December 16, 2009
The Next Moguls?
Bickering brothers Alan and Gabe Polsky bring a literary sensibility — and cash — to Hollywood.
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When it comes to discussing their family, they don’t agree on anything. When Gabe tried to explain his way out of the suggestion that his father’s energy business was harmful to the environment, Alan interrupted. “No Gabe, you’re the worst pitcher.”
“What do you mean?” Gabe asked.
“That’s just wrong. It’s wrong: the whole pitch about Dad.”
Alan took over: “My dad — our Dad — was one of the first people to build natural gas energy facilities which were the cleanest energy facilities in the world at the time.”
“What do you mean?” Gabe interjected. “He wasn’t the first guy….”
“He was,” Alan said nonchalantly. “When there was deregulation in the energy markets, they weren’t building coal plants, they were building natural gas plants.”
Michael Polsky sold his first company, SkyGen Energy, for a reported $450 million in 2000 and later launched Invenergy Wind, a wind energy company where he is CEO. When the couple split back in 2007, headlines touted Maya’s $184 million divorce settlement.
And yet, the Polsky brothers insist they had “a regular Midwestern upbringing” on Chicago’s North Shore, home to many of Illinois’ wealthiest families. “We were not spoiled kids,” Alan said when asked about growing up privileged. Even now, they don’t like to discuss the benefits of wealth, even as it pertains to their business.
“We have some discretionary money,” Alan admitted. “But to be perfectly honest with you, we’re not writing very big checks; we’re not financing films. I would never tell you how much we paid for the Einstein rights, but we’re relatively prudent. We don’t have an endless well of money — we have to make our bets like everybody else.”
Some industry insiders suspect they’ve so far spent hundreds of thousands of dollars buying material, but such figures are difficult to gauge without knowing market specifics for what they bought.
It does seem that in order to be taken seriously by the industry, the boys are desperate to shed the stigma of rich kids — a label they disliked in their own community.
“We were definitely kind of ostracized from the Jewish community growing up,” Alan said. “We’re not religious guys at all; our family is Russian, and there was no religion in Russia.”
Still, the brothers made their right of passage as Jewish men and both became bar mitzvah at the synagogue Am Shalom in Glencoe. Just don’t expect them to marry from the tribe.
“Jewish girls were difficult growing up,” Gabe said.
“They were very spoiled where we grew up,” Alan clarified, “very cliquey.”
“It didn’t help that we were always causing trouble,” Gabe admitted.
The Polskys say, however, that they feel unexpectedly at home among Hollywood’s Jews.
“There’s definitely something warm and comfortable about the [Hollywood] Jewish community,” Gabe said.
“It feels nice in Hollywood, because, honestly, there’s so much of it you feel you’re a part of a community,” Alan said.
“There’s something to it here — a lot more than I felt in Chicago. It feels much better to be Jewish here.”
While to outsiders, a Jewish success story in Hollywood might sometimes seem like a forgone conclusion, the Polskys still have to prove more than just taste if they plan to have longevity in the movie business. And to their credit, they seem to being enjoying the process even more than focusing on the outcome.
“I think it was a famous producer that said, ‘you’re only as good as your next movie’ and I think it’s really true,” Alan said.
“We’re just trying to play in our corner of the sandbox,” Gabe said, picking up on his brother’s thought. “We’re not by any means getting overly confident with our abilities to compete in this environment. This is just our first project; we hope to be doing this for a long time.”