Former Warner Bros. Chairman Bob Daly Offers Tribute to Merv Adelson

THR Merv Adelson - H 2015
Joe Pugliese

THR Merv Adelson - H 2015

He was "tough, tough ... but terrific," says the friend and former sparring partner of the Lorimar mogul, who died penniless but proud at the Motion Picture Home: "Merv knew how to negotiate."

This story first appeared in the Sept. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Merv Adelson made and lost a fortune. He co-created Lorimar Productions, which produced such hits as 'The Waltons' and 'Dallas'; sold it for $1.2 billion in 1989; and by 2003 was $112 million in debt — and living in a 500-square-foot apartment in Santa Monica. The mogul, who was married four times (including to Barbara Walters), died Sept. 8 at age 85. Former Warner Bros. chairman Bob Daly remembers him.

I did a lot of negotiating with Merv over the [Lorimar] acquisition. He was tough, tough, but he was terrific. If I made a deal with him and we shook hands, that was it. It wasn't like you got the paperwork and it was [different].

In those days, there really were only three networks, and they had a tremendous amount of power. There would always be a battle. I remember many times us yelling at each other, and when it was over, we could go to lunch. That's what a good negotiation is about: You push it to the wall as far as you can, but you never rupture a relationship. Merv knew how to negotiate.

The sad part, and I mean the sad part, is both Merv and [Lorimar co-founder] Lee Rich ended up broke, and they probably built the best independent television company ever. Merv put an unbelievable group of people together, including Les Moonves, Dick Robertson and Jeff Schlesinger. Shows have come and gone, but that was a major accomplishment. They sold the company, and they got a lot of money, and they both ended up broke.

That's the sad part of Merv. He was a good guy, a good-looking guy. People liked him. Barbara Walters still has fond memories. I talked to her after he died. I called her to make sure she knew. [In a statement to THR, Walters said: "Merv was a kind and gentle man with a great sense of humor. We stayed friends long after our marriage."]

He lived a great lifestyle. I've been to his house in Aspen; he had a beautiful house in Bel Air. He went into [the Motion Picture Home] because he had no more money; he didn't go because he was sick. But he always was great there. It wasn't like he was unhappy. He had a very positive attitude.

[After Vanity Fair revealed Adelson was broke, Barry Diller invited him to a party for its editor.] The interesting thing is, Merv showed up. The article had come out about a month before, and Barry invited him, and everybody got up to go over and hug him: Terry Semel, myself, Brad Grey, Moonves. And he showed up with his head high and dressed nicely. You would not know he was going through any problems. He was a very special man.

Bob Daly was chairman of Warner Bros. from 1981 to 1999.