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They Can't Hide Their Lion Eyes

April 27, 1998|BILL HIGGINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If the National Conference of Christians and Jews' work in "nonsectarian human relations" could be summarized as getting lions and lambs to discuss their cultural differences, then the organization has taken that difficult task one step further: Barry Diller presented the NCCJ's annual Humanitarian Award to Sumner Redstone on Thursday at the Century Plaza Hotel.

In 1994, the two media moguls were in a bidding war for control of Paramount Communications. It was one of the great Wall Street takeover battles, with Redstone's Viacom eventually triumphing. It was such a fierce mano a mano struggle that most of Hollywood believed they'd be seeing Love Boat cruises for lions and lambs before they'd be seeing Diller praising Redstone.

"It shows we've learned to be tolerant and understanding and put adverse history behind us," said Redstone at the pre-dinner reception. "But [the financial battle] did cost us $2 billion in additional payments."

Diller said Redstone had asked that he present the award ("there ain't no other way I would have done it") and that their past history "was the point. It's a humanitarian thing." When the subject of his costing Redstone $2 billion was mentioned, Diller held his tongue but had the look of a lion who had his own version of the story.

The dinner itself was notable for its attendees. Though most of the execs, including Sherry Lansing, Jonathan Dolgen, Rob Friedman and Matt Blank, were from Viacom-owned companies (other studios bought tables, but their heavy hitters were absent), there were a number of big-name stars not usually seen at black-tie dinners: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jack Nicholson with Rebecca Broussard, John Travolta and Kelly Preston, Steve Martin, Goldie Hawn, Ted Danson, Kelsey Grammer and Danny DeVito.

The evening began with a speech-like invocation by Rabbi Harvey Fields, then remarks by Patrick Stewart, Travolta and NCCJ Executive Director Jim Hilvert, who praised Sid Sheinberg's "unwavering support" and Herb Alpert's donation of $350,000 for youth programs.

In his presentation remarks, Diller said he "has always had great respect for Mr. Redstone. I've known him for a long time. What's one little billion-dollar dispute?"

Diller spoke to a 750-strong crowd that had raised $1.3 million for the NCCJ. It included Redstone's wife, Phyllis, Barbara Davis, Warren Littlefield, James Caan, Gloria Stuart, John Goldwyn, Natalie Cole, Henry Winkler, Fred Rosen, Leonard Goldberg, Ving Rhames, Diane Keaton and Al Ruddy.

Redstone's acceptance speech was an almost professorial examination of the responsibilities of global media companies, the duties that come with freedom of expression and the obligation to make audiences think. He began his remarks by addressing Diller and saying he was grateful for the NCCJ plaque but would have preferred "an envelope with the $2 billion you cost me in the Paramount acquisition."

Diller again remained silent.

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