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Remembering the Go-Go Boys

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Menahem Golan -- half of the Go-Go Boys team that stormed Hollywood in the 1980s and departed in disgrace -- just died in Israel at age 85 of natural causes.

I'm struck how obituaries mostly don't present all the story, but just state he was a prolific producer and/or director of over 200 movies -- mostly of the B-movie type. Golan -- and his cousin Yoram Globus -- were hard-charging (hence the nickname Go-Go Boys) film executives who hailed from the backwater film territory of Israel to become leading global players in the independent film industry. Here's the full story, which wouldn't make a Hollywood movie because nobody would quite believe it.

The Go-Go Boys began their journey to Hollywood by selling rights to films worldwide at the Cannes Film Festival in the 1970s. In an example of their hustle, they personally placed promotional fliers on the Crossette beachfront early in early mornings, when most fest goers were still asleep recovering from evening revelry.

My wife, who worked at Cannes in this era before we were married, vividly remembers this (I guess I was among those still asleep!).

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Golan and Globus

In 1979, they parlayed their moxie and determination to gradually take over a sleepy U.S. film company Cannon Group (best known then for the Happy Hooker movies), which they supercharged into flooding the marketplace with dozens of low and medium-cost films. The Go-Go boys rode the economic boom from pre-recorded video cassettes, quickly began contracting top-tier Hollywood star talent and diversified from schlock to some films with Oscar aspirations (which were not achieved).

The pinnacle for Golan and Globus came in the mid-1980s with a soaring stock price and huge borrowings from financial institutions that funded the filmmaking orgy. They also bought Hollywood real estate, a storied British movie library, and movie theaters in Europe and the U.S. They came to employ 2,725 people -- when including movie theaters. At the same time, corporate debt swelled to over a half billion dollars by 1987. The Go-Go Boys insisted they were putting together an integrated movie conglomerate with lasting power.

National business publications published stories that the Go-Go boys seemed to be re-inventing economics of the indie sector making inexpensive movies by the bushel barrel, and prospering through mass production. Their style was direct, impersonal and fast-paced.

"We are working 18 hours a day, seven days a week," Globus said in a New York Times corporate profile in 1986. "We have no hobbies. If we have two hours free, we go to a movie. We don't play tennis. We don't go to Hollywood parties." They hustled, raised lots of money and for a time could sell films. But -- alas -- they lacked the golden touch to make hit films.

As the VCR boom waned, the indie film sector led by the Go-Go boys and Cannon went into cyclical decline. Federal watchdog the Securities and Exchange Commission mounted an enforcement action in 1987 targeted Cannon bookkeeping. Cannon's corporate balance sheet had swelled with unamortized film costs, meaning those unsold films were being labeled as assets --to which the Feds put a stop.

Incredibly, Cannon then enjoyed a reprieve when mysterious Italian money-man Giancarlo Parretti provided a bailout in 1988, though the Parretti filmmaking thrust soon became an even larger belly-flop. In the aftermath of the Cannon meltdown, Golan and Globus had a personal falling out too, though later reconciled.

Golan, a film director by training, held the creative reigns of the Go-Go partnership (Globus ruled business affairs). Golan directed and/or produced a lot of forgettable films but hit pay dirt directing Delta Force, the 1986 action film starring Lee Marvin and Chuck Norris.

After Cannon imploded, Golan when on to found several other movie companies that foundered, again as hits eluded him. Eventually, creditors swarmed over his personal assets in Hollywood, and Golan relocated to Israel.

Golan was a conspicuous sight at Cannes working the festival and its film market in a velour jogging suits that projected both a casual and faux chic image. And, yes, the Go-Go boys memorialized deals on cocktail napkins at the festival--always shooting from the hip.

A friend of mine who worked at Cannon at its peak told me, "If they had money in the bank, they'd buy some movie proposal that happened to be made to them that day. Cash never idled for long in Cannon bank accounts." The Go-Go Boys were frenzied about film.

The duo were a legendary odd couple that for a few years amazed Hollywood. Theirs is a kind of hard-to-believe Hollywood story that comes around just once in while... and is not necessarily to be admired but certainly is fascinating.