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A mogul returns to finish what he started

Harry E. Sloan left Hollywood and got rich in Europe. Now he's back, trying to revive MGM's faded fortunes.

March 04, 2007|Claudia Eller | Times Staff Writer

The one exception was a film MGM had a hand in helping finance: "Rocky Balboa," a $24-million sequel that exceeded industry expectations by grossing nearly $70 million domestically.

Part of Sloan's strategy is to continue capitalizing on other MGM franchises such as the lucrative "James Bond" and "Pink Panther" series. MGM also plans sequels to the popular caper movie "The Thomas Crown Affair" and to "Terminator." Such recognizable titles give MGM more clout with theater owners, DVD retailers and international TV buyers. Increasing his leverage also drove Sloan's aggressive play to bring Cruise aboard.

In November, shortly after Viacom Inc. Chairman Sumner Redstone had banished Cruise from his longtime home at Paramount Pictures for his off-screen antics, Sloan called the actor's representatives.

"When there was all this controversy, Harry stepped up and very vocally said he'd love to be in business with Tom Cruise," said the star's longtime producing partner, Paula Wagner. "When we moved out of Paramount, he offered us office space."

Cruise and Wagner quietly moved to MGM. While they were weighing their options, Sloan cooked up the idea of having the pair revive United Artists, offering them a 35% ownership stake and the chance to run a financially and creatively autonomous production company without interference from a big studio. Sloan is in the process of raising a $500-million fund to finance and market UA films.

Some wonder why a star of Cruise's caliber would hitch his wagon to a man he didn't know and whom many in Hollywood are still sizing up. "Harry offered us an opportunity to put into motion a dream we had to create a company that embraced the artist," Wagner said.

Sloan's end game? To double MGM's nearly $5-billion value over the next few years and take the company public or sell it. He has more than $30 million of his own money at stake.

His penchant for deal-making has fueled rumors about some interim matchups for MGM. In part, that speculation stems from his deep friendships with other Hollywood figures.

Going back decades, Sloan has been part of an old-boys club of TV executives that, in addition to Moonves, includes Lionsgate Chief Executive Jon Feltheimer; Ted Harbert, chief executive of Comcast Entertainment Group, which includes channels such as E! and G4; and their mutual attorney Ernest Del, among others. They celebrate one another's birthdays and vacation together.

"The group has been together for over 20 years, and we're still as close today as we were then," Moonves said. "We've grown up together, we've matured together and we compete with each other."

Feltheimer and Sloan, who worked together at New World, have toyed with someday merging the two lions, MGM and Lionsgate. But Sloan acknowledges he first must make MGM matter again.

As for the naysayers, Moonves says it's unwise to bet against someone as determined as Sloan: "Harry likes to win."

claudia.eller@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Harry E. Sloan

Background

Born March 8, 1950, in Torrance. Father worked in the parts department at Douglas Aircraft; mother was a substitute teacher and helped found the first temple in the South Bay.

Family

Four children: two daughters from a former marriage who are 11 and 18; two sons, 17 and 20, who are the children of his current wife, Florence.

Education

1971: bachelor's in political science from UCLA

1976: law degree from Loyola Law School

Career highlights

1976: Founded entertainment law firm with Larry Kuppin

1983: Acquired New World Entertainment for $2 million

1985: New World's initial public offering

1986: Led New World's acquisition of Marvel Entertainment Group

1989: Sold New World for nearly $300 million, including debt

1990: Founded Scandinavia Broadcasting System

1993: SBS's initial public offering

1999: SBS became largest shareholder in Lionsgate

2005: Joined board of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., sold SBS for $2.6 billion, including debt, and was named MGM's chairman and chief executive.

Source: Los Angeles Times staff

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