Edith “Edie” Wasserman, widow of studio mogul Lew Wasserman and a major Hollywood force and philanthropist in her own right, died Thursday at her Beverly Hills home at 95.
Born Edith Beckerman, she married her husband, a fellow Cleveland native, at 21, a marriage terminated after nearly 66 years by Lew’s death in 2002.
As Lew, 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 his long reign from the 1950s to the 1990s, Edie 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, she, with Lew, 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 Edie 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.
She and her grandson Casey Wasserman were credited with key roles in preventing the shutdown of the acute care hospital and long-term care facilities at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Home for entertainment industry retirees.
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 Eye Institute, Human Rights Watch, and the Clinton Foundation.
Neither Edie nor Lew could afford to go to college during the Depression years, but students at six universities, including Brandeis, UCLA, Caltech and Cal Arts, are benefitting through the Wasserman Scholars program.
Edie Wasserman is survived by her daughter Lynn Wasserman, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Services will be private.