Kirk Kerkorian Remembered by Former MGM Exec Chris McGurk: "He Loved Movies"
Kerkorian, the billionaire who owned MGM three times, remade Las Vegas and died June 15 at 98, was, says the former MGM COO, "so different from the public persona of the tough Vegas dealmaker."
A version of this story also appears in the June 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
He was an amazing person, and it was probably the best experience I've had in Hollywood, being part of his organization. When people talk about Kirk, they talk about how he was a great financial mind, the great deals, how he bought and sold MGM so many times, but people who were close to him knew that he loved movies.
He never had a screening room in his house, but he was the kind of guy who would go to Westwood on a Saturday night and sit in the back of the theater and watch a movie with popcorn, and then he'd go to another theater and watch another movie. When we were running the company, in all the board meetings, he'd want to rush through the financial presentation so he could see the trailers and commercials and hear about the movies. He loved The Thomas Crown Affair, the remake we did with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, and he liked the James Bond movies because he was sort of a James Bond- or Howard Hughes-type character himself. Though everyone thinks it was just an opportunity for him to arbitrage and make money, he loved the movie business, movie stars, the excitement of it all. I think that's really what attracted him to Hollywood.
This is a tough town with a lot of tough people, but he really was a caring and supportive mentor, at least to me and the people who worked for him. When I originally went to MGM — I was working at Universal at the time and they were recruiting me to go to MGM — I met with Kirk at his house up in the hills, and we started talking about everything except the job. When he found out my father had been a B-17 co-pilot in World War II and a POW, that's all he wanted to talk about, because he really got his start during World War II. He was a pilot and transported airplanes for the RAF, and he took that experience and turned it into an air transportation company. So, literally, my interview for MGM was spending an hour with him talking about World War II. I remember walking away saying, "Wow, this is a guy is so different than I expected." He was so interested in me — avuncular, very polite — and that carried through over the years. The actual guy was so different from the public persona of the tough Vegas dealmaker.
At the company he provided strategic direction. But as opposed to a lot of other people who control public companies, he didn't care about the short term, he didn't care about quarterly earnings, he didn't care about how Wall Street was reacting over the next three months. All he cared about was creating long-term value. When we had a tough quarter or a movie didn't do well, he would say, "Don't worry about it. At a certain point, we're going to do a transaction with this company. We are either going to buy something or we're going to sell. If we have created value at that point, that's all that matters."
We had a bunch of ups and downs, but at the end of the day, we sold the company in 2005 for just about $5 billion, and he and all of our investors were extremely happy. One of the reasons we were able to deliver over the long haul was that he wasn't micromanaging us over the short term.
He was a great man, and a mentor to me, and I feel very sad today.
Chris McGurk, chairman of the board and CEO of Cinedigm, served as vice chairman of the board and COO of MGM from 1999 to 2005.