JONATHAN TAPLIN: A MAN FOR ALL BUSINESSES
A geek he ain't. Zelig--maybe. Before he was drawn to the Internet,
Intertainer president and CEO Jonathan Taplin worked in the music business (with Bob
Dylan, among others); in the movie business (with Martin Scorsese, among others); and on
Wall Street (with Merrill Lynch, among others).
The 52-year-old's career began as he was attending Princeton University.
Working at the time as road manager for the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, which was managed by
Albert Grossman, Taplin followed the group to the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, where he was
introduced to another of Grossman's clients: Dylan. "On a whim, Bob decided to play
electric at Newport, and I was drafted to be one of the roadies," Taplin recalls.
"If you know any Dylan history, the Sunday-night performance turned into something of
a disaster as the folk audience booed the rock and roll."
Soon after, Dylan chose The Band to be his backing group, and Taplin
became close friends with the group's leader, Robbie Robertson. "When the Band
decided to go out on their own in 1969, they asked me to be their tour manager, and when I
graduated from Princeton that spring, I went to live in Woodstock and work full time for
the Band and Dylan," he says.
Taplin was on hand when the Band played the original Woodstock festival,
and when both Dylan and the group played the Isle of Wight Festival; at the latter he
witnessed a late-night jam session with Dylan, The Band and the Beatles minus Paul
McCartney. He struck up a friendship with George Harrison, who a few months later asked
him to produce the Concert for Bangladesh events at Madison Square Garden, at which Dylan
After that, he says, "most of the musicians I respected had stopped
touring--the Beatles, The Band, Dylan, [Eric] Clapton--so I went to California with the
name of a young film editor named Marty Scorsese [who had helped edit the Woodstock
feature film]. Marty showed me his student films and I didn't know enough not to invest my
own money in the film business, so I financed the $500,000 budget of Mean Streets."
That film's success led to working together on The Band's concert film, The Last Waltz, a
few years later.
By 1996 Taplin had produced 26 hours of television documentaries and 12
feature films. Various Taplin films were chosen for the Cannes Film Festival seven times,
and his TV work earned three Emmys.
It was in 1984, however, that his career took a sudden turn. "I was
with Walt Disney when they were under attack, and was involved in the 'save the mouse'
campaign with my friends Sid Bass and Richard Rainwater in their successful attempt to
save Walt Disney Studios from a corporate raid," he recalls. "I acted as an
investment advisor, and when they were successful in saving Disney, they mentioned that
they thought I should start working at Merrill Lynch, which was the investment banker in
At that company he served as VP, media mergers and acquisitions, where
among other feats he helped in the leveraged buyout of Viacom.
After returning to film production with directors Wim Wenders (Until the
End of the World) and Gus Van Sant (To Die For), "I started playing around with
interactive media," he says.
Taplin feels confident about his, and Intertainer's, future. "The
promise of interactive broadband seemed to mean that people could choose from the
wonderful variety of really good work that has been done over the last half-century...to
see it on their schedule and maybe interact with the media, and to go deeper into things
that matter to them," he says.
As a result of his multi-layered career, Taplin says: "I have a
combination of business logic and creative frustration. I felt television was not being
what it could be, which is really what led me here. There is so much great content in the
world, but you can't get to it. It's frustrating to flip through what Bruce Springsteen
calls 57 channels and nothing on."--K.Z.