What Michael Moore Didn't Know About Disney

Disney | Golden Globes, Rock Hall

What Michael Moore Didn't Know About Disney

You may recall the bruising public fight last spring between Disney's Michael Eisner and Miramax's Harvey Weinstein over releasing Michael Moore's controversial "Fahrenheit 9/11."

Eisner asserted that he didn't want to release the film because he didn't want his company to appear partisan. The Disney board, which was busy demoting Eisner and giving half of his job to former Sen. George Mitchell, seemed to back that position.

Some said at the time that Eisner didn't want to release the film for fear of offending Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose family is severely mocked and criticized in the movie. Bush, it was thought, might exact revenge on Disney's theme parks in his state by denying them tax breaks.

The fight over "Fahrenheit 9/11" is said to be the catalyst for Eisner's attempt to seize control of Miramax and oust its founders, even though they've provided Disney with a record 75 Academy Award nominations and 65 wins over 10 years.

But it turns out that Eisner may have had more than tax breaks on his mind.

The embattled Disney chief had connections through Disney to at least two major entities that Moore attacked: Halliburton and the Carlyle Group.

One of those connections was through a Disney board member, Aylwin Lewis, who also happens to sit on Halliburton's board. That's the same Halliburton of which Vice President Dick Cheney used to be CEO and the same Halliburton that Moore is quick to accuse of much malfeasance in his film.

Lewis, who did not return repeated calls, has had a meteoric year. He was recently named chief executive of Kmart, right before that company's merger with Sears. Previously he was the president and chief branding officer of Yum! Brands, the Louisville, Ky.-based corporation that owns Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut.

In September 2003, he was elected to the Disney board and began his term of service this past January.

Lewis's first act was to brush off ex-board member Stanley Gold. Gold, who was then campaigning with Roy Disney to have Eisner removed from the company, sent Lewis a letter, published on the SaveDisney.com Web site.

"I'd like to offer you the opportunity to meet with us so that we can share fully our analysis, views, observations, concerns and suggestions," Gold wrote.

Lewis declined.

"I have asked to see the correspondence between you and the Board over the last eighteen months," he wrote back. "If at some point I conclude that a meeting would be beneficial, I will be in touch."

In other words: Get lost.

Lewis's connection to Halliburton, and Disney's abandonment of "Fahrenheit 9/11," now makes sense.

In "Fahrenheit 9/11," Moore is merciless about Halliburton. But he also lambastes another group right at the start of the film — the private-equity firm the Carlyle Group.

Moore points out that on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the Carlyle Group was holding its annual investors' conference, with former President George Bush in attendance. According to Newsweek, "[Carlyle] buys and sells whole companies the way some firms trade shares of stock."

What Moore didn't know was that the Carlyle Group's senior adviser since May 2001 has been Arthur Levitt, Jr., the former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. There's certainly nothing wrong with that; Levitt is welcome to do whatever he wants.

But Moore perhaps did not understand that Levitt's son, Art Levitt III, was for many years a key Disney executive and a confidante of Eisner, the chief opponent of "Fahrenheit 9/11."

The résumé of Levitt III, now the head of online movie-ticket company Fandango, is pretty much an all-Disney affair. According to the Fandango Web site, Levitt worked for Disney and Eisner from 1996 to 2000, and also served as vice president of corporate projects for Disney reporting to the chairman and CEO — Eisner.

Levitt III did not work for any of the Disney film companies, however.

His jobs, according to his Fandango biography, were mainly for the Disney theme parks. He "was responsible for such businesses as DisneyQuest, an indoor interactive theme park; and ESPN Zone, a sports, dining and entertainment complex."

Levitt III — whom, I am told, may have performed miscellaneous tasks for Eisner as a majordomo — also "oversaw the operation of Walt Disney World Resort's nightlife and entertainment complex, Pleasure Island, as well as the Disney Village Marketplace, the Disney Village Resort and the Disney Vacation Club. Levitt also played a key role in the development of Disney's Boardwalk Resort."

Of course, the really strange thing about all of this is that Moore, who's supposed to be a genius at connecting all the dots, really didn't know about Lewis or Levitt or their connections to Disney, the company that he thought was going to distribute his movie for Miramax.

I am told that Miramax's co-chairman and fervent Moore supporter Harvey Weinstein was unaware of the connection as well.

Of course, it might be a coincidence that Levitt Jr. works for Carlyle, his son has close ties to Eisner and Moore's movie raked Carlyle over the coals. But Levitt, like Lewis, did not return calls last week.

Golden Globes, Rock Hall Do It Right

I couldn't complain, even if I wanted to, about the double announcements this morning of the Golden Globe nominees and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees.

Readers of this column know I'm usually champing at the bit on both subjects.

First, the Rock Hall: The group inducted the O'Jays and singer Percy Sledge, making up for many years of neglecting the influence and importance of R&B.

Sledge, some argue, had just one hit, "When a Man Loves a Woman." But what a hit it was! The song continues to be a vital part of the rock soundtrack.

The O'Jays have had many hits and continue to record and tour today. Their induction is long overdue.

The Rock Hall also named U2, which was inevitable, and the Pretenders. Since Pretenders leader Chrissie Hynde is one of my personal faves of all time, I have to say I am thrilled.

Blues man Buddy Guy also, properly, is in. Now all the Hall has to do is figure out a way next year to grandfather in missing pre-1965 acts, and they'll be on the right track.

They also have to do something for women, including '70s songstresses Carly Simon and Linda Ronstadt.

As for the Golden Globes, until tomorrow all I can say is that the group that gives out the awards, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, seems to have done a masterful job at choosing nominees.

Nothing for Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," however, or "Shrek 2" or "Meet the Fockers" or "Spanglish."

The real surprise, though, is the double nomination for "Kill Bill: Vol. 2."

I've been saying for months that Uma Thurman and David Carradine should not be overlooked. I doubt this column has much influence on the HFPA, but it's good news anyway.