up $3 million for Grubman, when they'd not been named in the suit?" says Joel's lawyer. Leonard Marks. "the answer is he's got the Mottola connection."
In June 1993, Tommy took on a new connection of his own, marrying Mariah in a Manhattan ceremony described by one rock star guest as "not so much a wedding as a coronation." Six months in the planning, it was showbiz grandiose, featuring 50 young girls throwing flower petals, an 8 piece orchestra playing classical music, a boy's choir, and a 300 member guest list encompassing Barbara Streisand, Bruce Springsteen, Gloria Estefan, Michael Bolton, Billy Baldwin, Tony Danza, Christie Brinkley, Sandy Gallin, Chynna Phillips, Tony Bennett, Mo Ostin, Ozzy Osbourne, Robert De Niro, Michael Ovitz and, hardly last, Allen Grubman. The star, naturally was Mariah, who watched tapes of Charles and Di's nuptials to prepare, and whose 27-foot train required handling by 6 ladies in waiting. At the reception afterward, David Geffen gawked at the violin players lining the marble staircase of the Metropolitan Club, and another guest, referring to the wedding's Episcopal-church venue, was heard to say, "Every marriage Tommy converts." The condition of Sony Music, however, was nothing to laugh about, and Tommy was beginning to show the stress. On one occasion, he reportedly had to be restrained from whipping out his gun at a cabdriver who'd cut him off in traffic. ("No I never pulled a gun on anybody," says Tommy. "that is outrageous, preposterous, ludicrous. These stories all sound like jokes to me.") On another, he allegedly reacted to an aide's resignation announcement by placing a pistol on his desk, then turning his cheek and taunting, "Go ahead, take your best shot, I dare you." ("No, I did not," says Tommy.)
Schulhof had worries of his own. With Sony's motion-picture unit about to force a $3.2 billion write off, he needed the crown jewel music group to bail him out. Tommy, though wasn't coming to his rescue. "He's falling into the same trap Walter did," Schulhof told a reporter. "Relying too much on the same old established superstars." His opinion was shared by much of the industry, which bubbled with rumors that Tommy was on the way out. The chatter got louder when Sony's in-house "urban" label-Def Jam-defected to Polygram, which proceeded to increase its book value threefold. Then the old Tommy luck reappeared. The cycle that spins the music business turned toward Sony, swelling profits and revenues. Better yet, in Dec 1995 , the Japanese fired Schulhof. In the reorganization that followed, the chairmanship of Sony Music went to Thomas D. Mottola Jr. To hear Tommy tell it, everything has been roses since. "Our business is going great," he says. "And you know what one of the biggest satisfactions is? I've proven everyone wrong. They all said I couldn't do it. Well, take a look at Billboard. That's my report card, and it comes out every week. And you know what it says? It says we're on top." What Billboard in fact says is this summer Sony acts dominated The Billboard 200 albums chart. Warner's however continues to dwarf Sony in all domestic categories, despite having spent the last 2 years beheading leading executives. For Tommy, this was a plus. It allowed him to claim that under him, Sony was the most stable shop in the industry. How much longer the stability will continue is open to question. While Tommy says, "This is my house, I built this house, and I'm not going to leave it," Sony Corporation President Nobuyoki Idei will be making the final call, and already the differences between Tokyo and the Bronx are showing. "If I write a memo to Tommy, he gets mad," Idei told the LA Times. "He goes crazy. He says, "What's the matter, don't you trust me?" Tommy didn't help matters when during a visit to Japan last January, he publicly lectured Idei, telling him to leave him alone. Failure to do so, Tommy told a gathering of nonplused local journalists, could "scare the death out of Eddie Vedder....and Bruce Springsteen."
A closer to home worry--closer even than Yetnikoff, who still vows vengeance on the ex-friend he calls Scumolla– is Mariah. With tastes that run to Rollerblading and riding the "really cool" Tower of Terror, Mariah, friends say, is a very young 26 year old. They also portray her as increasingly antsy about her husband's wardening ("Always being up my ass," a former staff member quotes Mariah as saying), which includes the employment of 2 bodyguards, whose duties extend to accompanying her to the bathroom door, and the placing on Sony's payroll of a constant shepherdess, the wife of Epic Pres. Dave Glew. For all of Tommy's precautions, though, there have been slips: a Concorde flight during which Mariah poured out her problems to Diana Ross; an unwelcome friendship with an old high school boyfriend ("Tear his eyes out" an aide recalls Tommy saying after he saw his wife being ogled, but Tommy says, "No, I never said anything like that") and the most public incident, a noisy quarrel in a Beverly Hills hotel lobby after this year's Grammy awards. The evening was not a good one for Mariah, whose Tommy-arranged show opener with Boyz II Men was soon overwhelmed by a killer gospel performance by Whitney Houston. The night got worse as Mariah began losing in category after category. As the goose eggs piled up, TV cameras showed her face tightening, while Tommy squirmed in the seat beside her. After the sixth and final zip, her countenance was the picture of gum-chewing rage. She vented it in the lobby of the Peninsula, where Sony was hosting what was to have been a celebration. "She was berating him that he didn't have enough power to get her a Grammy," says a Sony executive. "It was like a limp dick argument." When the shouting stopped and they went up to the party, Tommy ordered monitors playing tapes of the awards switched off.
