TED FIELD GETS EMOTIONAL remembering it now, that quiet moment less than a year ago. Field, the entertainment mogul and scion of Chicago's Marshall Field retailing fortune, was in his office high above Wilshire Boulevard in West Los Angeles. Standing in front of him, bathed in the soothing neutral colors of the huge room, was Tupac Shakur, the gangsta-rap star who had just been bailed out of a New York prison while he appealed a sexual-battery conviction. The unlikely pair talked about Tupac's upcoming film, "Gridlock'd," for the company Field founded.
Then, Field remembers, "we hugged," and the moment passed. Tupac's fast-lane, workaholic life sped on. He completed the movie, meanwhile stockpiling enough new rap recordings to fill new releases--and the burgeoning coffers of Interscope Records, the extraordinary company Field helped launch, now the most successful new musical enterprise in the world. Last week "Gridlock'd" opened to positive reviews. The soundtrack, including four new Tupac songs, seems headed toward the top of the music charts. But last September, of course, Tupac Shakur was shot and killed in a gangland-style murder in Las Vegas. "What Tupac could have accomplished would have been awesome," says Field, his eyes misting.
For Ted Field, you see, some of it is personal. Hollywood empires are famously built by driven, ruthless men, by immigrants and glove makers and hungry sons of Brooklyn and Van Nuys. But Hollywood has also always been a magnet for wealthy drifters, heirs to fortunes. What they are looking for, and fleeing from, is a little different, but the town can be just as unforgiving. They "produce" (read: pay for) a movie or two, troll for starlets and find themselves, by the end, relieved of a goodly portion of Grandpa's money.
Field arrived in Hollywood like that, but he turned out to be an entrepreneur of a different kind. Competing against global music titans, tiny 6-year-old Interscope Records now monopolizes the upper reaches of the record charts, and has done so for months, including a week when it had the top four spots. In a business where finding a successful act is about as easy as spotting a necktie at the Grammy Awards, Interscope has assembled an unmatched array of alternative-rock and urban-music hit makers. Field's film operation hasn't been too shabby, either, with several hits among 40 movies.
But Interscope's explosive success has an equally explosive underside. Some of the music at the heart of Interscope is considered by many to be downright dangerous--Snoop Doggy Dogg, Marilyn Manson, Tupac. And the mild-mannered Field finds himself standing in the middle of the nation's noisiest intersection of commerce, culture and politics: the debate over whether music that traffics in shocking violence and sexually degrading behavior is a destructive force or a protected art form. So far, Field remains relatively unscathed, but he knows he can't avoid trouble forever. Already his once major role as a contributor to the Democratic Party has effectively ended. "I literally can't donate," he says. A contribution last year to Sen. Paul Wellstone (Democrat of Minnesota) was promptly sent back. Too much heat.
Field says he never invested more than $15 million of his own fortune in Interscope Records, parlaying it into a gain today of at least $500 million. Although he declined to disclose his net worth, which Forbes magazine estimates at $750 million, Field says more than half of it derives from the entertainment businesses he himself built. He says his agreement with MCA--which bought half of Interscope in 1996--calls for a possible purchase of the rest in two years. And who knows what that stake will be worth by then? He denies press speculation that he's preparing to sell right now.
"It's a remarkable success story," says a more traditional mogul, David Geffen. But like "Gridlock'd" in the wake of Tupac's murder, Ted Field's success is tinged with controversy and sadness.
And shyness: Field, now 44, has for years ceded almost all of the spotlight to his partners at Interscope--Jimmy Iovine in music, Robert Cort in film. (Cort left the company in 1995; Field is now more conspicuously involved.) "I don't have anything to sell about myself," Field declares. "I don't have a desire to be well known." It's not that he's the quiet ascetic: married three times, he has six daughters and spends time lavishly on tennis, chess, martial arts, weightlifting, voracious reading--and striking blondes. But fame, apparently, is not one of his appetites.
