Lee Rosenbaum grew up in Toledo, Ohio and couldn’t wait to leave. He was accepted to Stanford University and thought he had found nirvana (not that band: they were still a decade or more away). Indulging his passion for movies, Lee decided that he want to work in the business whose product inspired him, but, since he hadn’t grown up in the business (see above: Toledo, Ohio) and didn’t have an uncle in it, either, he devised an alternative plan. He would go to law school and worm – make that “work” – his way into the business as a lawyer. He knew that the film and television business always needed lawyers: after all, wasn’t everyone in the business suing each other? So off he went to Harvard Law School, where his classmates thought he was ridiculous to want to go to Hollywood instead of joining the rest of them on Wall Street or Park Avenue or clerking for the Supreme Court. (One of his Harvard classmates is the chief justice of the Supreme Court, but they didn’t know each other then, and Lee is pretty sure he doesn’t want to know that guy now.)
Lee began his practice in the legendary (alas, now defunct) firm of Wyman, Bautzer, Rothman & Kuchel (which later added Silbert to its name, exhausting the telephone operator who tried to say the full name of the firm but gave up after a week and simply said “Wyman Bautzer”). He learned pretty quickly that litigation was not nearly as much fun as high school debate had been, even if the client was a company like M-G-M or Paramount or ABC. He soon realized that he wanted to get out of the law firm and into an in-house position at a studio.
Lee was hired as counsel at Embassy Pictures, owned at the time by the legendary Norman Lear (there are lots of legends in this business, but fortunately this one is still with us) and Jerry Perenchio (legendary but no longer with us). His boss who had hired him was fired three weeks after he started working there, and Lee hung on by his fingernails to avoid being fired by his new boss (neither legendary nor still with us) who said “I wouldn’t have hired you with no experience, but I guess I’m stuck with you.” Lee proved himself by making some savvy deals, including a very complicated deal for the co-financing and co-production of the film version of the legendary Broadway smash hit “A Chorus Line.” Unfortunately, the movie was a flop, but the deal was heralded as a masterpiece by some (well, by Lee; although his boss never acknowledged it, the company’s CFO told him it was a great deal for the company). By the way, that boss was fired by the legendary Norman Lear in person for sexual harassment. This was way before it was fashionable to be fired for sexual harassment. This is one more reason why Norman Lear is legendary: he not only talks the talk, but he walks the walk.
Lee left Embassy to join his former boss (the one who had been fired three weeks into his job at Embassy) at New World Pictures, the home of such dreadful films as “C.H.U.D.” (that stands for cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers, which should tell you more than you could possibly want to know) and the cult classic “Angel” (tag line: “high school honor student by day, Hollywood hooker by night”). Fortunately, Lee didn’t work on those films, nor did he see them. He has managed to forget most of the films he worked on there, as he accepted the job on the condition that he didn’t have to see the company’s movies, although he has a soft spot for “Reform School Girls,” a camp spoof of the women-in-prison genre long before “Orange Is the New Black” came around.
Columbia Pictures lured Lee away to be senior vice president of business affairs, and he made deals for much classier movies, including for the North American rights to Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor,” the last Columbia picture to win the Oscar for best picture, and for Barbra Streisand’s directing, producing, acting, and fingernails in “The Prince of Tides.” In his four-plus years at Columbia, Lee survived three-and-a-half administrations, three bosses, and three boss’s bosses. He left to get married and take a long (and well-earned) honeymoon to Southeast Asia for three-and-a-half months.
Settling into married life, Lee decided not to return to the mishegas of the studios. He joined the almost-legendary law firm of Wyman & Isaacs (yes, actually, this Wyman was the son of the other Wyman), where he served of counsel for at least a dozen years (he lost count). While he was there, he was able to be an active and involved father to his three children, a rare feat in this business.
When his second child was about to graduate from high school, Lee began to ask himself and everyone else he knew what he should do after he no longer attended high-school baseball games (there’s a word for men who attend high-school baseball games and don’t have a kid playing). The first person he asked (after himself) was his longtime friend and legendary agent Paul Alan Smith, who was preparing to leave ICM and suggested the two of them go into business together. Lee was never able to say no to Paul – he still has trouble saying no to Paul, but he has said non, nyet, and nein from time to time – and before he knew it he was a partner in Equitable Stewardship for Artists, serving without title as de facto COO, general counsel, business affairs, and human resources. Sometimes he had to clean up the kitchen as well.
When Paul decided to establish New Deal Mfg. Co. and asked Lee to join him, Lee could not say no (see above). No longer de facto, he has now taken on the self-aggrandizing title of COO and Secretary of the corporation. In these and other roles, he helps Paul and Tyler to structure deals should they ask for his input (he can’t say no to Tyler, either) and to oversee the smooth operation of the company. He likes to believe that his parents (no longer with us) would be proud of him.