Edith Wasserman, “First Lady of Hollywood,” dies


LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Edith “Edie” Wasserman, widow of studio mogul Lew Wasserman and a major Hollywood force and philanthropist in her own right, has died.

Wasserman died Aug. 18 at her Beverly Hills home at the age of 95.

Born Edith Beckerman, she married her husband, a fellow Cleveland native, at 21, a marriage that ended after nearly 66 years by his death in 2002.

As Lew Wasserman, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, rose from talent agent to CEO of MCA and president of Universal Studios, he was dubbed the de facto “King of Hollywood.”

During her husband’s long reign from the 1950s to the 1990s, Edith Wasserman served as his eyes and ears and earned such honorific titles as “The Queen,” “The General,” “Mrs. Hollywood,” and “First Lady of Hollywood.”

Like her husband, she was renowned for her intellect, humor and wit.

In addition, she was recognized as the tastemaker and doyenne of Hollywood’s artistic and political society, and an invitation to one of her cocktail parties was akin to a royal command.

A lifelong Democrat, Wasserman and her husband were close friends of Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, although they also boosted the career of a young actor and aspiring politician named Ronald Reagan.

But Edith Wasserman was most widely known and honored as a discerning philanthropist, who was instrumental in establishing the foundation bearing the couple’s name in 1952.

Large grants by the Wasserman Foundation focused on the areas of health, arts and culture, education, and global initiatives. 

Among the major beneficiaries were Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Jerusalem Film Center, Skirball Cultural Center, Eye Research Center at UCLA’s Jules Stein Institute, Human Rights Watch, and the Clinton Foundation

The couple could not afford to go to college during the Depression years, but students at six colleges, including Brandeis University, are benefitting through the Wasserman Scholars program.

Wasserman is survived by her daughter, Lynn Wasserman; two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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