August 11, 2023 @ 7:51 AM
Herbert J. Siegel, the billionaire entertainment-industry mogul, passed away on Saturday at his home in Manhattan at the age of 95, according to The New York Times. Siegel, a Philadelphia native and the son of an immigrant garment manufacturer, built his fortune through investments in Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox.
His career began with an unsuccessful attempt to purchase a stake in the Philadelphia Eagles football team. However, he found success with Official Films, a company that packaged television programs and had connections to the CBS network. Siegel’s investments spanned various industries, but he always maintained a focus on entertainment. In 1962, he acquired General Artists Corporation, a talent agency representing stars like Jackie Gleason, Jerry Vale, Pat Boone, and Perry Como.
One of Siegel’s major deals involved a chemical company, which laid the foundation for his wealth. In 1965, he purchased a small stake in Paramount Pictures, but a takeover bid for the studio was unsuccessful. Alongside his partner, Broadway producer Ernest Marti, Siegel sold his stakes in Paramount and General Artists agency for $2.6 million. This capital allowed him to acquire Chris-Craft Industries, a boat company that became the namesake of his investment firm.
In the early 1980s, Siegel served as a white knight to movie mogul Steve Ross, buying a 21% stake in Warner Bros. to prevent a takeover by Rupert Murdoch. This made Chris-Craft the largest shareholder and gave Siegel leverage to delay the Time-Warner merger. When the merger was eventually completed in 1989, Siegel walked away with approximately $1 billion.
Throughout his career, Siegel also accumulated a significant stake in 20th Century Fox. However, he sold it in 1980 for $74 million. In the 1990s, he aimed to create a fifth national television network based on the 10 television stations he controlled. The United Paramount Network (UPN) launched in 1995 in partnership with Viacom Inc., but by 2000, it had incurred losses of over $800 million.
Ultimately, Siegel’s company profited greatly from the sale of those stations, including outlets in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, to Murdoch’s News Corp. for $5.2 billion in 2000, estimated at around $1 billion.
Herbert J. Siegel was preceded in death by his first wife, Ann Levy, who passed away in 2005. He is survived by his second wife, Jeanne Sorenson, to whom he was married in 2007 with a serenade by Tony Bennett.