Eisner, Michael Dammann

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EISNER, MICHAEL DAMMANN (1942– ), U.S. business executive. Born in Mount Kisco, n.y., to Lester, a lawyer and administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Margaret (née Dammann), co-founder of the American Safety Razor Company, Eisner grew up in the family's apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York City and graduated from Denison University in 1964. Following summer jobs as a page and a first job as a Federal Communications Commission logging clerk at nbc, Eisner landed a job in the cbs programming department. Unhappy, Eisner sent his resume out to hundreds of companies. abc head Barry Diller convinced the board to bring Eisner on as assistant to the national programming director, a position he held from 1966 to 1968. From there Eisner rose to senior vice president for prime-time production and development, creating such programs as Happy Days, Barney Miller, and Starsky and Hutch. When Diller took over as chair of Paramount Pictures in 1976, he offered Eisner the position of studio president. Under Eisner, the studio released such hits as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Grease, Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment, Flashdance, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, and Airplane. Eisner left Paramount to become chair and ceo of Walt Disney Company in September 1984. At the time, Disney had not had a hit film since 1969 and its profits had fallen dramatically. Eisner reinvigorated the studio on several fronts, luring new executives, making popular films for adults like Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1985), re-releasing classic Disney films, creating new animated films such as Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Lion King (1994) – and launching Broadway versions of the films – as well as computer animated films in partnership with Pixar such as Toy Story (1995) and Finding Nemo (2003). He also expanded the company in tv and cable (launching the Disney Channel and acquiring abc and the Family Channel), expanded the existing Disneyland and Disneyworld resorts and established Disneyland theme parks in Europe outside Paris, France, and in Japan, and acquired Harvey and Bob Weinstein's specialty films division Miramax Films. Although in a 20-year period Eisner increased the value of the company 2000%, his management style and inability to groom a successor led to major conflicts. Former president of production Jeffrey Katzenberg left to found Dreamworks and won a $250 million suit against Disney. Eisner hired former Creative Artist Agency founder Michael Ovitz and then a year later fired him, paying him a severance that exceeded $100 million and spurred several stockholder lawsuits. The relationships with Pixar and Miramax soured. In 2003, Walt Disney's nephew Roy Disney asked Eisner to resign as head of the company. Following a vote to remove Eisner from the board, the Disney ceo announced he would retire at the end of his contract on September 30, 2006. However, subsequently, he announced he would step down on September 30, 2005, and would be succeeded by Robert Iger. Eisner's tenure at Disney has been the subject of several books, including Eisner's own 1998 account, Work in Progress, and Disney Wars by James Stewart (2005).

[Adam Wills (2nd ed.)]