When producer Steve Tisch was offered the chairmanship of AIDS Project Los Angeles last year, his first question was the most obvious. Why appoint a straight guy to one of the most high-profile positions in the gay community?
"It seemed odd," Tisch said. "But I took some time to think about it and finally I accepted. I wanted to do it. The disease has certainly torn a path through my business."
No one is questioning the wisdom of the offer, or the response.
The "Risky Business" producer is credited with streamlining business operations at APLA and raising its budget from $14.5 to $18.6 million, all in the midst of a stubborn recession and stiffening competition for charity dollars.
He has largely accomplished that by tapping entertainment industry colleagues, who now account for half of APLA's funding. Tisch-appointed board members include Walt Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, Creative Artists Agency President Ron Meyer and QVC Chairman Barry Diller.
Entertainment mogul David Geffen, another board member, lobbied Tisch to take the job.
"Steve is very effective at mobilizing people who wouldn't necessarily be involved in the problems of people with HIV and AIDS," Geffen said. "He's also a very well-liked person in the community, so he's been able to bring a lot of people into the APLA fold."
APLA serves roughly 3,500 people a year with medical and social services. Its bread and butter is its quarterly fund-raisers, which center around revolving themes.
The agency netted $3.3 million last November at its Commitment to Life dinner. The Tisch-organized event honored Geffen and Barbra Streisand and featured a big cast of stars. More recently, APLA pulled in about $750,000 when it coupled a glitzy Calvin Klein fashion show with a Tina Turner concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Its next event, AIDS Walk Los Angeles, takes place Sept. 19. More than 25,000 people have signed up for the walk, which is expected to net about $2.3 million.
The level of Tisch's involvement in APLA is unusual in a town where people often pay lip service to causes, and where the ubiquitous red AIDS ribbons worn at awards shows sometimes constitute more of a fashion statement than a personal commitment.
Tisch spends more than 12 hours a week on APLA business, and can frequently be found roaming the agency's cavernous new headquarters in Hollywood, which was purchased after Geffen made a $1-million contribution to APLA.
Geffen says Tisch was the right choice for the job because of his administrative skills and his family's longstanding commitment to causes. Tisch's family controls Loews Corp., the diversified conglomerate that owns a majority of CNA Financial Corp. and 23% of CBS Inc. His mother is on the board of New York's Gay Men's Health Crisis, and his uncle is CBS Chairman Laurence A. Tisch.
"He's really gotten his guts into it," Geffen said. "He's not some figurehead."
Katzenberg says Tisch warned him not to come onto the board unless he was fully committed to doing the job.
"The biggest contribution I can see is that he has made them define their purpose, which is a very hard thing for an organization that has grown as fast as they have," Katzenberg said. "It's extraordinary the breadth of stuff they're involved in. As a CEO he's made it clear this is a real enterprise."
Tisch expects to remain in the job for two to three years. His goals include expanding the APLA board to include more minorities. At the same time, his production work continues, with two movies on deck.
"Forrest Gump," co-produced with Steven Starkey and Wendy Finerman and starring Tom Hanks, is being released by Paramount Pictures next summer. And New Line Cinema will distribute "Corrina, Corrina," produced with Paula Mazur and starring Whoopi Goldberg, in the late summer or early fall of 1994.
Going to the Chapel? With rumors of a possible merger with Viacom Inc. in the air, Paramount Communications is scheduled to hold a routine board meeting Thursday. But one source says Paramount "won't have an offer to consider."
Viacom apparently is not ready to propose an outright acquisition--even though its current market value exceeds Paramount's.
Last week, Paramount's shares traded at a 52-week high on speculation that the two New York-based entertainment companies might reach an accord. Sources say the companies nearly had an agreement in early July but could not come to terms on a price. Talks have reportedly been held intermittently since then.
Some skeptics on Wall Street as well as in Hollywood questioned whether Paramount Chairman Martin S. Davis would be willing to recommend a merger, because Viacom has a dominant shareholder in Sumner Redstone. Regardless of title, Redstone would be the boss since he would own more than 30% of the stock of the combined company.
Redstone declined to comment and Davis could not be reached.
The price of Paramount Communications Inc. stock fell $1 to $56.25 on Friday after The Times published a story that no merger deal with Viacom appears imminent. Viacom stock remained unchanged at $66.50 on the American Stock Exchange.