To Steal or Not to Steal? That Is the Question…

by Norman Horowitz

Several months ago, I attended a party on the Fox lot celebrating the “television screenings for international buyers.” A media writer told me that these screenings were started in the early 1960s by ABC International. I took issue with him and said that the screenings started in the late 1950s for the Canadians and the Australians. When he argued with me, I said, “I was there at the time, and you were in the sixth grade.”

Different people have different ideas concerning the media industry. My opinions mostly come from experience. I was there. I don’t know “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” but I do have firsthand knowledge of a lot of it.

One such matter involves the recently deceased Cliff Robertson.  

Robertson didn’t do any work for Columbia Pictures in 1977, so he didn’t receive any checks from them. He did, however, receive a 1099 tax form from the studio for income in the amount of $10,000.

Robertson discovered that a check for $10,000 had been made out to him and had been cashed at a bank in Beverly Hills. The check had Robertson’s forged signature, but it had been processed and paid to the President of Columbia Pictures, David Begelman. Robertson notified the local police.

Within a few months, the Begelman embezzlement scandal came to symbolize Hollywood corruption.

Begelman was charged with grand theft and three counts of forgery for forging the names of Robertson, director Martin Ritt, and restaurateur Pierre Groleau on checks written in the amounts of $10,000, $5,000, and $25,000, respectively. He was fined $5,000 and placed on three years’ probation.

The judge directed Begelman to continue the psychiatric treatment he had recently begun. He also accepted Begelman’s proposal to make a documentary on the dangers of “angel dust” (PCP) as a public service.

At first, David was suspended from his position, then reinstated for awhile, and finally terminated by the Board. His grand-theft conviction was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor in 1979, and he was hired to head MGM’s motion picture division.

Begelman committed a series of crimes and was never sent to prison. If you want to discuss a miscarriage of justice, this would be a great example. The same day that Begelman was sentenced to community service, a black mother was sentenced to serve many years of hard time for stealing something like $15,000 from the welfare system. Please do not try to tell me that there was or is justice in America.

In the mid-to-late ’70s, I worked with and then for David Begelman.

David was smart, experienced, charming, handsome, supportive, witty, and by far the best executive that I have ever seen in action. He was, in my view, an operating genius who had a minor character flaw: He was a crook!