Jeffrey Katzenberg

Founding partner and chairman, Dreamworks SKG

Nationality: American.

Born: December 21, 1950, in New York, New York.

Education: Attended New York University, 1971–1972.

Family: Son of a stockbroker and a tapestry artist (names unknown); married Marilyn Siegel (schoolteacher); children: two.

Career: Mayor John Lindsay, 1972, presidential campaign assistant; David Picker, 1973–1975, talent agent; Paramount Pictures, 1975–1977, assistant to chairman, then executive director for marketing; 1977–1978, vice president for programming at Paramount TV; 1978–1980, vice president for feature production; 1980–1982, senior vice president of motion picture division; 1982–1984, president of motion picture and television production; Walt Disney Studios, 1984–1994, chair of film production; Dreamworks SKG, 1994–, founding partner and chairman.

Address: Dreamworks SKG, 1000 Flower Street, Glendale, California 91201;

■ Jeffrey Katzenberg began his career at Paramount Pictures and came to public prominence in the 1980s as a young executive who helped to save the flagging Walt Disney Studios. In 1994 he left Disney to become a founding partner, with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, of Dreamworks SKG, one of the world's most technologically advanced and influential film studios.


Katzenberg was born in Manhattan to an upper middle-class family. He grew up in a Park Avenue apartment, attended the Ethical Culture Society's Fieldston School, and spent summers in Maine. An indifferent student, he enrolled in New York University in 1971 but dropped out during his sophomore

Jeffrey Katzenberg. AP/Wide World Photos.
Jeffrey Katzenberg.
AP/Wide World Photos

year, ostensibly to work in New York City mayor John Lindsay's unsuccessful campaign for the 1972 Democratic Party presidential nomination. Rather than return to school, Katzenberg attempted to find a career by exploiting some of the contacts he had made in the Lindsay campaign. With the backing of his family he went into partnership with two young Lindsay aides on a New York City restaurant. Finding this unsuitable, he went to work as a talent agent for David Picker, an independent film producer who was a personal friend of Lindsay's. With a foot in the door of the film industry Katzen-berg managed to meet Barry Diller, who then headed Paramount Pictures' New York office. Diller hired Katzenberg to an entry-level position in 1975 and soon promoted him to his personal assistant.

In 1977 Katzenberg moved to the Los Angeles headquarters of Paramount Pictures to work on programming for an illfated attempt to launch what would have then been a fourth national television network. Remaining in Los Angeles, Katzenberg impressed the studio head Michael Eisner with an extraordinary ability to search out, evaluate, and recommend feature-film projects. These talents gained him the nickname of "Eisner's Golden Retriever" and led to a swift rise through the corporate power structure. A member of the first generation of film executives who had grown up with television, Katzen-berg understood the medium's power to create lasting cultural impressions that could be translated into instant, highly promotable "brands" across a variety of media.

Among his first successful projects for Paramount was Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), a blockbuster that led to a string of successful sequels as well as a handful of television series spin-offs. The original Star Trek television series, which aired on NBC from 1964 to 1967, had met with only middling success; when Katzenberg "retrieved" the property, it hardly seemed to merit backing for major motion picture production. Other Paramount successes credited to Katzenberg at Paramount included Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), which rein-vigorated the adventure genre, Airplane! (1980), a farce that owed much to the style of Mad magazine, and Beverly Hills Cop (1984), which marked Eddie Murphy's successful transition from Saturday Night Live television comedian to screen actor.


Widely credited with having revived Paramount, Eisner and Katzenberg were lured away by Walt Disney Studios, which was hoping for a similar reversal in fortunes, in 1984. As the new Disney CEO, Eisner appointed Katzenberg chair of film production. Katzenberg restored the power of the Disney brand by returning the studio to production of animated feature films. The Little Mermaid (1989), the first new animated Disney feature in thirty years, was the first of a string of hits, which would also include Aladdin (1993) and The Lion King (1994).

Katzenberg expanded production in other directions as well, establishing new divisions for targeting adult audiences, such as Hollywood Pictures and Touchstone Pictures. In 1993, at Katzenberg's initiative, Disney purchased Miramax, a New York–based "art studio" whose pictures seemed to be the antithesis of the Disney brand. All of the new divisions, however, scored hits. Disney/Touchstone Television produced prime-time sitcoms for network television, including such successes as The Golden Girls for NBC and Home Improvement for ABC. During Katzenberg's decade-long tenure as chair of film production at Disney, revenues rose sixfold to $8.5 billion.


In 1994 Frank G. Wells, the president of Disney Studios, died suddenly in a helicopter crash. Katzenberg expected to be named Wells' successor, but Eisner bypassed him. Hurt and angered, Katzenberg resigned and months later founded a new studio, Dreamworks SKG, in partnership with Steven Spielberg, the most successful filmmaker in Hollywood, and David Geffen, the powerful music-industry executive. Each of the partners invested more than $80 million to capitalize the venture. Dreamworks SKG began producing live-action films, animated films, musical recordings, and interactive media products.

Financial success was virtually assured within the company's first year by a series of agreements negotiated principally by Katzenberg, including a ten-year deal to supply HBO with as many as one hundred films; a seven-year deal to supply television series to ABC; and a $30 million deal with Microsoft to produce interactive computer-gaming software. Katzenberg's principal creative responsibilities lay in the production of animated feature films. He served as executive producer of such Dreamworks hits as The Prince of Egypt (1998) and Chicken Run (2000) and as producer of Shrek (2001) and Shrek 2 (2004).

See also entries on Walt Disney Company and DreamWorks SKG in International Directory of Company Histories .

sources for further information

Abramowitz, Rachel, "Almost Infamous," New York , November 13, 2000, pp. 32–33.

Auletta, Ken, The Highwaymen: Warriors on the Information Superhighway , New York: Random House, 1997.

Dutka, Elaine, "Profile of Jeffrey Katzenberg," American Film , June 1990, pp. 40–43.

Grover, Ronald, The Disney Touch: How a Daring Management Team Revived an Entertainment Empire , Homewood, IL: Business One Irwin, 1991.

Ross, Lillian, "Jeffrey Katzenberg's Road to the Gold," New Yorker , February 14, 2000, p. 25.

Turner, Adrian, "Interview with Jeffrey Katzenberg," Guardian , December 14, 1989.

—David Marc

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