THE MOST REMARKABLE development in the War over Paramount is the absence of remarkable developments. And, given the need to produce copy, the press is showing signs of stress.
One would expect to read learned analyses about the impact of the possible mergers — how a Paramount-Viacom entity would shape up relative to a Paramount-QVC, for example.
The reason these analyses aren’t appearing is that no one knows the answers. Even those most intimately involved in the dealings will not venture to predict what decisions Barry Diller or Sumner Redstone would make.
Redstone is a very private man with a convoluted mind who has never faced a situation like this before. While Diller, by contrast, left a very specific mark on Paramount and Fox, his friends know he is not a man who likes to repeat himself. Their guess is that Diller’s modus operandi for Paramount, circa 1994, would bear no relation to his policies of 20 years earlier.
WHEN THE PRESS finds itself inhibited about making lofty forecasts, it inevitably turns to more prosaic activities. Witness the vivid story on Stanley Jaffe that appeared in the Jan. 31 Wall Street Journal — possibly the toughest piece written about a film industry figure since the trials of Fatty Arbuckle.
Among other things, the story reported that Jaffe yelled so loud at studio meetings his nose would start bleeding, that he indulged in flagrant nepotism (hiring both his son and brother) and generally neglected the studio operations while lavishing attention on Paramount’s sports franchises.
The article stunned Hollywood and Wall Street, more because of its timing than its tone. To drop a story alleging mismanagem ent on a volatile marketplace the very week the Big Decision was supposed to be made represents an extraordinary journalistic exercise.
Equally noteworthy, however, is that the 52-year old Jaffe cooperated fully with the Journal, granting a lengthy interview. One would think he’d sensed a “setup.”
Indeed, two days after the interview Paramount advanced dire forecasts of a third-quarter loss of between $ 35 million and $ 40 million, due mainly to write-offs from “Addams Family Values” (it seems awfully early to start writing off recent sequels) as well as losses stemming from the USA Network, of which it is a 50% owner.
HAVING SUCCESSFULLY DUCKED the press for three years — Jaffe makes no secret of the fact that he believes the press occupies an odious substratum of society — he is suddenly catching it from all sides. One cannot help but speculate whether it is being orchestrated. Certainly, Jaffe’s tempestuous management style is hardly “news” in and of itself.
During his first stint as Paramount president, when he was a callow 28 -year-old, I recall paying an early morning visit to his office. His secretary stopped me with the warning, “Stanley is doing his morning snarls.”
“His what?” I asked.
“See for yourself,” she advised cheerfully. “When he comes in in the morning he usually stands in front of the mirror and sort of snarls to himself, getting revved up for the day.”
Sure enough, as I prowled toward his office I saw him through the open door of his private bathroom, adjusting his tie and growling quietly.
After these morning warm-ups, the growls grew more robust. Indeed, before he fired Jaffe a couple of years later, Jaffe’s boss, Charles Bluhdorn, once asked me plaintively, “How can Stanley be so goddamn rude? I’m his boss and he is even rude to me — and in front of other people!”
Their final quarrel had been prompted by a trivial issue. The rambunctious Bluhdorn, who lived life at the top of his lungs, had proposed a certain actress to play the lead in a new Neil Simon comedy. Jaffe told him to mind his own goddamn business and stay out of casting decisions. At the time, I had to admire Jaffe for his guts. He also happened to be right about the casting. Bluhdorn nonetheless summoned the youthful president to his office and told him he was through.
Not long afterward, Jaffe turned up as the top production man at Columbia during the stormy David Begelman/Alan Hirschfield years. A calming influence was much needed on the production front at that time. Instead, along came stormy Stanley, who soon was in the midst of fierce quarrels with filmmakers on the lot.
ONE FAMOUS PRODUCER was so grateful to be “liberated” from the turmoil that when Jaffe gave him back all his projects in turnaround he did a joyous jig all the way from the executive building to his own office across the street while spectators applauded. A couple of the projects turned out to be hits elsewhere.
There is a school of thought that subscribes to the belief that there are, in fact, two Stanley Jaffes. The person who produces movies like “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Bad News Bears” is thoughtful, controlled, alert to everything and everyone around him — a real contributor to the process. The one who ends up in management positions, however, is angry, suspicious and often mean-spirited.
“Corporate management brings out the worst in Stanley,” says one long-term associate. “He becomes an authoritarian personality.”
“Stanley is really a very nice man,” insists another associate. “The trouble is that he is not comfortable in his own skin.” He thought for a while, then added, “And he’s managed to make lots of us equally uncomfortable.”
While taking his brickbats, Stanley Jaffe will emerge from the Paramount War an even richer man than before. One hopes he will also find some peace of mind — or at least some Prozac to tide him through.