Genius or slob The mogul who could win 16 Oscars and complete a classic Hollywood comeback story
Hollywood loves a comeback. And this one is bigger than most. Flamboyant film impresario Harvey Weinstein, whose once glittering career looked all but over thanks to bad business decisions and spiralling debt, now seems bound to become its reigning emperor come Oscar night in February.
His films have been nominated for 16 Academy Awards. The Artist has been listed for Best Picture, Director, Actor and Supporting Actress (not to mention a host of lesser categories) and Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams are pitched head-to-head for Best Actress with their portrayals of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady and Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn.
Power-broker: Harvey Weinstein with Madonna and actress Andrea Riseborough at the Weinstein company's Golden Globes after party
All three films — and Madonna's W.E, which is nominated for Best Costume Design — were produced and/or distributed by Weinstein, who has been through an epic cycle of triumph and disaster in recent years.
Going through leaner times haven't affected his looks — at 59, he is still every inch the giant movie mogul with a generous girth — or his manner, which is wise-cracking and funny, or vulgar and bumptious, depending whether you like him or not.
I'm in the former camp. When I met
him, he volunteered to be on the cover of the magazine I was editing, in
a dress, with Johnny Depp. Of course, it never actually happened, but
in the serious world of entertainment, few magnates are so quick to
laugh at themselves.
Marking his comeback, Meryl Streep (pictured) is pitched head-to-head for Best Actress with Michelle Williams
Thanks to the Oscars — and the six Golden Globes he won earlier this month with those four films — he'll certainly be laughing now. Especially since just a couple of years ago, Harvey and his younger brother Bob's Weinstein Company was all but written off as it struggled with debt.
But as Vanity Fair writer Vicky Ward, who has known him for years, says: 'I always knew he would be back. Only a fool would write him off.
'He has great taste and perseverance, and there just are not that many producers with the instinct to see the value of films like The Artist. He is very unusual in Hollywood.'
In the ultra-cautious world of Tinseltown, with its reliance on star names and blockbusters, it took a brave man to back the first black-and-white silent film for decades, no matter how charming it is.
The Artist is the sort of unconventional hit that would never have made it to general release if the distribution rights hadn't been picked up by Harvey. He is known as one of the few movie men who value quality and originality.
His genius is two-fold. He's brilliant at spotting audience reaction. As a result, he knows how to re-cut, rewrite and, after screenings, evaluate what worked and what didn't. And when he is bidding for distribution rights he has 'an uncanny way of seeing the reels before anyone else', according to a fellow producer.
Facing financial oblivion with 300m debts, the Weinsteins pulled The King's Speech out of the bag – making 267m worldwide
His second strength is his ability to run an awards campaign like no one else.
More than any of his rivals, Weinstein treats campaigns like warfare. The Oscar organisers have tried to outlaw any outright manipulation, but Harvey is clever enough to get round that. 'He cajoles, bullies, sweet-talks key taste-makers, journalists and anyone with a vote,' says one former colleague.
He trumps rivals' screenings by holding more glamorous ones of his own on the same night; he persuaded two of Charlie Chaplin's granddaughters, Carmen and Dolores, to host a party for The Artist.
He creates an aura around a movie that makes people want to vote for it. That's how he took the 2011 Best Picture Oscar for The King's Speech when Scott Rudin, producer of The Social Network, thought he had it in the bag.
Weinstein is also routinely accused of causing trouble for his rivals. When asked if he had anything to do with stories that the child stars of Slumdog Millionaire (which was up against his film The Reader) were still living in poverty, he said: 'What can I say When you're Billy the Kid and people around you die of natural causes, everyone thinks you shot them.'
The two makers of Hoodwinked (pictured), a lucrative animation film, sued the Weinsteins for more than 73million, alleging the company botched five film projects.
Harvey grew up in Queens, New York. After college in Buffalo, he became a concert promoter and made early films for Genesis and Paul McCartney. In 1979 he set up Miramax with Bob, naming it after their parents, diamond-cutter Max and mum Miriam.
For the next 25 years hit followed hit, from Sex, Lies And Videotape and The Crying Game onwards. In 1993 they sold Miramax to Disney for more than 50 million, but continued to operate it as a subsidiary (Disney invested nearly 500 million each year in the company), producing The English Patient, Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare In Love among others.
But the arrangement imploded in 2005 when Michael Eisner, head of Disney, objected to Michael Moore's anti-Bush administration documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. The Weinsteins distributed it anyway, but the relationship had broken down beyond repair and they left.
Later that year they set up The Weinstein Company, backed by Goldman Sachs to the tune of more than a billion dollars — hardly surprising given their reputation for making the best movies of their time (they've been nominated for 249 Academy Award, with 86 wins).
Unfortunately, Harvey decided he wanted to branch out. He made a series of unfortunate investments that took his attention away from film.
For 25 years, hit followed hit for the Weinsteins, from Sex, Lies and Videotape (pictured) to the Crying Game
Social networking site ASmallWorld, described as 'Facebook for the rich', and the relaunch of the Halston fashion label fell flat. And Ovation, an arts-based cable TV operation, has yet to ignite.
Movies got neglected. Film after film — from Miss Potter (starring Renee Zellweger as Beatrix Potter) to Nine (with an all-star cast including Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench and Nicole Kidman) — failed to deliver. In 2008, 13 of his films made less than 70,000 each at the box office.
In 2009, when the Weinsteins were more than 300 million in debt, external advisers pointed out the obvious: film was the Weinsteins' strength and they should do fewer, better pictures and less of everything else. The result The King's Speech — a 10 million film that has made, at last count, 267 million worldwide.
Add to that the Oscar nominations this year and Harvey is back on top.
To help him celebrate is his (very much younger) wife Georgina Chapman, a 35-year-old Marlborough-educated beauty from West London. She became the second Mrs Weinstein three years after the 17-year marriage to his former secretary Eve Chilton broke up in 2004.
The Oscar nominations show that Harvey is back on top and to help him celebrate, his wife Georgina Chapman (pictured right with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) will be at his side
Georgina runs the fashion label Marchesa, whose glamorous gowns often grace Harvey's friends on the red carpet.
Weinstein can be hilarious and self-deprecating, but he has a temper: one screen- writer called him 'a tyrant who doesn't have an ounce of grace in is his body'.
Take a lawsuit filed last year (the Weinsteins attract legal action like others collect parking tickets).
The two makers of Hoodwinked, a lucrative animation film, sued them for more than 73 million, alleging the company botched five film projects.
They claimed Weinstein demanded 17 rewrites of the script of their follow-up to Hoodwinked, fired his own brother from the project and paid them 350,000 to delay their complaint until after last year's Oscars so it wouldn't affect the chances of The King's Speech.
At a viewing in July 2009, they claimed Weinstein 'attempted to consume an entire bowl of M&M candies despite being a diabetic'.
When an executive 'sought to retrieve the bowl of candy out of obvious concern for his health, he fought to keep it, and in the tumult, the M&Ms ended up scattered all over the floor. Then, instead of watching the reel, Harvey Weinstein got down on his hands and knees and began eating M&Ms off the floor.' Then, the documents continued, he 'proceeded to fall asleep'.
Harvey denies all the charges. But the case, which The Weinstein Company called 'false, gratuitous, slanderous, preposterous', will go to trial in New York later this year.
Just like the Oscars, you can be sure Harvey will fight for victory all the way.