Along the way, Geffen shares a bed with Marlo Thomas, a house with Joni Mitchell, and a hot tub with Cher and John Lennon. In one memorable scene, he brings his professional-diver boyfriend to the Oval Office, to advise President Clinton on how to spin the press.
King also goes into great detail about Geffen's colorful feuds and battles -- with Steve Ross, Ahmet Ertegun, Mike Ovitz, Michael Eisner, Don Henley, Phil Spector, Donna Summer, Clive Davis, Neil Young, Madonna, Sandy Gallin, Barry Diller, and countless others. At one point, he recounts an incident in which Geffen picked a tactical fight with Warner music legend Mo Ostin -- to ensure that Ostin would be safely out of the way when a deal was struck -- by inviting Ostin's wife, Evelyn, to the Ivy and coolly informing her over lunch that her husband didn't love her.
But even Ostin came back into the fold. He now works for Geffen at DreamWorks. "That's what's so fascinating," says King. "One moment he repels people, and the next moment he draws them in. There's a magic about this guy that's irresistible," King says. "I found it seductive, too."
King says that during the course of nearly 300 interviews, he found that "even those people who call themselves David's closest friends would at some point look at me and say, 'I guess I should tell you about the time David and I didn't speak.' Everybody had a story like that." Even Tom King.
In the beginning, the Geffen-King partnership seemed, in true Hollywood fashion, to be the start of a beautiful relationship. King, then a 32-year-old reporter who'd worked his way up from the "monitor desk" (the equivalent of the mail room) at the Wall Street Journal, had a $700,000 advance to immerse himself in an object of his own obsession. "I'd been intrigued by Geffen and his life and his career for a long time," says King. "And being a gay man myself, I knew him from that perspective, too. He was certainly one of the most, if not the most, famous gay men in America."
King grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where the local Quaker Oats plant made the whole town smell like cereal. His parents both worked as public-school teachers. He remembers spending fourth-grade recess writing scripts for Love, American Style. At the same age Geffen was scamming CBS Records, Tom was staging plays in his basement and saving up his paper-route money to see A Chorus Line on Broadway.
In 1986, after graduating from the University of Iowa with a journalism degree, he landed an entry-level job at the Wall Street Journal. His debut page-one story was a first-person account of performing as an extra in a production of Sleeping Beauty. His parents still have the printing plate for that story hung up in their house. He quickly made a name for himself at the Journal, which put him on the entertainment beat and transferred him to Los Angeles in 1991.
It was almost a year later when he first encountered David Geffen at a party in Los Angeles. "You know, one of these parties," says King, "that are mobbed by the middle-aged -- it's charitable to call them that -- but the middle-aged moguls and the pretty mail-room boys who want to be producers."
Not long after, King called Geffen on a story, and the mogul ended up becoming, as he had for many journalists, an invaluable source. But it wasn't until early 1996 that the reporter entertained the notion of actually writing a book on the guy. "Ugh," Geffen groaned when King ran the idea by him, "I don't want anybody writing a book about me," abruptly ending the conversation.
Over the years, Geffen had not only fended off other prospective biographers but also managed to get books killed, including a memoir by a former boyfriend and Steven Gaines's bio on his pal Calvin Klein. In 1989, while still in the closet (sort of), Geffen even got Random House to excise several passages from Fredric Dannen's Hit Men that implied he was gay.
King refused to give up. In the spring of 1996, he set up a meeting with Geffen at his Malibu home to try sell him on the idea. "I told him I envisioned a serious book marketed by a first-rate publisher," remembers King. This time, Geffen was intrigued. His friends say that two things about the young writer appealed to him: that King was gay and that he worked for the Wall Street Journal. "I figured he understood, he was gay," he told a friend. Geffen also came to think that if Tom King wrote a book on him, maybe there wouldn't be another one.
King argues that at some level, Geffen wanted to see himself immortalized in print. "I really think," says King, "he had been sitting in his house in Malibu for many years waiting for the right person to knock on the door and say, 'Let me write your life story.' " Actually, King adds, Geffen was waiting for Pulitzer Prize-winning Lyndon Johnson biographer Robert Caro. "But Bob Caro never came. And I did."