A Self Made Up Man

RAINMAKER: THE SAGA OF JEFF BECK, WALL STREET'S MAD DOG By Anthony Bianco Random House -- 486pp -- $25

It was at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corp., the WASPish Wall Street brokerage, that Jeffrey "Mad Dog" Beck won his nickname. "To punctuate a moment of triumph," writes Anthony Bianco, "Beck would switch to cigars--big, expensive cigars--and come bounding out of his office to stand in the hallway and howl like a dog baying at the moon: 'Aooooooooh! Aooooooooh!' "

Beck's canine attributes were pretty much confined to the aforementioned aoohing, as well as the occasional grrrrr. But it can be said that he pursued deals with dogged tenacity. He was surely instrumental in the two largest leveraged buyouts of the 1980s--Beatrice Co. and RJR Nabisco Inc.--and he played a leading or supporting role in many others. A detail-strewn, inside account of that decade's decadent--some say indecent--merger mania forms the heart of Rainmaker, whose author, a BUSINESS WEEK senior writer, writes extensively about Wall Street.

Bianco portrays Beck as a metaphor for the excesses of the 1980s--including their phoniness. For Beck was a compulsive liar who wove a complex web of untruths about his past. He claimed, for instance, to be a shell-shocked Vietnam vet and the scion of a vast personal business empire. What made his fibs especially baffling was that Beck was no Walter Mitty, but a successful investment banker. Still, his flamboyant if fabricated persona won him a toehold in Hollywood. He appeared in Wall Street and was a chum, for a while, of its star, Michael Douglas.

But like his Street career--which ended, appropriately, at ill-fated Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc.--Beck's star turn came to a halt when his deception became public. It was a fitting end to the saga of a man who found that dishonesty was the best policy--until he got caught.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.