Since then, Mariah has stayed close to home-a $10 million estate detailed, in a bit of fortuitous synchronicity, by the same contractors who did the massive renovations of Sony's Manhattan headquarters. "We tried to live up to every tradition," Tommy says of the 20000 sq. ft. domicile that resulted. "We joined hands and did it together.....Tried to study Georgian manor houses and make it look like a well-maintained 100 year old mansion. Not bad for a kid from the Bronx, huh?" From the accounts of the visitors-who rate the spread the equal of anything in Harrison-not bad at all. It's got 2 ponds; neighbors such as Ralph Lauren and Stanley Jaffe; a kitchen the size of a boccie court ("He's so spoiled me with his food that I can't go to restaurants anymore," Mariah gushed to a Tommy cleared interviewer); so many rooms that Mariah's not sure of the number; a subterranean shooting range equipped with an arsenal of rifles, pistols, and shot guns; color surveillance cameras secreted in birdhouses; and overlooking an indoor swimming pool surmounted by a cloud-painted ceiling, a state of the art, 64 channel recording studio. This elaborate facility, says a friend, "just about eliminates the need for Mariah to ever go into New York." Sometimes, though, she does, passing through the 2 sets of electronic gates Tommy's installed. A recent outing was for the 1996 Rock and Roll hall of fame induction, at the conclusion of which the stars went up onstage to jam. As the music swelled, Mariah stood up, about to join them. Then she looked at Tommy, who gave 2 quick shakes of the head. Just as quick, Mariah sat back down. Tommy who has awarded his wife her very own vanity label-Crave, it's being called-denies the story, as he does abetting the demise of racehorses, contributing to Yetnikoff's downfall, shivving Mickey Schulhof, knowing Vinnie "the Chin", and the vague rumors of his own father's being involved with the bentnoses. (If you print that he is," Tommy says jokingly, "he's gonna rub you out.")
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The comment comes at the end of another drawn-blind day for Tommy, who's been getting more than his share of bad breaks of late. For starters, Oasis one of his hottest acts can't decide whether to break up or stay together. For another, Sony Music Japan, source of a fifth of his profits, has just cut its 6 month earning forecast by more than a half. As if all this weren't enough, word is spreading that Tommy's good friend Michael Ovitz has been chatting with Idei about taking over Sony Music for Disney. Nonetheless, Tommy says he's feeling super. It's been several weeks since our last encounter and he's been keeping close tabs on my inquiries. He knows that Atlantic co-chair Ahmet Ertegun has called him a terrific record executive; that Irving Azoff has lauded him for being "graceful, passionate, and possessed of big balls." Indeed even Billy Joel had good words. Says a forgiving Billy, "I think of him as a Roman. I mean, in the classic sense." Of course Tommy knows there are other opinions out there, so he's had his lawyers remind ex-employees of their confidentiality agreements. Quite on their own, his old friend Daryl Hall and John Oates have also been consulting lawyers in an attempt to find out where all the money went. But Tommy's had lawsuits before-such as the one George Michael filed to get out of his deal with Sony. And what did all the claims of Tommy's connections with "unsavory organizations" get Michael? The sale of his contract to Geffen, who forked out $40 million. Mariah though, is another story, a not at all happy one according to insiders. "If you leave," one said he advised her not long ago, " make sure you find someone just as rich and powerful as Tommy. Otherwise, he's going to destroy you." Answered Mariah, "Don't you think I know that?" There's no sign of Mariah leaving just yet. But the lyrics she penned to a recent song might give even the most secure of mates pause. "we were as one," they go, "for a moment in time/and it seemed everlasting/that you would always be mine/now you wanna be free/So I'll let you fly." Perhaps mindful of the message, Tommy's had an old record-boss friend, who happens also to be a friend of Tommy's visitor, call to request that he do nothing to disturb tranquillity chez Mottola.
Not Tommy says, that he's got anything to worry about. To demonstrate how relaxed he is, how absurd and hysterical are the stories told about him, he presents a gift. It's a copy of Joseph "Joe Dogs" Iannuzzi's latest work, The Mafia Cookbook. We laugh and Tommy starts to reminisce about the old days: the night Bruce Springsteen spotted John Gotti in a restaurant ("He yells over to one of the waiters, 'Hey, tell the boss that the Boss wants to meet him'"); the good times with Hall & Oates ("They stayed at my house, I cooked, I loaned them money-they were like brothers to me"); the character Morris Levy was. "He was a funny guy, a great guy, a pioneer in this business. If Morris were alive today I'd go to his house or he'd come to mine." This would probably be new to Morris, who couldn't get Tommy to take his calls while he was appealing his extortion conviction. That Mottola, Morris growled to Frederic Dannen, "is a no-talent mover-upper. He's a user." But Morris is dead, and Tommy's rolling, talking of the 15 million records Celine Dion has sold, the 30 lbs he's got to lose, the "lot cockier" attitude he used to have. "I was a hustler," he says, "a guy who thought he knew it all. I was hungry, I was ambitious, I was anxious, I was raging: budda-bump,budda-bump,budda-bump." Anyway, Tommy says those days are gone. "Going in and pushing my way around, I realized that was not going to be the approach that works all the time. So now I wanna be able to get along with everyone. I want everyone to live." He leans forward the way Michael does in the movie, when he lets Kay ask him once, just once, about the family business. "I'm serious," he says. "I'm telling you the truth. Period."
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