Donald Clarence Simpson was born on October 29, 1943 at Swedish Hospital in Seattle, Washington. His father (Russell J. Simpson) was a Boeing mechanic. His mother (June Hazel Clark Simpson) was a housewife.
In 1945, the Simpsons moved to Anchorage, Alaska. Don's parents were devout Southern Baptists.
Don graduated from the University of Oregon.
Don Simpson entered the movie industry in San Francisco. He transitioned from Jack Wodell & Associates to the marketing department at Warner Brothers. He met Bonnie Bruckheimer, the wife of Jerry.
Don was fired by Warners in 1972 and out of work for three desolate years.
In 1973, he met Jerry Bruckheimer at a premier for The Harder They Come. They lived together in 1974.
Simpson sold the road movie Cannonball. While attending the Deauville Film Festival with director-friend Paul Bartel, he heard a knock on his hotel room door one night. "It was Melanie Griffith, totally nude," Simpson said. "She was only nineteen then - her body, you could bounce quarters off it. So I went to her room and partied till the sun came up." ("Don Simpson on Don Simpson," Debby Bull, Smart, May 1990)
He joined a group of young film people led by Julia and Michael Phillips: Margot Kidder, Katharine Ross, Ron and Howard and Liza Minnelli (then dating). Kidder began dating director Brian De Palma who introduced writer Paul Schrader. Paul introduced Simpson to the group. Writer-director John Milius, singer Carly Simon and filmmaker Martin Scorsese came around. There was lots of marijuana and cocaine.
In 1975, Paramount head of production Richard Sylbert wanted to hire Steve Tisch, Loews hotel heir and nephew of Larry Tisch. Steve turned down the job offer but recommended Don Simpson.
Don Simpson came to Paramount in 1976. Michael Eisner named him vice president of creative affairs in early 1977. In 1980, Eisner named him vice president of production. In 1982, he was fired for drug abuse.
Don never forgave Barry Diller. More than a decade later, a drunk Simpson told an acquaintance, "They fired me on a fucking morals charge! They had executives buggering boys in the backseats of their Porsches, and they fired me on a fucking morals charge!" (High Concept, pg. 42)
In 1983, Simpson and Bruckheimer announced their partnership. Their first movie was the hit Flashdance, which grossed $95 million domestically.
Simpson received a Bible from his mother, with a note. "If you read and study this book, you will never make another movie like that again." (HC pg. 52)
"Where the burly, barrel-chested Simpson was brash and pugnacious, the slight, slender Bruckheimer was politic and cautious." (High Concept, pg. 43)
Simpson had the big ideas. Bruckheimer executed them. Their movies tended to start with a sunrise, implying a new beginning, and end with a freeze-frame, implying permanence.
"Simpson had this very strong conviction that to have a hit movie, the central character, before triumphing - and he had to triumph - must first be reduced, psychologically, and almost destroyed, before the comeback," said screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. (HC, pg. 44)
Simpson was the first producer to understand and exploit the significance of MTV.
Crafty Esquire writer Lynn Hirschberg devastated Don Simpson in a 1986 profile. He said that it made him depressed for five years.
In 1985, Simpson was introduced to Elizabeth Adams aka Madam X, a procurer for Hollywood and other high fliers from 1971 to 1992. Simpson used three to five of her girls a week.
"Don didn't date. He fucked," said Susan Panetz, who worked for Simpson and Bruckheimer in 1983 and 1984. "The girls were professionals. They came in at ten o'clock and they were out by two." (HC pg. 80)
Simpson said: "When you meet a lady and she says, 'Would you like to make love?' well, the first thing I like to do is fuck - not make love." (HC pg. 80)
Film producer Michael London once traveled to New York with Simpson and Bruckheimer. They went out on the town. "Jerry went straight to the bar and started talking to this woman. Don went to a sofa, in the back of the room, and sat down alone. After a while, we left Jerry at the bar with the woman and split."
Simpson said: "Jerry will ask nine women to sleep with him, and nine will turn him down in a row. The tenth woman says yes, and he goes home with her. Me, I ask one girl to go out with me, and she says no, and I want to go put my head in the oven."
London: "Simpson told me he hung out with hookers because he couldnt' bear to risk rejection." (HC, pg. 83)
Simpson's Bel Air home on Cherokee Avenue was the place to meet beautiful women in Los Angeles during the 1980s. Jerry Bruckheimer, Steve Roth, Steve Tisch, Jim Berkus, Craig Baumgarten, Jim Wiatt, Paul Schrader and composer Paul Jasmine hung out there for the girls and drugs.
Several of Heidi Fleiss's girls got bit parts in Don Simpson movies.
Don's friend Lynda Obst credits him with creating the high concept movie. "He created the three-act structure that we all use, the one that Robert McKee and Syd Field use and take credit for. Don made up this logarithm. There is the hot first act with an exciting incident, and the second act with the crisis and the dark bad moments in which our hero is challenged, and the third act with the triumphant moment and the redemption and the freeze-frame ending." (High Concept, pg. 122)
A July 11, 1989 Los Angeles Times story by Michael Cieply broke the story of a sexual harassment suit against Simpson by Paramount secretary Monica Harmon. She'd worked under Simpson and Bruckheimer for 21 months between 1986 and 1987. She filed suit October 12, 1988, asking for $5 million in damages. She claimed that Simpson made her witness illegal drug use in his Paramount offices, made her schedule appointments for him with hookers, and played pornographic films in front of her in his office.
Harmon alleged that Simpson used cocaine in his office infront of partner Jerry Bruckheimer and Richard Tienken, the manager of Eddie Murphy. Don "left a pile of cocaine in his office and in his office bathroom and ordered [Harmon] to clean it up before it was discovered by others." Don "maintained lists of girls he used as prostitutes and required [Harmon] to keep and update the lists." He "required [Harmon] to schedule his appointments with some of the prostitutes." Simpson "played pornographic videocassettes in the office." And, "as a condition of [Harmon's] employment, [she] was required to read lurid and pornographic material." Simpson regularly called Harmon things like "dumb shit," "garbage brain" and "stupid bitch," as in, "You fucked up again, you stupid bitch. You cannot do anything right." These tirades gave Harmon headaches and sleeplessness.
Other Simpson-Bruckheimer employees confirmed most of Harmon's charges. "Don was Caligula," said an assistant. "Everyone knew he used hookers. He had a whole section of his Rolodex marked 'Girls'. They'd come to the office the next day, and Monica [Harmon] would have to pay them. This was common knowledge. His tastes were very special, and he was into S&M." (High Concept, pg. 151-153)
Simpson-Bruckheimer responded by playing hardball. They hired nasty litigator Bertram Fields to file a $5 million countersuit against Harmon. They hired private investigator Anthony Pellicano to dig up dirt on Harmon. Eventually she gave in and walked away. She's never spoken publicly about her ordeal. (High Concept, pg. 154)