Philippe Dauman, Viacom chief executive, left; Brad Grey, Paramount Pictures… (Alex J. Berliner / ABImages…)
Paramount Pictures celebrated its 100th anniversary Friday.
The theme song from the classic movie "The Godfather" played over loud speakers as about 250 employees, clutching plastic stemware filled with Champagne, made their way down the well-manicured promenade of the legendary studio.
Then, just a few minutes before noon, Paramount's own godfather arrived.
Studio employees and a handful of dignitaries gathered to salute Sumner Redstone, the 89-year-old executive chairman of Viacom Inc., parent company of Paramount.
Acquiring Paramount Pictures was Redstone's crowning business achievement, although not in dollars-and-cents terms. Two decades ago, the hard-nosed Bostonian doggedly pursued Paramount, eventually bringing the Melrose Avenue studio into the Viacom family at an enormous cost. The nearly $10-billion purchase jeopardized Viacom's finances. Wall Street thought the acquisition was foolhardy, but Redstone dug in.
"It was your fondest dream to own this place," Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman said to Redstone during Friday's ceremony.
For Redstone, whose first job was selling popcorn in a concession stand at his father's drive-in theater, Paramount epitomized the faraway glamour of the movie business as he went on to run his family's mid-sized chain of movie theaters in the Northeast. Paramount proved to be an irresistible lure.
After a nearly two-year bidding war against the equally formidable Barry Diller, Redstone in 1994 succeeded in his mission to own Paramount. And on Friday, his name was etched onto the stately Administration Building, where movie projects get the green light.
"It's odd that this building was never named. It's the central building on the lot," said Paramount's Chairman Brad Grey, who hosted Friday's centennial festivities along with Dauman. "It was perfect timing."
Grey and Dauman lowered a thick red velvet curtain to reveal the structure's new identity: Sumner Redstone Building.
Redstone joins other Paramount greats, including studio founder Adolph Zukor, Charles Bluhdorn, Rudolph Valentino, Clara Bow, Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich and Gene Roddenberry, all who have buildings named after them. Former studio chairwoman Sherry Lansing has her name on one of the theaters on the lot.
Redstone was seated next to the sign, which is now emblazoned with his name. "Usually buildings are named for people who are dead, but that will never apply to me because I will never die," said the aging mogul, reprising one of his favorite lines.
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