My Life With Sumner

Former Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Sherry Lansing pays tribute to her ex-boss, Sumner Redstone, as he receives a Hollywood Walk of Fame star

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."


7 SUMNER MILESTONES: The life and times -- thus far -- of a top American mogul

1923-1979: Born to Belle and Murray Rothstein (their surname changed when Sumner was 17), Redstone takes three years to graduate from Harvard, does intelligence work for the Army in World War II, gets his degree at Harvard Law and works for the U.S. Justice Tax Division before joining in 1954 his dad's Northeast Theater Corp., the forerunner to National Amusements. Redstone's hand is partially paralyzed in a 1979 hotel fire.

1987: After a hostile takeover, Redstone wins voting control of Viacom for $3.4 billion; Viacom two years earlier had acquired MTV Networks for $500 million. The controlling voting stake is housed at Redstone's holding company, National Amusements.

1993: Redstone gains control of Hollywood's oldest studio, Paramount Pictures, beating out fellow mogul Barry Diller, now chairman of IAC, and John Malone, now chairman of Liberty Media.

2000: Viacom merges with CBS Corp., whose head, Mel Karmazin, becomes president and COO of both. In 2004, when Karmazin abruptly leaves, Redstone picks Leslie Moonves and Tom Freston as co-presidents and co-COOs.

Early 2006: CBS and Viacom split per a 2005 decision. Redstone becomes controlling shareholder of both companies; Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp.; Freston, president and CEO of Viacom (later replaced by Philippe Dauman). Succession plans remain focused on his daughter, Shari Redstone, president of National Amusements and vice chair of both companies. Viacom acquires DreamWorks.

Mid 2006: Paramount severs its relationship with Cruise/Wagner Productions, Tom Cruise's company. Redstone cites Cruise's erratic behavior (Oprah's couch, prescription-drugs rant). They later make up, and Paramount distributes M:I -- Ghost Protocol in 2011.

2012: Redstone attends annual Viacom shareholder meeting in New York after originally planning to miss it. Seated on a stage, he tells shareholders that "reports of my absence from this meeting have been greatly exaggerated."

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