BIRTH DATE: Born in 1950. CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Chairman of a new, as-yet-unnamed movie studio created by Mr. Katzenberg, music mogul David Geffen and film director Steven Spielberg; chairman, Walt Disney Studios, 1984-94; served in a variety of executive positions at Paramount Pictures from 1974-84, including chairman, 1982-84. PERSONAL: Lives with wife, Marilyn, and their children, twins Laura and David, in Los Angeles. KATZENBERG AND FRIENDS CREATE BACKSTAGE DRAMA

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Who's laughing now, Mickey?

Nearly two months after leaving as chairman of Walt Disney Studios, Jeffrey Katzenberg is back-as everyone in Hollywood knew he would be-this time as chairman of the hottest new studio in town. The start-up has no name of yet, but it boasts three of the biggest names in the entertainment business: Mr. Katzenberg, music mogul David Geffen and director Steven Spielberg.

The new studio will produce live action and animated films and TV programs, a la Walt Disney Studios and Mr. Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. There'll also be a separate record label, like Mr. Geffen's self-named company now owned by MCA.

The studio also will delve into new media. Industry experts say it will take more than $500 million to get the studio off the ground. Messrs. Geffen and Spielberg combined are easily worth three times that.

Mr. Katzenberg calls this "the opportunity of a lifetime," and his partners credit Mr. Katzenberg with putting the deal together.

But two months ago, this wasn't the job he was after. Then what he wanted was to be chief operating officer at Disney, the No. 2 man to Chairman Michael Eisner and the man who would one day succeed him.

But Disney's cloakroom powers saw the 44-year-old whiz kid as more of a creative talent than as a business manager. Ambition collided with pragmatism, and soon after, Mr. Katzenberg moved out of the happiest place on earth.

Now Mr. Katzenberg has the opportunity to prove he was the right man for the job he wanted at Disney. He will have to develop the venture beyond its embryonic stage and put together a marketing staff, negotiate distribution deals, and even build a headquarters.

However, none of this may be necessary if speculation proves true that the trio will end up taking over or allying themselves with MCA, the parent of Universal Studios.

The partners promise a filmmaker's playground, the kind of studio they would like to do business with. At Disney, Mr. Katzenberg was known for aggressively pursuing and nurturing young talent.

"It could be a mecca for creatives and encourage more creative risk-taking in Hollywood," said Joel Hochberg, exec VP-managing director, Foote, Cone & Belding, Los Angeles. "Regardless, the competition should improve quality across the board."

Still, it will be interesting to see how the new reality squares with the Katzenberg of old, who at Disney once issued a notorious edict demanding marketable films with smaller budgets.

Also at Disney, he railed against the likes of McDonald's Corp. for crowding in on the home video business.

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