In a trending article published Wednesday by ProPublica, the headline calls Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter one of three “shadow rulers” of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
It’s hardly the first time that Perlmutter — already known as a Mar-a-Lago pal and VA adviser of President Trump’s — has been characterized as a shadow ruler. The long-reclusive mogul, who helped orchestrate Disney’s $4 billion buy of Marvel nearly a decade ago, has long worked behind a scrim of mystery.
Part of the intrigue starts with simple optics. For years before Trump’s political rise, contemporary photos of Perlmutter were rare, and he was seldom spotted in public. Just who was this man who, according to Hollywood lore, so valued his visual anonymity that he attended the 2008 “Iron Man” premiere in a fake mustache and glasses?
The air of mystery that surrounds Perlmutter begins with his apparent rags-to-riches story. Despite his ties to VA, he did not serve in the U.S. military — he is an Israeli army veteran who reportedly immigrated to America in 1967 with just $250 in his pocket, according to Forbes.
The rise of Perlmutter, 75, through the properties of Marvel began a quarter-century ago, when Marvel bought near a half-ownership stake in Perlmutter’s Toy Biz — a deal that let his company manufacture Marvel character action figures. Within three years, though, Marvel Entertainment Group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in New York, and reorganization plans involving Toy Biz were soon proposed. Seeing opportunity in the wash of red ink, Perlmutter — along with Avi Arad, his Toy Biz co-owner and fellow Israeli army veteran — wrested away control of Marvel from owner Ronald Perelman and investor Carl Icahn in 1998 through a Toy Biz merger.
With a clear-eyed mission to turn around Marvel’s fortunes, Perlmutter and Arad steered hard toward licensing Marvel’s characters “to moviemakers, toymakers, video game makers and television producers,” as the New York Times reported in 2003. Over the next six years, films featuring Spider-Man, Daredevil and the X-Men grossed more than $2.4 billion worldwide.
In 2008, the financially transformed Marvel launched its Marvel Cinematic Universe into theaters with that summer season’s “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk.” The MCU has grossed more than $17 billion worldwide to date.
Perlmutter remained in a top leadership position on Marvel’s film side until 2015, when Kevin Feige, who had been president of Marvel Studios on the West Coast since 2007, was able to win a reorganization of the studio’s movie group and report directly to Disney Studios chief Alan Horn. The revamp was viewed as “a blow to New York-based Perlmutter, a low-profile billionaire who has contributed to Marvel’s reputation in Hollywood for frugality and secrecy,” the Hollywood Reporter wrote at the time.
The controversial mogul sowed conflict both within and outside Marvel Studios, THR reported — with “nearly everyone on screen . . . regarded as replaceable, with the exception of Robert Downey Jr.”
And for all the MCU’s success, Perlmutter was viewed as holding back the success of female superheroes. “He clung to outdated opinions about casting, budgeting and merchandising that ran counter to trends in popular culture,” Vanity Fair reported last year. (Perlmutter declined to comment for the story.)
Perlmutter remains chairman of Marvel Entertainment, the Disney subsidiary that is the parent to Marvel comic-book, animation and television units.
As part of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago circle, Perlmutter was asked by the incoming president to help put together his government, ProPublica reported, and Perlmutter “offered to be an outside adviser.”
Vanity Fair noted last year that Perlmutter was “an early Trump supporter” and donor who “also advises the White House on veterans’ issues.”
Now we know, as ProPublica reported Wednesday, citing a former official, Perlmutter is the first person the president calls on veterans issues.