Greatest Entertainment Entrepreneurs of All Time

UPDATED: May 6, 2008
PUBLISHED: May 6, 2008

P.T. Barnum 1810-1891 A master showman and eccentric entertainer, P.T. Barnum produced "The Greatest Show on Earth". Famous for his self-promotion, his entrepreneurial talent was in attracting publicity with handbills and billboards. Above all else, he was a businessman who understood his times and knew how to profit from them. With few diversions available for most people, Barnum captured their imaginations with shows and displays of natural and artificial curiosities from every corner of the globe! Among them, an embalmed mermaid from Calcutta, a circus midget who performed as General Tom Thumb, and Jumbo the elephant; a towering monarch of his mighty race. In his autobiography, which was a brilliant form of self-promotion in itself, Barnum defended his "humbuggery" as he called it, as mere advertisement to draw the crowds.

Quote: "To captivate an audience, engage all their senses."

Louis B.Mayer 1885-1957 Hollywood mogul Louis B. Mayer went to great lengths to collect "more stars than in the heavens" for his Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios. And through the star contract system, which legally bound actors to the company for years, he helped cement the longevity of Hollywood's entire movie industry. Mayer, or "L.B." as he was called, built MGM into one of the most financially successful studios in the world. Under his leadership, it became a hit factory, with movies all chock full of wholesome values.

Quote: "Everybody needs an escape from reality."

Walt Disney 1901-1966 The man behind the mouse had his share of setbacks while building his Walt Disney empire. Classic films such as Pinocchio, Bambi and Fantasia failed at the box office in first release, and competing studio executives poached Disney's characters and animators. But Disney is an entrepreneur's case study in risk-taking and resilience. Despite many failures, the animator kept his nearly obsessive focus on building his growing movie studio, making quality animated films and ultimately creating "the happiest place on earth"–Disneyland in California.

Quote: "All dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them."

George Lucas b. 1944 Unable to find a suitable company to create the special effects he wanted for Star Wars, George Lucas created his own–Industrial Light and Magic. That was the first step the filmmaker took in emerging from behind the camera and into the business world as a pioneering entrepreneur. Understanding the potential value of merchandising and sequel rights, Lucas accepted a percentage of the 1977 box office take for Star Wars rather than a director's salary. Securing the sequel rights was a creative insurance policy in case the film flopped, but obtaining the merchandising rights was a stroke of genius. Toy sets, action figures, soundtracks and costumes make up the approximately $13.5 billion in Star Wars memorabilia sales since 1977. In 2006, Hasbro, the maker of Star Wars toys, immortalized Lucas as a limited-edition action figure dressed as a Storm Trooper. "We placed George in his own universe that he created," the toymaker told the media.

Quote: "Bigger budgets don't guarantee better final products."

Berry Gordy Jr. b. 1929 Without Berry Gordy Jr. there would be no Motown, no Baby Love, no My Guy and no Let's Get It On. His founding of Detroit-based Motown Records opened a pathway into the white mainstream for black musicians and cemented the notion that black popular music would not be dismissed as minority taste. Gordy's ability to reach across the racial divide with music that could touch all people, regardless of the color of their skin, as was noted during his 1988 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, made him a historically significant figure in America. Never before had an independent record company produced so many hits with artists who "could walk in one door an unknown and come out another a recording artist…a star!" as Gordy once said about his hit-making machine.

To accomplish this feat, he applied the Detroit assembly line production method to music, creating a formula for musician success that included standardized song writing, an in-house rhythm section and a quality-control process. He even created the Motown Finishing School, a charm school of sorts that educated young musicians in the ways of grooming, choreography and behavior. As a result, an unprecedented 75 percent of Motown's releases made the charts at its height in 1966, and "the Motown sound" has been noted as one of the most influential sounds in American music.

Quote: "If you know in your heart it is good, don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

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