To say that many people had been waiting for the day that Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter was removed from running Marvel Comics would be a severe understatement. A cranky cheapskate who didn’t think women or Black people could headline movies, Ike was an irascible boss who prevented talented people from doing their jobs.
Marvel’s business plans grew up around Ike’s weird obsessions and penny pinching ways, and many times I heard that some employees were just hoping to last until the day he wasn’t there. Although Marvel Studios was liberated from Perlmutter in 2015 – and Marvel Television in 2019 – he retained control of the business end of comics publishing, video games licensing, some toys and live events.
I have to admit, I thought Ike’s reign would only end when he died. (Perlmutter is 80.) But I severely underestimated Disney president Bob Iger.
Iger’s feud with Ike went all the way back to when Disney purchased Marvel in 2009. In 2012 Nikki Finke reported that “‘Iger has real problems with Ike. That’s the real story,’ one of my insiders tells me. ‘Bob thought he could handle him. But Ike is uncharmable.’”
The two clashed over many things, as Iger wrote in his autobiography. In a 2016 interview, Iger complained that early morning phone calls from Perlmutter were a thing.
I have no idea what he does with his stock. He’s made a lot of money on the Marvel transaction, and he’s made a lot of money on Disney stock since he took it as part of the transaction and bought more since then. And he gets a big dividend. I’m actually not in his head in that regard, so I don’t know and he doesn’t in any way discuss it with me. He likes to call me at seven in the morning. Sometimes I’ll say, “Ike, I’ve just pushed the button on the coffee maker and I haven’t had my first cup yet, so I need 10 minutes.”
Perlmutter is reported to have opposed Captain Marvel and Black Panther, or any MCU film that didn’t star a white man or two, blocked Black Widow toys, and even demanded that Iger fire Kevin Feige. It’s this last one that helped hasten Perlmutter’s 2015 ouster as the head of Marvel Studios, a detail Iger only recently revealed during the latest skirmish.
While things probably cooled down after that, when Iger returned to helm Disney last fall – after the disastrous Bob Chapek reign – he found Perlmutter was waging a very active campaign to take over the Marvel board.
I think Bob Iger didn’t like that. And he was able to pull off a Game of Thrones worthy killshot that’s really pretty astounding.
Although Iger was able to foil the coup by promising to lay off 7000 people at Disney, and find $5 billion or so in savings lying around, yesterday’s layoffs seem to have been mostly about purging Perlmutter’s circle, Order 66 style. Aside from Perlmutter, other Disney execs let go included co-president Rob Steffens, chief counsel John Turitzin, VP of brand assurance Marisol Garcia and security expert Rob Grosser, a shadowy figure who was known as “Ike’s enforcer.” Were any other Disney employees laid off yesterday? None have been reported, but we’ll see when the smoke clears.
Bear in mind I’m writing this Wednesday night. I’m sure the dawn will break on a crop of stories from entertainment sites with more juicy details, so I’m just going by what I’ve been told today – and also some speculation based on my own knowledge of the situation. But I’ll make it clear what I’m guessing at and what I know.
So to get the guessing out of the way, it’s pretty obvious that the way the story broke yesterday was expressly designed to humiliate Ike in the most delightful fashion possible. Executives at Perlmutter’s level usually depart under some cloud of restructuring, retirement, booted upstairs to their own production company, spending more time with the family. But no, there it was in black and white:
“Laid Off” – the most menial and subservient way to go out. And there it blared in every headline from Hollywood to the Beltway:
You might think I’m laying in on a little thick, but this is for the little people who toiled under Ike for so many years.
Bob Iger showed no mercy. Ike Perlmutter fucked around and he found out.
But What About Marvel Comics?
Okay, now the most important question that I know you are all asking: is Marvel Comics in trouble? Details amount to a single sentence in the NY Times story, but it seems that Marvel Entertainment is no more, absorbed into the larger Disney operations. And that sounds very not good, an echo of DC’s own whittling down just last week.
