Isaac Perlmutter, reclusive CEO of Marvel Entertainment of three decades, has been ousted, the Walt Disney Company has confirmed to the New York Times.
The firing comes as Disney is generally downsizing and cost-cutting to meet the macroeconomic moment — but for many, it’s long overdue, after years of Perlmutter’s attempts at cut-throat corporate dealing and conspicuous political activism.
Most recently, Perlmutter unsuccessfully advocated to Disney execs and board members to place his personal friend and known activist investor Nelson Peltz on the Disney board. But this kind of aggressive deal brokering has defined Perlmutter’s involvement with Marvel since it began.
Perlmutter entered the Marvel cosmos in the early 1990s, when his recently acquired company Toy Biz obtained the licenses to Marvel characters. This put Toy Biz in a position to partially acquire Marvel Entertainment, and when the latter’s late 1990s bankruptcy turned into a battle for ownership, Perlmutter and fellow Toy Biz exec Avi Arad emerged victorious, merging Toy Biz and Marvel Entertainment into Marvel Enterprises.
Perlmutter rose to CEO of Marvel Entertainment in 2005, a title he retained even as he sold the company to Disney in 2009, just as Marvel Entertainment’s film production subsidiary, Marvel Studios, was ramping up its in-house franchise. Perlmutter reportedly micromanaged the heck out of Marvel Studios, demanding both cost cutting and fealty, leading to clashes with MCU head honcho Kevin Feige.
In 2015, Disney exec Bob Iger even caught wind that Perlmutter was attempting to have Feige fired, and he swiftly reorganized Marvel Studios under Walt Disney Studios so that Perlmutter would no longer have control over the division. Perlmutter was moved farther from any creative power over Marvel holdings in 2019, when an organizational shakeup moved Marvel Television (home of all of Marvel’s non-Disney Plus TV series, like Daredevil and Agents of SHIELD) under the Marvel Studios umbrella, and set Marvel Entertainment’s president Dan Buckley as reporting to Kevin Feige alone in matters of “creative and editorial publishing.”
As of today, Buckley remains president of Marvel Entertainment, reporting solely to Kevin Feige.
“Mr. Perlmutter’s zealousness for corporate frugality in service of profit is well known in the entertainment business,” the New York Times notes. “In one particularly vivid example, he used to pluck paper clips out of garbage cans at Marvel offices for reuse. People at Marvel still talk about the time he suggested serving potato chips at a movie premiere to save catering costs. To closely monitor activities at Marvel offices, Mr. Perlmutter at one point installed at least 20 cameras. Disney ripped them out several years ago.”
Perlmutter’s political leanings are also well-known and tinged to the sordid. Between Perlmutter and his wife Laura, they have donated the better part of one million dollars to funds related to the election of former president Donald Trump, and Perlmutter is a regular figure at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. In 2018, ProPublica reported findings that Perlmutter, his personal physician Bruce Moskowitz, and Moskowitz’s squash partner — none of whom had ever served in the US government or military — had been given unofficial free reign by Mr. Trump to manage the Department of Veterans Affairs.
For a reclusive CEO, Perlmutter is also infamous among some Marvel Comics fans, and commonly cited as a decades-long backstop against diversification in the ranks of Marvel superheroes, particularly in the realm of LGBTQ+ representation, even for characters that creators and fans have attempted to acknowledge as queer for decades.