Herbert J. Siegel, Entertainment Industry Mogul, Dies at 95

The consummate deal-maker sold TV stations to Rupert Murdoch and helped broker Warner Bros.’ merger with Time

Herbert J. Siegel and Wife Jeanne
Herbert J. Siegel and his wife Jeanne at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation New York Symposium and Awards Luncheon at New York Hilton on October 19, 2017 in New York City.

Herbert J. Siegel, the billionaire entertainment-industry mogul whose blockbuster deals included the sale of 10 TV stations to Rupert Murdoch and the merger of Warner Communications and Time Inc., died Saturday at his home in Manhattan, The New York Times reported. He was 95.

A Philadelphia native, Siegel was the son of an immigrant garment manufacturer who turned his inheritance and boyhood fascination with the film industry into a fortune through investments in Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox.

He started his career while still in college, with a failed attempt to purchase a stake in the Philadelphia Eagles football team. When that bid was unsuccessful, he bought an interest in Official Films, a company that packaged television programs and had connections to the CBS network.

A consummate deal-maker, Siegel invested in a range of industries but always kept his hand in entertainment. In 1962, he bought General Artists Corporation, a talent agency that represented stars of the time like Jackie Gleason, Jerry Vale, Pat Boone and Perry Como.

He built his core money generator with deals involving a chemical company, then bought a small stake in Paramount Pictures in 1965. A bid to take over the studio failed, so he and his partner, Broadway producer Ernest Marti, sold their stakes in Paramount stake and the General Artists agency, netting $2.6 million that he used to buy a boat company, Chris-Craft Industries, which gave his investment firm its name.

His attempt to buy Warner Bros. in 1968 was also unsuccessful, but he served as a white knight to movie mogul Steve Ross in the early 1980s, buying up a 21% stake in the company to fend off a takeover by Murdoch. That stake made Chris-Craft the largest shareholder, and enabled him to delay the Time-Warner merger amid disagreements with Ross. When the deal was finally sealed in 1989, Siegel walked away with about $1 billion.

Siegel also accumulated a significant stake in 20th Century Fox over several years, eventually becoming its largest shareholder, then sold it in 1980 for $74 million.

In the 1990s, on the heels of the growth of the Fox Network, he attempted to build a fifth national television network based on 10 television stations he controlled. The United Paramount Network, or UPN, launched in 1995 in partnership with Viacom Inc. It had lost more than $800 million by 2000 when Chris-Craft sold its stake to Viacom, the Times reported.

His company also walked away with a bundle — estimated around $1 billion — from selling those stations, including outlets in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, to Murdoch’s News Corp. for $5.2 billion in 2000.

His wife of 55 years, the former Ann Levy, died in 2005. Frank Sinatra sang at their 1950 wedding, the Times reported. He is survived by his second wife, Jeanne Sorenson, with whom he was serenaded by Tony Bennett at their 2007 wedding.