Jeffrey Katzenberg (born December 21, 1950) is an American businessman, film studio executive and film producer. As a businessman, he is the CEO of DreamWorks Animation and is also known for his tenure as chairman of The Walt Disney Studios from 1984 to 1994, during which the studio reinvigorated its live-action and animation department, as well as producing some of its biggest hits, including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. As a founder and CEO of DreamWorks Animation, he has overseen the production of such animated franchises as Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, Monsters vs. Aliens and How to Train Your Dragon. Katzenberg has also been involved in politics. With his active support to Barack Obama, he said was called as "one of Hollywood's premier political kingmakers and one of the Democratic Party's top national fundraisers."
Katzenberg was born in New York City, to a Jewish family, the son of Anne, and artist, and Walter Katzenberg, a stockbroker. He attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, graduating in 1969. When he was 14, Katzenberg volunteered to work on Republican John Lindsay's successful New York mayoral campaign. He quickly received the nickname "Squirt" and attended as many meetings as he could.
Katzenberg began his career as an assistant to producer David Picker, then in 1974 he became an assistant to Barry Diller, the Chairman of Paramount Pictures. Diller moved Katzenberg to the marketing department, followed by other assignments within the studio, until he was assigned to revive the Star Trek franchise, which resulted in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). He continued to work his way up a became president of production near Paramount's president, Michael Eisner.
The Walt Disney Studios
In 1984, Michael Eisner became Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at The Walt Disney Company. Eisner brought Katzenberg with him to take charge of Disney's motion picture division. Katzenberg was responsible for reviving the studio which, at the time, ranked last at the box office among the major studios. He focused the studio on production of adult-oriented comedies through its Touchstone Pictures banner, including films such as Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), Three Men and a Baby (1987) and Good Morning, Vietnam (1987). By 1987, Disney had become the number-one studio at the box office. Katzenberg also oversaw Touchstone Television, which produced such hit TV series as The Golden Girls and Home Improvement.
Katzenberg was also charged with turning around Disney's ailing Feature Animation unit, creating some intrastudio controversy when he person edited twelve minutes out of a completed Disney animated feature, The Black Cauldron (1985), shortly after joining the company. Under his management, the animation department began creating some of Disney's most critically acclaimed and highest grossing animated features. These films include, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), which was the first animated feature to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994). In addition, Katzenberg also sealed the deal that created the highly successful partnership between Pixar and Disney and the deal that brought Miramax Films into Disney.
When Eisner's second in command, Frank Wells, died in a helicopter crash in 1994, Eisner refused to promote Katzenberg to the vacated position as president. This led to a falling out between the two executives, and Katzenberg left the company in September 1994. He launched a lawsuit against Disney to recover money he felt he was owed and settled out of court for an estimated $250 million.
Later in 1994, Katzenberg co-founded DreamWorks SKG with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, with Katzenberg taking primary responsibilities for animation operations. He was also credited as executive producer on the DreamWorks animated films The Prince of Egypt (1998), The Road to El Dorado and Joseph: King of Dreams (both in 2000), Shrek in 2001, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron in 2002, and Shrek 2 in 2004.
After DreamWorks Animation suffered a $125 million loss on the traditionally animated Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003), Katzenberg believed that telling traditional stories using traditional animation is a thing of the past, and the studio switched to computer-generated animation. Since then, DreamWorks' animated feature films have be consistently successful financially and critically with several Annie Awards and Academy Awards nominations and wins.
In 2004, DreamWorks Animation (DWA) was spun off from DreamWorks as a separate company headed by Katzenberg in an IPO and has recorded mostly profitable quarters since then.
The live-action DreamWorks movie studio was sold to Viacom in December 2005. In 2008, the live-action DreamWorks studio again became an independent production company, releasing its films through Disney.
In 2006, Katzenberg made an appearance on the fifth season of The Apprentice. He awarded the task winners an opportunity to be character voices in Over the Hedge.
Katzenberg has been an industry leader in promoting digital 3D production of film, calling it "the greatest advance in the film industry since the arrival of color in the 1930s." When Katzenberg appeared on The Colbert Report on April 20, 2010, he confirmed that from now on "every single movie" DreamWorks Animation produced would be in 3D and gave Stephen Colbert a pair of new 3D glasses.
It was reported that Katzenberg receives an airfare allowance of $1.5 million per year, which was the most of all-media company CEOs.
Katzenberg is a longtime supporter of Barack Obama. Reportedly "smitten" by Obama's speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Katzenberg pledged his full support to Obama in 2006 if he decided to run for president. During his campaign, Obama praised Katzenberg for his "tenacious support and advocacy since we started back in 2007."
Katzenberg has been an avid fundraiser for Obama, doing so while much of Hollywood was still supporting the Clintons. His fundraising prowess has reportedly allowed him to become an "informal liaison" between Hollywood and the White House. Katzenberg co-hosted a fundraiser for President Obama at the home of actor George Clooney in May 2012. Katzenberg said the event raised almost $15 million, which would make it the most profitable presidential fundraiser in history. It was reported that Obama campaign officials were not happy about some of the requests that Katzenberg had made. In particular, they were bothered that Katzenberg, who reportedly had made himself "indispensable to Obama", required that the President spent time talking at each of the 14 tables.
When the details of Oriental DreamWorks emerged, Jennifer Rubin noted that Post the Obama Administration's potential involvement in the deal would not be an issue if not for Katzenberg's May fundraiser for Obama and his "huge campaign donations." It was reported that Katzenberg was Obama's top bundler, who, along with Andy Spahn, had contributed at least $6.6 million combined for both of Obama's campaigns. In an MSNBC interview about the donations, Nicholas Confessore noted Katzenberg's desire to build movie studios in China, saying that he would need help from the Obama administration to get this done and that "[e]verything has interests at stake." Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation suggested that Katzenberg's long history of financial support for Obama may have influenced the movie deal being "fast-track[ed]" by the White House, noting that DreamWorks Animation "never registered to lobby the federal government."