Surprisingly, all of the insiders I talked to yesterday were pretty upbeat about this. It may have just been enjoying a day of glee at Ike’s removal, but as one former top level comics industry exec told me, “This is the best move for Marvel Comics.”
The almost universal speculation is that in order to get rid of Perlmutter, Iger had to get rid of Marvel Entertainment. Although Perlmutter no longer held the title of president, he remained chairman of Marvel Entertainment – but with no Marvel Entertainment, he had nothing to chair, and got…laid off.
A corporate move of this kind is child’s play compared to the crafty maneuver Disney and Iger pulled off over the Reedy Creek board yesterday. Don’t mess with Disney Bob.
It’s worth noting that for now, Marvel Comics remains untouched. President Dan Buckley, a very capable executive who has been handling Ike for years, remains in place, reporting to Kevin Feige, and the two have a good working relationship, I’m told by multiple sources. Marvel Comics remains profitable, and as the plucky, colorful House of Ideas behind the MCU, it still has some marketing value.
My own opinion is that Disney loves to look like it values creative people with things like their “Legends” program, honoring animators, Imagineers and songwriters. The Marvel Bullpen (which doesn’t exist any more) still has some symbolic value as part of Disney’s Happiest Place on Earth, and Feige seems to have gone along with this idea until now.
Of course it’s a very different world now, Disney has financial troubles, and they do have to find some savings. My guess is that Marvel Comics might get trimmed a bit in the upcoming layoffs, but as a small ( $40 million to $60 million annually according to the Times), basically inconsequential and cheap division whose removal would spark endless negative headlines, it could just squeak through for now.
That’s how it looks Wednesday night. People are cautiously optimistic. We’ll see what the morning brings, and all this could just be giddiness from sniffing the fumes of Ike’s funeral pyre. Marvel still has a lot of issues, but I’ll be looking at those in a future piece.
Ike’s Greatest Hits
And now some personal thoughts. I’ve always been fascinated by Ike Perlmutter. While the public knew him as a notoriously reclusive figure (who at one point hadn’t been photographed in 20 years), he was very real to me. I lived near Marvel’s old offices on Park Avenue and was always running into Marvel’s employees on the street or at my local and hearing stories about Ike’s penny pinching. I came to believe that Marvel would be better off without many of his policies, and that one day he would be removed. And that would be a good day.
So here’s a by no means exhaustive list of Ike’s greatest hits.
- The Inhumans show was produced by Marvel Television, which Perlmutter ran under his usual cheapskate methods, resulting in some very cheap looking shows. When Feige took over in 2019 we started to get things like Wandavision.
- Employees at Marvel Studios in California had surveillance cameras trained at their desks to make sure they weren’t goofing off; Disney later removed them.
- When Marvel Comics moved offices, the new facilities were so cramped they only had one bathroom for each gender in a company of more than 100 people.
- These offices were also so cramped that major executives had to shares offices, with even the highest vp level employees doubling up.
- He planted stories at comics websites painting Kevin Feige as an unreasonable studio head who was ruining the MCU.
- He was notoriously cheap about film junkets, once suggesting that they be catered with potato chips.
- He supported his best friend Donald Trump as president and was actually allowed to run the Veteran’s Administration as part of a “shadow cabinet.”
- He engaged in a bizarre dispute with a neighbor about tennis and libelous letters.
….and so on and on. Really just scratching the surface here. Truly a legend.
Now on the plus side of the ledger, Perlmutter and his wife Laura founded the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Foundation, which has given out more than $78 million in grants, leading NYU Langone hospital to name their cancer facility the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center. That’s what rich people do.
And I’ll throw this in: Ike Perlmutter was a successful businessman who did save Marvel from bankruptcy, successfully ran Toy Biz, and along with former partner Avi Arad, put the whole MCU into motion. His methods were crude but effective.
And you know, he’s not dead yet. Bob Iger may have the upper hand today, but you can’t count Ike out while he’s still breathing.
But when you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. Yesterday, Ike Perlmutter definitely didn’t win.