Giancarlo Parretti, the fast-rising Hollywood movie mogul who has admitted that he rarely watches films himself, underscored the point at the Cannes Film Festival a couple of years ago. Encountering actor-director Clint Eastwood and his agent at a party, Parretti said: "Mr. Eastwood, I've always admired your work." The problem was that he was speaking to the agent.
Those types of blunders have helped shape Parretti's reputation as a consummate outsider. But if the Italian financier whose Pathe Communications Co. is trying to purchase MGM/UA Communications Corp. has a hard time sorting out the Hollywood elite, he has clearly seized upon its lavish lifestyle.
Like the film titans of old, Parretti appears to have endless resources and the imagination to use them. A $20-million Gulfstream IV jet with "69GP" on the tail ferries Parretti and his entourage between continents. Ground transportation is a $200,000 Rolls-Royce. Home is a 14-room mansion in Beverly Hills. Night life revolves around his own private Los Angeles club, Tramp of London, where he often disco dances the night away. And if he acts as if he owns the place when he walks into his favorite restaurant, Madeo, it's because he does.
"He's like the kid with his nose pressed against the candy store window who can suddenly buy the store," one acquaintance said. "He's living the life I'd live if I had the guts."
Parretti, however, finds himself facing unwelcome scrutiny as he pushes ahead with his audacious bid for an even bigger candy store, MGM/UA. There's the matter of his mysterious past and the persistent published reports, in Business Week, Newsweek and elsewhere, suggesting that he may have ties to organized crime, which he denies. There are the anti-Semitic remarks attributed to him in an Italian newspaper interview, which Parretti vehemently denied making in a subsequent rebuttal, and the prison term he faces over a "fraudulent bankruptcy" conviction in a Naples court.
Then there are the nagging questions over the MGM/UA acquisition, which seems to hang on financing as mysterious as Parretti. Skeptics question why he's investing so much cash in an anemic studio that will see much of its machinery dismantled under the buyout, in which Time Warner Inc. is paying more than half the cost in return for film distribution rights.
Parretti, 49, who is appealing the Naples court conviction, seldom responds to press queries anymore. And when he does, the result is often "flip answers, frequent inaccuracies, dogmatic conclusions or outright dismissal of tough questions," according to a story in Variety. Parretti refused to be interviewed by The Times. People in Hollywood who pride themselves on knowing everyone say Parretti may be the biggest enigma to emerge in years.
"I don't know him and I don't know if anyone knows him," said Brian Grazer, a co-founder of Imagine Films, an independent company that makes mainstream Hollywood films, as does Pathe.
The limited number of people in Hollywood who have encountered Parretti describe him as a gregarious man who lives like a king. His private jet alone is a luxury unknown to many of his peers. This type of aircraft can seat 12 to 21 people and generally comes with interior appointments costing $200,000 to $3 million. "There is none better," said one specialist.
Parretti can often be found holding court at a corner table at Madeo Ristorante on Beverly Boulevard, an upscale spot with rich wood, smokey mirrors and a large antipasto table. He is greeted by a parade of well-wishers offering hugs and congratulations, often in Italian.
One who has met with him says Parretti appears to be very bright, though his interests are limited. "He mostly talks about food, movies and his private plane," the acquaintance said.
Jack L. Gilardi, executive vice president at International Creative Management, a leading talent agency, said Parretti also likes to cut a rug. In fact, he is even said to be installing a private discotheque in his Beverly Drive mansion. "He loves to dance," Gilardi said.
A handful of Hollywood executives have seen yet another side of Parretti. The financier, who according to MGM/UA executives was not to be involved with the studio's operations during the course of the attempted buyout, recently asked the company's executives to screen-test a former Miss Universe who had just met with him and Dino De Laurentiis during a whirlwind tour of Los Angeles.
In a highly unusual move, MGM/UA asked director Tom Manckiewicz to drop his work on "Delirious," a John Candy movie, to conduct the test at Parretti's expense. "To rent out an on-location crew was a very easy request to consider" because of Parretti's prospective ownership of the studio, said Ken Spivak, the MGM/UA executive who arranged the test.