Remember the scene in "The Social Network" where preppy twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss get the brushoff from then-Harvard President Larry Summers after complaining their idea for Facebook had been stolen? Summers said today that the scene was a pretty fair rendering.
“I am told that the Winklevii say that the movie is wrong -- ‘Larry Summers wasn’t nearly as nice to us as was portrayed of him in the movie.’ I’ve read somewhere on occasion that people think I can be arrogant. And, uh, I can’t imagine why. And if that is so, I probably was on that occasion. So making adjustments for cinematic license -- the fact that I surely did not tell anyone to punch me in the face and the like -- I would say the movie was fairly accurate,” Summers, Harvard’s colorful former president, said today in response to a question from the audience at a luncheon hosted by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
Summers is back in town after two years serving as President Obama’s director of the National Economic Council. Set to begin teaching two courses later this semester, he addressed a roomful of executives at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Economic policies aside, what everyone wanted to know from the former Treasury secretary was how he felt about his portrayal in the Oscar-winning film.
In a short but memorable scene, Summers’s character, played by Hollywood producer Douglas Urbanski, dismisses the preppy Winklevoss twins’ complaint against Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for stealing their idea.
“Yes, everyone at Harvard is inventing something,” Summers says to the twins in the movie. “Harvard undergraduates believe that inventing a job is better than finding a job, so I’ll suggest again that the two of you come up with a new new project.”
At today’s luncheon, Summers introduced a woman who used to work for him on student affairs issues as a “movie celebrity” because she, too, was depicted in the movie sitting in his office during the meeting with the Winklevoss twins.
In the movie, Summers jokes with his assistant that she should punch him in the face -- apparently to wake him up or assure him of the reality of the meeting with the Winklevosses.
The woman, Colleen Richards Powell, stood up at the luncheon and vouched that in reality, Summers had actually been nicer to the twins, who have sued Zuckerberg.
“I can honestly say he was not that arrogant,” she said. “He didn’t give them what they wanted, which was to legally penalize Mark Zuckerberg… He was not mean to them.”
“You didn’t have to say that,” said Summers, as the crowd roared.
Summers said he was first introduced to Facebook around 2004 or 2005 while preparing a speech to welcome Harvard freshmen to campus.
“A young guy who worked for me wrote me a line ... something about friending people on Facebook, and I said, ‘What the hell is this?’ And he said, ‘Say this, and they’ll think you’re cool and they’ll laugh.’ And I said, ‘Are you sure?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘Well, you’re going to lose your job if I say this and they don’t laugh.’ And he said, ‘Well, it’s not that much of a privilege to work for you anyway.’ So I said it and they all cracked up…. And that was my introduction to Facebook.”
Tracy Jan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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