Sid Sheinberg's Son Pays Tribute: "He'd Buy Your Record Company Over Lunch"

Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage; Inset: Getty Images
Sheinberg with wife Lorraine in 1987. (Inset: Jonathan Sheinberg)

Jonathan Sheinberg, who along with his brother Bill, partnered with their father in The Bubble Factory production company, remembers how his dad would "put his entire future on the line and back you till the end, even if the whole world thinks you're on the road to a disaster."

Sid and Lorraine had me at Columbia Law School. I lived in a drawer in the apartment we had across the street from their school in Harlem. Many see him only as the success he became, but I remember before all that, the tiny house we moved into in Beverly Grove. Sid was as self-made a man as you'll ever see.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, where he grew up, he worked as a bilingual DJ on the local station to save for college. When he got the job in the law department at MCA, I think he made a few hundred a week. But MCA/Universal was everything to him, and it always would be. As a result, his brilliance was realized by [MCA chief] Lew Wasserman, who was not just a titan but a fiercely demanding and tough man. He didn’t suffer fools, so Sid fit right in. 

Sid took everything personally ­— he felt that an extremity was being removed when a movie failed or someone had to be fired. He stayed up late going through all the employees to make sure they all had the best insurance possible. If you were a secretary or a vp, he made sure your medical care was top-notch. Sid just loved the company and was so proud of the things they accomplished.

The intense working relationships he had with the various divisions were counter-balanced with his intense belief in Steven Spielberg. Steven was equally in awe of my dad's brilliance, and they loved and respected each other. I've never known such a true friendship. They continued to be close and care deeply for each other until the end.

Sid knew what he had discovered in Steven, a monumental man and filmmaker, and from the beginning Sid was supportive and loyal to Steven. I feel tremendous pain for Steven who, like my brother and me, are going to have to depend on the memories and conversations we had with Sid over the years to keep us going — just like Sid held on to the memory of his own parents, who journeyed to America escaping the Holocaust and ended up in Texas. 

This horrible tragedy birthed Sid's search for justice. He left the first law school he attended in Texas in a dispute with the administration over their treatment of African-American students. He fought at MCA to give same-sex partners benefits back in 1992, becoming the first of the major studios to do so. His and Lorraine's involvement in social justice causes are too numerous to mention, from APLA to The Simon Wiesenthal Center. His true passion was Human Rights Watch, where he served on the board and was intimately involved for more than 20 years, creating new initiatives and raising funds. HRW was his job in addition to his day job.

My grandmother was so proud of Sid that her dining room table in Corpus Christi was a shrine to all his trophies and perfect report cards. The whole family feels as my grandmother did. We've all been devastated by the loss — my wife, Susie; my children, Thea, Nick and Harry; not to mention Sid's great grandchildren, Alex and Robbie; and, of course, my brother's family.

My mother, Lorraine, was his rock. He always respected and appreciated her tremendous mind, love and partnership over more than 60 years of marriage. They were truly equals — both intellectually as well as in their strong beliefs in human rights. One of our co-workers asked Sid for advice when he was getting married and Sid said, "Marry someone smarter than you." That was Lorraine to him. 

He was tough and demanded a tremendous amount of hard work, but he was the first to repay it in spades. If he liked you, trusted you and thought you were smart, he'd buy your record company over lunch with the initial terms written on a napkin. If he loved and trusted you, he'd put his entire future on the line and back you till the end, even if the whole world thinks you're on the road to a disaster.

A version of this story appears in the March 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.