Bruck, Connie 1946–
BRUCK, Connie 1946–
PERSONAL: Born May 22, 1946, in North Arlington, NJ; daughter of Carl (a Realtor) and Edith (a teacher; maiden name, Bornstein) Bruck; married Ben Schlossberg, 1970 (divorced, 1978); children: Ari. Education: Attended Wellesley College, 1964–66; Barnard College, B.A., 1968; Columbia University, M.S., 1969. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Jewish.
CAREER: Freelance journalist, 1970–79; American Lawyer (magazine), staff reporter, 1979–89; New Yorker, staff writer, 1989–.
AWARDS, HONORS: Hancock Award for excellence in business and financial journalism, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, 1985, for article on Ivan Boesky; Front Page Award, 1990, National Magazine Award for reporting, 1991, and Loeb Award for excellence in business reporting, 1991, all for the article "Deal of the Year"; National Magazine Award for reporting, 1996, for profile of Newt Gingrich published in the New Yorker.
The Predators' Ball: The Junk Bond Raiders and the Man Who Staked Them, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1988, revised edition published as Predators' Ball: The Inside Story of Drexel Burnham and the Rise of the Junk Bond Raiders, Penguin (New York, NY), 1989.
Master of the Game: Steve Ross and the Creation of Time Warner, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.
When Hollywood Had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent into Power and Influence, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, and Washington Post.
ADAPTATIONS: The Predators' Ball: The Junk Bond Raiders and the Man Who Staked Them was adapted as a ballet by the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
SIDELIGHTS: Journalist Connie Bruck earned national attention with her first book, The Predators' Ball: The Junk Bond Raiders and the Man Who Staked Them. In it, the author claims that the powerful investment firm of Drexel Burnham Lambert gained clients by intimidating competitors and ignored activities by star employee Michael Milken that clearly constituted a conflict of interest. Bruck did not initially conceive The Predators' Ball as an indictment of Drexel's methods. In 1985, when the company reigned as the most profitable of Wall Street's investment houses, Bruck arranged interviews with several Drexel executives, including Milken, to chronicle the firm's meteoric rise. After learning more about the tactics employed for such success, however, Bruck became convinced that Drexel had violated securities laws. Her book became an exposé.
In The Predators' Ball, Bruck explains that Drexel Burnham Lambert owed a significant portion of its success to Milken's theory that substantial financial rewards existed in trading junk bonds. Kurt Eichenwald, writing in the New York Times, explained that "junk bonds are securities issued by companies that do not qualify for an 'investment grade' rating by the country's leading rating agencies. As a result, the bonds pay a higher return, but are considered riskier." Milken first traded those bonds and then persuaded customers to buy them. When customers realized large profits with junk bonds, desire for them increased. Milken invested in these bonds, issued them for companies that could not raise money through conventional debt, and eventually used them to raise billions of dollars for corporate raiders seeking to take over companies. Milken had a personal network of lenders who helped him finance takeovers. This financial base allowed Drexel a virtual monopoly and, Bruck charges, weakened the nation's corporate climate because businesses fearing takeovers focused on short-term goals and defense rather than methods for long-term growth.
Bruck relates that as the junk-bond market flourished, Milken gained a religious following. The "Predator's Ball" of the title refers to an annual spring party Milken hosted in Beverly Hills, California, where clients and corporate raiders would pay tribute to him. Wall Street insiders also touted Milken as a financial wizard, but the author paints a portrait of a controlling, power-hungry man obsessed with secrecy. Milken's star began to fade after coworker and merger specialist Dennis Levine was caught in an insider trading scandal that led to the imprisonment of stock speculator and Drexel client Ivan Boesky in 1986. Beginning that year, Drexel and Milken came under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. While Bruck ends her story here, one year later she issued an updated edition of The Predators' Ball, covering Milken's indictment. Milken was eventually convicted, served time in prison, and was fined more than one billion dollars for his offenses; Drexel Burnham was driven into bankruptcy. Richard Parker, reviewing The Predators' Ball in Nation, stated: "Bruck is a conscientious and able reporter, showing in vivid detail both Milken's central insight … and his willingness to bend and break rules put in place to prevent outright fraud."
