David Begelman personified Hollywood’s perverse style of justice. The check-forging studio boss kept his job because his movies made money, while his accuser, Cliff Robertson, was blackballed for telling the truth.
Even though Begelman’s career was not ruined by the late ‘70s scandal, he never regained his legendary box office touch. Last year, his production company collapsed in bankruptcy. And late Monday night, a despondent Begelman apparently shot himself to death in a Century Plaza hotel room. He was 73.
“He was depressed and distraught over business reverses,” said Warren Cowan, a Hollywood publicist and longtime friend.
Begelman, who began his career as an agent for Paul Newman and Barbra Streisand, embezzled more than $61,000 from Columbia Pictures while serving as the studio’s president between 1973 and 1978 and earning more than $200,000 annually.
In addition to misusing production funds to build a posh screening room in his home, Begelman forged signatures on checks written to (but never cashed by) Robertson, “Hud” director Martin Ritt and restaurant owner Pierre Groleau. He nevertheless kept his Columbia job and went on to run two more studios.
Begelman, who lived in Beverly Hills, is survived by his wife, a daughter, a sister and a brother.