The former president of Columbia Studios, David Begelman had a checkered but colorful career that was sharply curtailed when he was implicated in the 1978 check-forging scandal that shook Hollywood to its core and inspired author/journalist David McClintick (who originally broke the story in The Wall Street Journal) to write the best-selling novel Indecent Exposure in 1982. In 1973, when Begelman left Creative Management Associates (CMA) and his business partner Freddie Fields to take over at the floundering Columbia Studios, he became among the first Tinseltown agents to cross-over and rise to the top of the studio system. He remained there until the scandal broke in 1978. A closer examination of Begleman's life before and after the scandal proves that he was no stranger to shady dealings. For example, though he claimed to be a 1947 Yale graduate and graduate of the Yale Law School, the prestigious institution has no record of Begelman's ever having been enrolled at either place. Still, he managed to find work with the Music Corporation of America (MCA). He remained there for over 11 years and rose to the position of vice president of special projects. He left in 1960 to co-found CMA with Fields. Their clients included Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. After taking over the nearly bankrupt Columbia Studios in 1973 (Begelman was also appointed senior executive vice president of parent company Columbia Pictures Industries Inc.), Begelman saved Columbia by shamelessly recruiting big-name stars from his former CMA and General Artists Corp., a company he and CMA took over in 1968. With such stars at Columbia, he was able to dramatically change the company's image by producing such hits as Tommy (1975), Shampoo (1975), Murder by Death (1976), and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).
With such successes, Begelman significantly reduced Columbia's debt and he was living a comfortable executive life. Trouble brewed when he forged an endorsement on a $10,000 studio check meant for actor Cliff Robertson. When Robertson found out that he was expected to pay taxes on money he'd never received, he confronted Begleman, who in turn blamed the act on a low-level worker. Unconvinced, Robertson started an investigation that would lead to a confession from Begelman and the admission that he had forged two other checks for the sum of $40,000. At first Begelman was suspended with full pay (he was at the time earning around $300,000 annually, a tidy sum in those days), and then was reinstated. The courts sentenced him to three years community service but then reduced it to one. Begelman spent the year producing a documentary about the dangers of taking Angel Dust, a powerful horse tranquilizer with mind-altering capabilities. In 1980, Begelman moved to become CEO and president of MGM. But once there, he generated such box-office flops as Pennies from Heaven and Whose Life Is It Anyway and was unable to repeat his success at Columbia. Only Poltergeist was a major hit. His apparent slump coupled with the publication of McClintick's damning book, led to Begelman's leaving MGM before his four-year contract expired. In 1982, he co-founded Sherwood Products and produced such films as Mr. Mom. He founded Gladden Entertainment in 1984 and had success with Weekend at Bernies (1989) and Mannequin (1987). But they were about the only hits his company produced, and by the mid '90s, Gladden was deeply indebted to various talent guilds and Begelman had to declare bankruptcy. Apparently undaunted, he turned around and co-founded Gladden Prods. In early August, 1997, David Begelman shot himself in the head while staying at L.A.'s Century Plaza Hotel Towers. All who knew and loved him were deeply shocked, for while Begelman had a tendency towards depression at times, he had seemed normal and untroubled at the time of his suicide. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi