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SPECIAL REPORT

A Denver Billionaire's Invisible Hand

Industrialist Philip Anschutz, intensely private and `focused beyond belief,' is quietly changing the face of downtown Los Angeles.

July 23, 2006|Glenn F. Bunting | Times Staff Writer

Despite his wealth and ambition, Anschutz is barely visible in Southern California. He flies to Los Angeles about once a month aboard his jet, stays in a Beverly Hills hotel and spends weekends at a residence in the Palm Springs area.

With no entourage, no personal office and not even a reserved parking space in Los Angeles, he goes out of his way to remain anonymous. Friends say he enjoys jogging alone or buying a hot dog at Staples Center without being recognized.

Perhaps not since Howard Hughes has a multibillionaire with such a big stake in Hollywood been so secretive.

"Anschutz is an enigma," said Neil Westergaard, editor of the Denver Business Journal. "He is a very, very private man, which I think invites a lot of speculation about what his motives are."

Philip Frederick Anschutz was born in 1939 in Great Bend, Kan., attended high school in Wichita and studied economics at the University of Kansas. After graduation in 1961 he went to Denver to work for his father, wildcatter Fred B. Anschutz.

In the 1974 interview with the State Historical Society of Colorado, Philip Anschutz described himself as "aggressive and hard-working." He recalled logging 12-hour days at the office and working evenings and weekends.

"It becomes almost like alcoholism," Anschutz said. "You can't break the habit. You eat and drink this kind of work. I don't think there is anything unusual about that."

What was unusual was Anschutz's knack for spotting bargains and business trends.

"The guy is an alchemist when it comes to money," said Bob Scanlan, a merchant banker who has worked with Anschutz. "Phil would rank up there in my humorless Hall of Fame. He is just focused beyond belief."

He and his wife of 38 years raised two daughters and a son in Polo Club, a prestigious neighborhood in Denver. He bought Eagles Nest Ranch, a 47,000-acre spread in eastern Colorado where he keeps 2,500 head of cattle, built a golf course and plays host to a dove-hunting retreat each year for friends, chief executives and politicians.

Since 2000, Anschutz, his wife and his companies have made more than $1 million in political donations, mostly to Republican candidates and campaigns. He has spent millions assembling one of the nation's finest collections of western art.

Yet Anschutz shuns many of the traditional trappings of wealth. For years, he wore a Timex and drove an old Buick before buying a used Lexus sedan. He has been spotted in a tuxedo behind the wheel of a rented Ford Taurus en route to a Hollywood premiere.

Admirers call Anschutz modest and soft-spoken. He rarely cusses or consumes alcohol. His one known vice: chomping unlighted cigars.

Tim Leiweke, AEG's chief executive and Anschutz's point man in Los Angeles, said: "He is to a fault extremely quiet because seldom is he comfortable being in the limelight. Phil has nothing to hide. This is a guy who at the end of the day likes to be private and has no ego."

University of Denver Chairman Dan Ritchie has been a friend for decades. He said Anschutz lives by "the code of the West": Be tough but fair. Operate on a handshake. Talk less and say more. Never quit. Don't promote yourself.

Anschutz's religious beliefs have been scrutinized, especially within the movie business, because he is regarded as a moral conservative who has invested heavily in films that appeal to families and Christians.

Although Anschutz and his wife have worshiped at an Evangelical Presbyterian church in suburban Denver, they no longer do so, according to Monaghan. He said that Anschutz considers himself "spiritual" and now attends services at churches of various denominations. When in Southern California, friends say, he prefers spending occasional Sunday mornings on the golf course.

His Walden Media and Walt Disney Pictures produced "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," a Christian allegory about the resurrection. "Narnia" is Disney's highest-grossing live-action film, with nearly $1 billion in box-office and DVD revenues.

Douglas Gresham, a co-producer of the film and the stepson of "Narnia" author C.S. Lewis, told The Times that he selected Walden to make the movie because of his regard for Anschutz.

"I believe he's a man of faith, probably someone who's had some realizations in his life and is trying to carry them out," he said.

Anschutz has spent about $23 million over the last decade on a pair of nonprofit groups to promote positive values. His Random Acts of Kindness Foundation is dedicated to inspiring generosity, and the Foundation for a Better Life was established to "help make the world a better place for everyone."

According to an analysis of federal tax returns, the Anschutz Foundation donated nearly $110 million from 1998 to 2004, with about 80% of the money going to nonprofit organizations in Colorado.

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