Financier Forstmann forges foray into film

Baseball fan taking swing at Dodgers pic

NEW YORK — Hollywood has seduced another financier par excellence.

Leveraged-buyout king Ted Forstmann is well-known on Wall Street, having invested millions in such companies as Gulf Aerospace and General Instrument. He made a high-profile but unsuccessful run for RJR Nabisco in the late 1980s and, more recently, was beaten out by Seagram Co. in bidding for music giant PolyGram.

Forstmann is also a big philanthropist and an avid baseball fan who recently bought the screen rights to “The Boys of Summer,” Roger Kahn’s classic tale about the Brooklyn Dodgers of late 1940s and 1950s. Those postwar years saw the team grow from one of the most despised in baseball to nearly undisputed perfection.

Forstmann tapped South African producer Anant Singh (“Sarafina!” and “Cry, the Beloved Country”) to make the film, which will chronicle the lives of legendary Dodgers Pee Wee Reese, Preacher Roe, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Billy Cox, Carl Furillo, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella.

Forstmann will finance the film under his and Singh’s new banner, Pee Wee Productions — named after the Dodgers’ shortstop and team captain.

Singh has predicted the film will cost between $20 million and $50 million. “This is more than a story of baseball. This is the story of a generation that won the war, who sacrificed and who played a great game of baseball better than anyone before or after them,” Forstmann, 59, said when he announced the project last summer.

” ‘The Boys of Summer’ is a story of a dying breed of heroes from a disappearing era where high standards, values, families and communities mattered most,” Singh says.

The co-founder and senior partner of Forstmann Little & Co. insists that his fascination with the sport and the team that helped make it great are the sole motivations behind his sudden interest in movie making. He has no other film projects in the works and none are likely.

Still, he isn’t the first financier to head for the bigscreen as the mating dance between Hollywood and Wall Street is a long and lively one.

Billionaire arbitrageur and corporate raider Carl Icahn invested $50 million to launch his own indie label Stratosphere Entertainment two years ago.

After such costly initial duds as “One Tough Cop” Stratosphere’s fortunes tipped up with Russian-language film “The Thief” and Kate Winslet starrer “Hideous Kinky.”

Several months ago, Stratosphere signed a four-picture deal with London-based Capitol Films.

While the movie business hasn’t been anywhere near as lucrative for Icahn as, say, buying stocks and bonds of such distressed companies as Marvel and TWA and selling them later for huge profits, he doesn’t appear to be heading for the exits.

Microsoft co-founder and billionaire investor Paul Allen has a big interest in DreamWorks. Kirk Kerkorian is in the midst of another go round with MGM.

And “Boys of Summer” isn’t Forstmann’s first brush with showbiz. He teamed up with New York media and entertainment giant Cablevision Systems to produce “The Scarlet Pimpernel” on Broadway. He also hosts the little-known but high-voltage Forstmann Conference each year, bringing together leaders in entertainment, business and politics.

The Forstmann gathering may not generate the splash that Allen & Co.’s Herbert A. Allen does with his annual Sun Valley, Idaho, media bash, but you’ll find many of the same faces at both.

And Forstmann — an actor playing him to be precise — turned up in the hilarious and now classic HBO movie “Barbarians at the Gate” about the nail-biting bidding war for RJR Nabisco. Forstmann, who railed throughout the 1980s against the use of junk bonds and the firms that used that debt, pulled out as the price skyrocketed, ceding RJR to rival Kolhberg Kravis Roberts.