Bruck wrote about another high-stakes businessman in her 1994 publication Master of the Game: Steve Ross and the Creation of Time Warner. It is an "intelligent and fascinating biography," according to Neal Gabler of Time. A Publishers Weekly writer stated the book is "as fast paced as the life it depicts." Bruck interviewed some 250 people to piece together the rapid rise of Steve Ross, who began his ascent from ambitious businessman to media tycoon in 1969, when he bought the Warner Brothers-Seven Arts company. According to Carl Sessions Stepp in American Journalism Review, Bruck "tells the Ross story in dry but balanced chronological detail." While noting little new information is presented, Stepp thought the author "seems to have painstakingly gathered her evidence and woven a perceptive portrait of a complex man." Stepp found that while Ross's personal story did make for "fascinating reading, it gains even more power as a metaphor for the media industry at the turn of the century. Like Ross, the media are on a wild ride of expansion and conglomeratization. The deal's the thing. The fun lies in outmaneuvering the opposition, and staying a step ahead of the sheriff…. You can read this entire book and find little if any notice about the content of Warner products or the journalism at Time Inc. As the title says, Ross was a master of the game. About the profession, apparently, he didn't much care."
Not all reviews were positive, however. An Economist reviewer called Bruck mistaken in saying that Ross had no friends and pointed to "scanty sourcing" as a great weakness of her book. Robert Sobel of Electronic News commented that "Ms. Bruck throws in too many names, and gets embroiled in such matters as Mr. Ross's involvement with the Westchester Premier Theater," but added approvingly, "In this book she provides stories rather … detailed analysis."
As powerful as Ross was, Lew Wasserman probably had even more clout in Hollywood. At one time he was undisputedly the most powerful and influential man in the entertainment world, and Ross told his story in When Hollywood Had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent into Power and Influence. Despite his high-profile connections, Wasserman shunned the limelight and remained an enigmatic figure. At the age of eighty-two, he was forced out of his position as board chairman of MCA-Universal, his company, and maintained his silence even after that controversial affair and the publication of an unflattering book about him, The Last Mogul, written by Dennis McDougal. It was McDougal's book that prompted Bruck's interest in balancing the story with her own project, and in the opinion of Thomas Schatz, a contributor to Nation, her version of events "jibes far better with the industry's more recent view of Wasserman, which has evolved from fear and distrust to grudging respect and, in some circles, outright deification." Schatz found that Wasserman's legendary reticence made him a difficult subject and noted that "little if any of the crucial information" in the Bruck's book comes directly from Wasserman, being instead "pieced together by Bruck herself through other interviews and her arduous research. These efforts do pay off, however, producing an absorbing chronicle of both a man and a company that adds immeasurably to our understanding of both. And thus any concerns about Bruck's getting 'inside' either the studio operations or the man himself are easily offset by her overall achievement. When Hollywood Had a King provides a rich and evenhanded view of Lew Wasserman, doing justice both literally and figuratively to the most recent, if not the last, of the Hollywood giants."
Peter Bart, writing in Daily Variety, found that "in portraying Wasserman's power, Bruck focuses so intensely on deals and corporate intrigues that she might as well have been chronicling a banker or automobile manufacturer. Her obvious lack of interest in showbiz results in an oddly colorless account of a man who was, in point of fact, fascinated by the glitz and glamour" and who built his business by supporting individual artists against the power of studios. An Economist reviewer quoted Wasserman himself as saying "I don't consider I have power. I have relationships" and noted that Bruck's portrait "is inspired less by affection than by awe. Yet, in the interviews that Ms. Bruck conducted before Wasserman's death, she was able occasionally to disarm him." Reviewing the book for Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman identified Bruck as "an extraordinary reporter—on page after page, she places you behind the closed doors of corporate collusions—and her writing has a vigorous elegance driven by an almost magnetic attraction to the intricacies of power. Her portrait of Wasserman and his associates may not be overtly obsessed with 'character ' (she doesn't go in for thumbnail psychoanalysis), yet she envelops you in the drama of embattled tycoons and politicians who reveal, through the cut and thrust of their actions, their truest selves."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Journalism Review, May, 1994, Carl Sessions Stepp, review of Master of the Game: Steve Ross and the Creation of Time Warner, p. 46.
Barron's, April 4, 1994, Benjamin Stein, review of Master of the Game, p. 56.
Booklist, April 15, 1994, David Rouse, review of Master of the Game, p. 1492; May 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of When Hollywood Had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent into Power and Influence, p. 1618.
Business Week, June 13, 1988, Morton Reichek, review of The Predator's Ball: The Junk Bond Raiders and the Man Who Staked Them, p. 14; July 4, 1988, Chris Welles, review of The Predator's Ball, p. 17; April 11, 1994, Mark Landler, review of Master of the Game, p. 16.
Chicago Tribune, June 30, 1988; June 11, 1989.
Commonweal, February 24, 1989, Robert Jackall, review of The Predator's Ball, p. 124.
Daily Variety, June 2, 2003, Peter Bart, review of When Hollywood Had a King, p. 2.
