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Disney Logo25TH UPDATE: Here’s what I’m hearing now from deep inside Disney. That today’s date to announce his exit was chosen by Dick Cook. That Bob Iger was at Wal-Mart all day so there wasn’t an 11th-hour meeting with Cook. Disney insiders continue to insist Dick wasn’t fired. Instead, as one of the sources stresses, “He had a choice, He just didn’t see eye to eye with Bob on how to run the studio. Dick wanted to run the studio his way.” But it didn’t come as a surprise to toppers that Cook chose to step down rather than change the way he ran the studio. “In the last 5 years since Bob’s been CEO, the biggest resistance to change has came from the studio as an institution. They were the last ones who realized that things needed to change. Even when Bob cited the performance of the motion picture division to analysts last May as one reason for Disney’s poor results. (Specifically, Iger said “studio performance was disappointing, something they would be the first to admit.”) The insiders also confirm that Dick called the staff meeting, but claim he only said he’s stepping down and then read his resignation statement (see below). The insiders also maintain Cook didn’t tear up but, yes, he got emotional. And that Dick never characterized his relationship with Iger. “Dick is very likeable, and he and Bob have a very cordial and very good relationship on a personal level,” one of the sources just told me. There is also confirmation that the people who work inside Walt Disney studios are upset about Cook’s abrupt departure. 

4TH UPDATE: I hear that Steven Spielberg is devastated by the news of Dick Cook’s ouster. Dick was a major reason why Spielberg and Stacey Snider brought the new DreamWorks to Disney. “Steven worships Dick,” an insider told me tonight.

And now Cook’s ouster may imperil a 4th Pirates Of The Caribbean movie. Noting that Cook first enticed him with the Pirates movie idea and there’s no firm deal in place for No. 4, Johnny Depp said in a phone interview from London with Claudia Eller: “There’s a fissure, a crack in my enthusiasm at the moment,” Depp said. “It was all born in that office.”

Depp used words like “shocked… very sad” to describe his reaction when Cook called him a few hours ago to break the news. ”He is the utmost gentleman, so he made the call himself. He said, ‘I’d like you to hear it from me before you hear it from someone else or read it. He said today was my last day. He didn’t give me a reason… I didn’t see this coming. There was no reason to see this coming.” Depp said “I consider Dick a friend inside an insane system. He’s instantly trustworthy. And you generally don’t meet people at the studios you trust,” Depp said. “He’s a rare beast.”

3RD UPDATE: Sources are telling me that, after his meeting with Bob Iger, Dick Cook called a staff meeting — “a big, big room full of people” – and told them that he’d been fired after 38 years at Disney. Then Dick teared up. He explained his ouster by saying that he and Iger had never had a close relationship where they’d been on the same wave length. (However, Disney sources, including one of Cook’s still-in-place aides who was at the meeting as well, dispute this account.)

But Dick is freely telling his account around town tonight. And one thing that can’t be denied is that Cook’s firing is “playing very badly” on the Disney lot as well as around Hollywood. I’ve been deluged with calls and emails by prominent biz people expressing disbelief.

2ND UPDATE: Disney is adamantly telling people tonight that Dick Cook was not fired. But that’s not what Cook himself is telling Hollywood. I’m told that he was called in to see Bob Iger and given the news that “it was over”. “He got blindsided by Iger. He never saw it coming,” one source who just now spoke to Cook tells me. However, several months ago, rumors were floating that Iger was going to fire Cook because of the motion picture division’s recent record of failures (along with some big successes) at the box office. When I asked top execs about this, I was given firm denials. (Then rumors began that Oren Aviv would be axed. Again, denials.) Iger himself talked to analysts about the motion picture division problems which pulled down Disney’s earnings of late. “Iger has no reason to be happy with the label,” a Disney insider tells me. “Choices have been made that not only are unspectacular, but even poor. Not only have the movies lost money, which can happen to anybody, but they’ve also diminished the live action brand.” 

There can be no doubt that Cook was one of the most popular executives ever to work in showbiz. Tonight, Hollywood can’t believe this has happened, especially on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. “I’m shocked by Dick’s ouster. I love him more than life,” one Disney insider told me, adding, “I walked out of a meeting and heard this. And, 4 minutes later, you post it.” It’s reminding old Disney hands of the day when Michael Eisner blindsided Jeffrey Katzenberg by firing him. “If your mandate if is to up the Disney brand, then how do you fire somebody who has 38 years of institutional brand knowledge of Disney?”

Naturally, the guessing game of who would replace Cook began immediately. “I don’t know who Iger thinks he can find who’ll be able to come in there and already have relations with Spielberg, and Zemeckis, and Bruckheimer, and Lasseter, and Burton, like this guy had.” And then there is the fact that so many divisions report to Cook that his replacement also must be an experienced administrator as well as have deep talent relations. And that ain’t easy. 

There’s been a lot of talk that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige spent a lot of time with Disney CEO Bob Iger during the dealmaking to buy the company, and Feige impressed the hell out of Iger. Of course, there’s also the new DreamWorks CEO Stacey Snider whose resume includes running Universal, after all, and who could further cement Steven Spielberg’s control at his new moviemaking home. (“But she can’t. She’s a long-term partner with Steven and Reliance in DreamWorks. She not available,” said a DreamWorks spokesperson.)

Here are the official statements:

September 18, 2009

STATEMENT FROM RICHARD W. COOK, CHAIRMAN, THE WALT DISNEY STUDIOS

I am stepping down from my role as chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, effective immediately.

I have loved every minute of my 38 years that I have worked at Disney…from the beginning as a ride operator on Disneyland’s steam train and monorail to my position as chairman of The Walt Disney Studios. To wrap up my Disney experience in a neatly bundled statement is close to impossible. But what I will say is, during my time at the Studio, we have achieved many industry and Company milestones. Our talent roster is simply the best in the business. I believe our slate of upcoming motion pictures is the best in our history. But most of all, I love the people, my colleagues, my teammates, who are the most talented, dedicated and loyal folks in the world. I know that I leave the Studio in their exceptional hands.

I have been contemplating this for some time now and feel it’s the right time for me to move on to new adventures…and in the words of one of my baseball heroes, Yogi Berra, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

STATEMENT FROM ROBERT A. IGER, PRESIDENT AND CEO, THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

“Throughout his distinguished 38-year Disney career, Dick Cook’s outstanding creative instincts and incomparable showmanship have truly enriched this company and significantly impacted Disney’s great legacy,” said Disney CEO Bob Iger. “We thank Dick for his tremendous passion for Disney, and his many accomplishments and contributions to The Walt Disney Studios, including a very promising upcoming film slate. On behalf of everyone at Disney, we wish him the best with all the future has to offer.”


I just got out of the hospital. Here’s breaking news…

Dick Cook has been fired from Disney.

John Wells has won the election and is the next president of the Writers Guild, West. I’ll have a full analysis on Saturday.)

Patti Röckenwagner, Paramount Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications, will be leaving the company to “pursue another opportunity”. She has agreed to stay on with us through October to ensure a smooth transition.

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.

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