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He decoded Japanese messages during World War II. He built an exhibition empire, National Amusements, from his father’s drive-in movie business, which became a springboard to Hollywood power. And he survived a devastating hotel fire by clinging to a windowsill with one burned hand. On March 30, Sumner Redstone, 88 — the chairman of CBS and Viacom — adds a Hollywood Walk of Fame star to his long list of accomplishments. His former Paramount colleague Sherry Lansing tells THR’s Stephen Galloway what it was like to work with him.
The very first time I met Sumner, it was 1993, he had just acquired Paramount and I was chairman. I remember thinking, “I am going to tell him all the ups and downs of the movie business,” and I, being script-oriented, went into this meeting in my conference room and spoke about our release schedule. Before I could finish, he said, “What about this movie Forrest Gump?” We hadn’t even done any advertising! I said, “How do you even know about it?” He sort of smiled and said, “That movie’s going to be a big hit.” He didn’t even know our schedule, but he picked the one movie that turned out to be gigantic.
There was another movie that everybody had great hopes for. The night of the first screening, I was in New York for a board meeting the next day, and I was very anxious to hear how it played. I went to sleep, and I kept waiting for the scores. And I woke at 2 — nothing. Then I woke at 5, then at 7, and finally I called [Paramount executive] John Goldwyn, and he said, “Sherry, it played so poorly, I didn’t even do scores.” I said, “Oh my God!” Now I had to go and make a presentation, and I was really shook up, and Sumner took one look at me and said, “What’s wrong?” And when I told him, he said: “Don’t worry. Not every movie can be a hit. But I believe in you.”
We re-edited it, and I kept thinking back to when he said, “Don’t lose faith in yourself.” It was the best thing anyone could say. And when the movie came out, it was a huge hit.
I would have followed him anywhere. He wasn’t just there for you during the good times but during the bad times, too. He has great passion for what he does and really believes in his people. And he’s a great teacher. I’ll always remember something he told me: “Success is not built on success. Success is built on failure and learning from it.”
Sumner Redstone will receive a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame oat 11:30 a.m. PT on March 30.
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