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THE BIZ / ALAN CITRON

Ovitz, Diller Deny Time Warner Rumors

March 15, 1994|ALAN CITRON

They appear side by side, along with Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael D. Eisner, in a power photo prominently displayed in the New Yorker's special tribute to Hollywood this week.

But Creative Artists Agency Chairman Michael S. Ovitz and QVC Inc. Chairman Barry Diller are both vigorously denying speculation that one of them is in line to run Time Warner Inc. if Seagram Co.'s Bronfman family makes a hostile play for the media and entertainment giant.

Ever since Seagram announced plans to purchase up to 15% of Time Warner shares on the open market, rumors have persisted that the Bronfmans had something hostile in mind. The family has repeatedly denied that, but speculation heated up again Monday when CNBC-TV's Dan Dorfman reported that Seagram may launch a proxy fight for the New York-based company.

Time Warner shares rose $1.25 to $38.75 on the New York Stock Exchange after the cable report aired. Seagram added 12.5 cents, closing at $28.50.

Said one well-placed source: "I think it's serious. That doesn't mean anything will happen. It just means they're serious."

Time Warner has enacted a so-called poison pill plan designed to make a hostile bid prohibitively expensive. Seagram on Monday denied that it plans a proxy battle.

Ovitz and Diller, who also happened to have lunch together Monday at the Grill in Beverly Hills, have been linked to the Time Warner job largely because each is close to Seagram President Edgar Bronfman Jr. A source close to Diller recently called the Time Warner rumor "nonsense." Ovitz's office said Monday that any talk of his taking on the job is "preposterous."

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And the winner is . . . nobody.

In the Steven Spielberg restaurant sweepstakes, that is. A spokesman Monday confirmed that the mega director-producer will not be giving a private party after Monday's Academy Awards ceremony, where he's expected to be showered with statuettes for "Schindler's List."

The top contenders for major prizes often reserve space at trendy restaurants on Oscar night to celebrate their victories. Clint Eastwood played to a packed crowd last year at Nicky Blair's after winning top honors for "Unforgiven." In an earlier sweep, Kevin Costner commandeered the Columbia Bar and Grill to celebrate winnings for "Dances With Wolves."

Several restaurants supposedly offered space to Spielberg. But Marvin Levy, his spokesman at Amblin Entertainment, said the director is too much the homebody to play party animal on Oscar night.

"He'll probably go to the Governors' Ball (the official reception) and then go home," Levy said. "At most he may have a few close friends over. But a party is not his style."

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And there's more on the style front. While no one has come up with a pronunciation for the stylish emblem that music star Prince has adopted as his name, that apparently doesn't matter to his fans.

His new release, "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," is stacking up as one of his biggest recent hits, even though the name Prince is nowhere to be found on the cassette jacket. Adding to the song's unusual lineage is the fact that it is on the independent Bellmark Records label.

Al Bell, the veteran record executive who heads Bellmark, says Prince brought the song to the small Los Angeles-based company after it had signed on to manufacture, market and distribute records for the singer's private label, NPG.

"The discussion started about artists he would put on the label," Bell said. "A week or so later, I got a call saying there might be a single from Prince first, which got my undivided attention. . . . From that point on, we set out to negotiate the arrangement that allowed us to put it out."

Prince stipulated that his given name not be used in connection with the release, but sources say he's "promoted it like crazy." "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" is ranked at No. 16 with a bullet on the Hot R&B charts, No. 21 with a bullet on Billboard's Hot 100 and No. 10 on Soundscan's extended single chart.

Chances are that Bell's Prince will come along only once, because the singer is still signed to Warner Bros. A source at Warner said Prince was given a onetime dispensation to record outside the label as part of Warner's recent decision to sever its business ties to his Paisley Park label.

But Bell, who turns 54 today, says he will take what he can get. "We probably were at the right place at the right time," he said. "Sometimes it happens."

And sometimes it happens twice. Bellmark also released the monster single "Whoomp! There It Is" from Tag Team.

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Sometimes studios let the good ones get away.

TriStar Pictures' "Guarding Tess," which led the competition with a $7.1-million gross for its opening weekend, was initially supposed to be made by Paramount Pictures two years ago.

"Tess" was one of the first movies given the go-ahead by then-Paramount Chairman Brandon Tartikoff. Shirley MacLaine and Nicolas Cage had already been signed to play the leads in the story about a beloved former First Lady and her browbeaten Secret Service agent when Tartikoff left in late 1992, sources say.

Paramount subsequently put "Tess" in turnaround, which is common when studio regimes change. Producers Ned Tanen and Nancy Graham Tanen took "Tess" on for TriStar.

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Viacom Inc. Chairman Sumner Redstone, who toured Hollywood last week for the first time since acquiring Paramount Communications Inc., is still in his "getting to know you" mode. Redstone and Chief Executive Frank Biondi plan to meet with William Morris Agency President Jerry Katzman and several of his movie agents in New York next week. Redstone and Biondi have also committed to a second meeting with a larger Morris contingency in L.A.

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