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COLUMN ONE : The Mogul and the Democrats : Movie and music figure Ted Field, living a life of well-guarded privacy, has become a major force in national politics, a friend to the party and foe of the GOP's Religious Right.

September 16, 1992|DAVID WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton arrives in Beverly Hills tonight for one of his biggest fund-raisers, celebrity guests such as Barbra Streisand and Warren Beatty will turn heads instantly.

Not so their host, a bearded, ponytailed man named Frederick W. (Ted) Field.

Heir to one of America's great family fortunes and an established movie and music mogul in Hollywood, Field also has quietly become one of the most potent forces in national politics.

He is among the top five individual donors to the Democratic Party, with more than $1 million in contributions during the last six years. Field also financed without fanfare the national advertising campaign that helped sink conservative Robert H. Bork's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yet by living a life of well-guarded privacy, the Marshall Field department store heir, who is said by Forbes magazine to be worth about $700 million, is scarcely known to the public--even in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles.

Who, then, is Ted Field?

"He's a very intense man and a very internal man," said Robert W. Cort, a former CIA specialist who has headed Field's film company, Interscope Communications, for seven years.

Acquaintances invariably point to Interscope as evidence of Field's business ability. In slightly more than a decade he helped turn it into one of Hollywood's foremost production companies with hits such as "Three Men and a Baby" and "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle." London-based Polygram bought a majority stake in Interscope for $35 million last month, but thought enough of Field and Cort to leave them in control.

Walt Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, known as one of the industry's toughest deal-makers, called the concessions won by Field "extraordinary."

In a rare series of interviews with The Times, Field said his overarching goal in entertainment and politics "is to impact culture." His main target: the Religious Right of the Republican Party.

The Religious Right might not like him, either. One of the groups signed to Field's record label is a band called Thrill Kill Kult, whose songs include "Leather Sex" and "Devil Bunnies."

Field, whose dark-paneled office is large enough to dwarf his 12-foot-long desk, spoke at length about the privilege to which he was born, the mystique surrounding him and his delight in being the "black sheep" of his family.

"I've realized that one of the things I need to do is try to make clear I'm not this scary, mysterious figure everyone speculates about," Field said.

Friends say this newfound \o7 glasnost \f7 is part of a lifestyle shift: Field, known to delegate authority at his film company, is throwing his money and himself into the music business, spending nights in clubs like Manhattan's CBGBs. He has ended a years-long feud with Marshall Field V, his half-brother. Field also is trying to unload some of his priciest real estate--including estates in Beverly Hills, Santa Barbara and Aspen. And, he recently forfeited ownership of the 15-story Westwood office tower that houses his businesses.

"He's not the polo-playing snob," said Denis Hamill, a New York Daily News columnist who has written scripts for Field. "He cuts through Hollywood pretense like (an) ax through cottage cheese."

Premiere magazine, the snappy entertainment journal, presented another view of Field in May, while ranking him 38th among Hollywood's 100 most powerful people: "Rarely seen at meetings. Bizarre Trumpesque lifestyle, big inner-darkness problem."

Field bristles at the description.

"I go out of my way to try to put myself personally in the background of every story that's done (about Interscope)," he said, adding: "That isn't because I'm sort of this mysterious, Howard Hughesian figure. . . . It's simply because I believe that most of what I do doesn't require personal aggrandizement."

But Field's intertwined personal and business life is indeed unusual: His compounds have state-of-the-art security, as does his Westwood office suite, where TV monitors apprise him of arrivals. He plays rent-a-champ chess matches against the game's greats, including Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. Despite mangling a hand during an earlier auto racing career, he takes kick-boxing lessons from an expert who appeared in the "Batman" films.

Field provides multimillion-dollar homes and living allowances for his three former wives--while insulating his fortune with elaborate prenuptial agreements. One of his former wives testified that he "has a desire to be with other women on a constant basis." He also can be gracious with friends, hosting groups of them on Mediterranean cruises. But he icily discards associates who fall from favor.

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