Economist (U.S.), July 9, 1988, review of The Predator's Ball, p. 81; April 23, 1994, review of Master of the Game, p. 92; May 24, 2003, review of When Hollywood Had a King, p. 84.
Electronic News, June 20, 1994, Robert Sobel, review of Master of the Game, p. 36.
Entertainment Weekly, June 6, 2003, Owen Gleiberman, review of When Hollywood Had a King, p. 81.
Financial Times, October 17, 1988, review of The Predator's Ball, p. 62.
Fortune, June 20, 1988, Stratford Sherman, review of The Predator's Ball, p. 107.
International Herald Tribune, June 5, 2003, Janet Maslin, review of When Hollywood Had a King, p. 18.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2003, review of When Hollywood Had a King, p. 651.
Library Journal, March 15, 1989, Susan DiMattia, review of The Predator's Ball, p. 36; April 15, 1994, Rebecca Smith, review of Master of the Game, p. 86; May 15, 2003, Carol Binkowski, review of When Hollywood Had a King, p. 91.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 26, 1988, p. 8.
Management Today, October, 1988, Kent Price, review of The Predator's Ball, p. 175.
Nation, December 24, 1990, Richard Parker, review of Predator's Ball: The Inside Story of Drexel Burnham and the Rise of the Junk Bond Raiders, p. 818; June 30, 2003, Thomas Schatz, review of When Hollywood Had a King, p. 25.
Newsweek, March 28, 1994, Larry Reibstein, review of Master of the Game, p. 63.
New York Observer, June 16, 2003, Alexandra Jacobs, review of When Hollywood Had a King, p. 10.
New York Review of Books, November 24, 1988, John Kenneth Galbraith, review of Predator's Ball, p. 12; May 26, 1994, Roger E. Alcaly, review of The Predators' Ball: The Inside Story of Drexel Burnham and the Rise of the Junk-Bond Raiders, p. 28; July 3, 2003, Larry McMurtry, review of When Hollywood Had a King, p. 14.
New York Times, May 20, 1988; June 16, 1988; April 21, 1990; April 25, 1990, p. A1; October 11, 1990, p. D1; November 22, 1990, p. A1; April 1, 1994, Michiko Kakutani, review of Master of the Game, p. B6; June 2, 2003, Janet Maslin, review of When Hollywood Had a King, p. E7.
New York Times Book Review, July 10, 1988, p. 20; April 10, 1994, David McClintick, review of Master of the Game, p. 1, Lynn Karpen, review of Master of the Game, p. 37; June 22, 2003, Bernard Weinraub, review of When Hollywood Had a King, p. 13.
Publishers Weekly, March 3, 1989, Paul Sweeting and John Zinsser, review of The Predator's Ball, p. 77; March 7, 1994, review of Master of the Game, p. 60; April 28, 2003, review of When Hollywood Had a King, p. 57.
Rocky Mountain News, June 20, 2003, Lynn Bronikowski, review of When Hollywood Had a King, p. 29D.
Securities Regulation Law Journal, spring, 1989, William Sardell, review of The Predator's Ball, p. 103.
Sunday Times (London, England), November 3, 1996, Garth Alexander, "Junk Bond King Milken Emerges as Ballet Hero," p. 4.
Time, March 21, 1988, p. 55; April 11, 1994, Neal Gabler, review of Master of the Game, p. 83.
Times Literary Supplement, June 10, 1994, Susan Lee, review of Master of the Game, p. 17.
Variety, April 11, 1994, Paul Young, review of Master of the Game, p. 28; March 31, 2003, Jonathan Bing, review of When Hollywood Had a King, p. 43.
Virginian Pilot, July 27, 2003, Keith Monroe, review of When Hollywood Had a King, p. E3.
Wall Street Journal, May 19, 1988, Laura Landro, "Junk-bond people think book on them is so much trash," p. 1; July 13, 1988, James Lorie, review of The Predator's Ball, p. 20; March 30, 1994, Laura Landro, review of Master of the Game, p. A14.
Washington Post, March 8, 1988, Steve Coll, "Writer says Milken offered to pay to stop Drexel book," p. D1.
Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, NC), December 7, 2003, review of When Hollywood Had a King, p. A24.
Working Woman, November, 1990, Joe Queenan, review of The Predator's Ball, p. 101.
Book Reporterhttp://www.bookreporter.com/ (February 3, 2004), Ron Kaplan, review of When Hollywood Had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent into Power and Influence.
LA Weekly, http://www.laweekly.com/ (May 30-June 5, 2003), David Thomson, review of When Hollywood Had a King.
Nation, http://www.thenation.com/ (June 12, 2003) Thomas Schatz, review of When Hollywood Had a King.