On his fifth and final day on the witness stand, Walt Disney Co. chief executive Michael D. Eisner offered his view of the "real Hollywood," a definition that sharply clashed with one presented in testimony by former Disney president Michael S. Ovitz.
"I don't think the Hollywood that was depicted in this courtroom earlier or that is cliched in articles or written in books is the real Hollywod," Eisner said. He added that the real Hollywood is a powerful business enterprise that exports American culture and entertainment to the world.
The comment digressed from the precise legal matters at the heart of this shareholder lawsuit, namely whether Disney directors, including Eisner, failed in their legal duty to investors by allowing Ovitz to leave the company after a rocky 14 months on the job with a severance package valued at the time at $140 million.
But the remark appeared central to the powerful subtext of the case, the reasons for the collapse of a corporate marriage hailed at its start as a brilliant match, and who was to blame.
Without explicitly saying so, Eisner on Friday seemed to be rebutting Ovitz's depiction of Hollywood as a mystical town operating outside the strictures of normal life, where no ambition is too grand, no sum too rich to pay a superstar and where even the glitziest mega-deal can be sealed over a wink and a cocktail.
Eisner on Friday also testified about a memo he wrote in December 1995 to Tony Schwartz, who was helping Eisner with his memoir, "Work in Progress."
In the memo, titled "Some Rough Ideas on the Nature of Fiction, Tragedy, Ethics, and Corporate Survival," Eisner, citing Aristotle, wrote of the dangers that hubris, narcissism and wickedness pose to the powerful.
The memo mentioned several tarnished entertainment executives and someone referred to as "TBA," or to be announced. Under questioning from Steven G. Schulman, chief attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, Eisner said TBA did not refer to anyone inside Disney.
But when asked what he was trying to accomplish in the memo, Eisner seemed to reflect again on Ovitz's description of Hollywood.
"I'm trying to explain to Tony Schwartz, which most people don't understand, what we do in the entertainment business is not just go to Hollywood parties and schmooze. It's actually to understand the real nature of what entertainment is and how it's created because that's the serious work of the entertainment business," Eisner said.
Eisner repeatedly testified that Ovitz was obsessed with making splashy deals and signing top artists during his tenure at Disney but refused to focus on the nuts and bolts of running the company on a lean budget.
In his questioning on Friday, Schulman pressed Eisner about the ethics of Ovitz's behavior and about deals Ovitz proposed that plaintiffs say were foolish and indicative of gross incompetence.
Eisner appeared to walk a fine line with his answers, as he often has during his testimony, suggesting that Ovitz performed badly, but not so badly that he could have been fired for cause, which would have nullified much of his severance package.
Schulman questioned Eisner about a $7,000 watch Ovitz gave as a gift to Robert A. Iger, president of the ABC television network, which Disney acquired just before Ovitz joined the company. He also asked about a $1,200 Roy Lichtenstein print of Mickey Mouse that Ovitz gave to actor Tim Allen.
Ovitz testified that he gave Allen the print to assuage the star's feelings after he threatened to quit the hit ABC show "Home Improvement."
Eisner said he did not recall the specifics of the gifts but that he did not believe Ovitz acted improperly. "Tim Allen was the most important talent at the Walt Disney Co. He had the number one show in America," Eisner said. "If Michael Ovitz was paying attention to him, he was doing his job."
Schulman asked about several deals that Ovitz testified he tried and failed to get Eisner to approve, including bringing an NFL football team to Los Angeles, signing big names to Disney's record label, making movies with star directors such as Barry Levinson and making a big publishing acquisition.
Eisner said he was occasionally frustrated by Ovitz's fondness for blockbuster deals. But he said none of Ovitz's ideas were terribly outlandish and that Ovitz would quickly move on if an idea was rejected.
Eisner also rebuffed an apparent effort by Schulman to portray Ovitz as mentally unbalanced.
Schulman asked Eisner about deposition testimony in the case from Sid Bass, formerly a large Disney shareholder, in which Bass said Eisner told him Ovitz was suicidal. Eisner suggested that Bass's testimony overstated his concern.