In fact, there was quite enough of a kind of fame in his background--not tabloid celebrity, perhaps, but enough to set Chicago bluebloods gossiping. Before he came to Hollywood, Frederick Woodruff Field inhabited a world of deep, dark subplots. The Field family history is strewn with divorces and mental illness, with deaths suspiciously resembling suicides. And there was a tense fraternal undercurrent to his relationship with his half brother, Marshall Field V.
If you're not familiar with this particular real-life episode of "Dynasty," here's the thumbnail: the Field family saga begins in the mid-19th century, when Marshall Field Sr. arrived in Chicago with, it is said, less than a dollar in his pocket. When he died, early in the next century, he had amassed a $120 million fortune from one of Ameri- ca's legendary department-store empires. Field's son, Marshall Jr., had killed himself a year earlier. His grandson, Marshall III, ultimately inherited some $70 million and eventually established the Chicago Sun-Times. His son, Marshall IV--Ted's father--suffered a mental breakdown, married three times and died in 1965 with copious amounts of alcohol and pills in his system. Was it suicide? "I really don't know if anyone knows," Ted Field says. "It's nothing that haunts me or bothers me."
When Ted's brother Marshall V took over the Field fortune at the age of 25, Ted, 11 years younger, relocated to Alaska with his mother, Kay Fanning, who bought the local paper with her second husband and later edited The Christian Science Monitor. Ted had a certain intensity of focus--his mother tells of how, as a teen playing tennis against his sisters, he would read pages torn from a novel while waiting for their plodding, leisurely returns. He tangled with his mother. "I'm very aware of his need to establish himself in his own venue," Fanning says. Did she think this venue would one day include Snoop Doggy Dogg? "I'm not wild about some of those songs," she says, then adds proudly: "But it's just a small part of his total accomplishments. "
Ted assumed a more wayward, meandering path than his older brother, who was back in Chicago running the family business. Ted poured millions from his trust fund into his parents' struggling Anchorage Daily News. He drifted through several colleges. He raced cars (and mangled one of his hands, which he keeps wrapped in an Ace bandage). At 25 he became more involved with Field Enterprises, eventually clashing with his brother. "Being born a Field, but not a Marshall Field, had a big effect on him," says Marshall V. "It made him break away from the family. Obviously, it gave him the money." In 1983 Ted and a bevy of lawyers forced his brother to agree to the breakup of the company, including the sale of the Sun-Times to Rupert Murdoch.
Field now says he regrets the cold way he went about the split, but the brothers have come to appreciate how differently they turned out. "He is what I call a flashy liver," says Marshall. "In business, he's a shoot-for-the-mooner; I'm a plodder."
In California, Field indeed was living flashy and aiming high. In 1982 he formed the film company and quickly had nothing to show for his expensive efforts. Then Skip Brittenham, one of Hollywood's top lawyers, gave him a valuable Hollywood lesson: play, when you can, with other people's money. "He was footing the entire bill," recalls Brittenham. "He needed someone else"--a studio--"to validate the nature of what he was doing." Field soon had a modest hit with "Revenge of the Nerds." Later he hooked up with Robert Cort, a former management consultant, and they formed an alliance with Disney, which provided financing and distribution. Interscope came up with "Three Men and a Baby." The company stumbled a bit in the early 1990s, then aligned with PolyGram, which acquired half the company. "Jumanji" and "Mr. Holland's Opus" followed.
Yet until late 1995 Field wasn't wholly engaged. While Cort supervised the day-to-day operations, Field ran off in a thousand directions. Through Wall Street connections he helped back Sir James Goldsmith, the corporate raider. But such passive investing didn't satisfy him. "I thought it was expected for someone who inherited money," he says. He dabbled in real estate. In 1986 he hired Bob Burkett, a fund-raising expert who guided him into the world of philanthropy and politics. Field became an important backer of the Moral Majority's liberal nemesis, Norman Lear's People for the American Way. He was a founding contributor to the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. He fretted about the Supreme Court. Late one night in 1987 Burkett got a call from Field. "I think Bork is dangerous," Field said, and swiftly he made a six-figure contribution that helped derail the nomination.
Field also had just the place for Hollywood fund-raisers. Greenacres, the former estate of Harold Lloyd, was so grand that Field felt compelled to acquire $20 million in old-master paintings to do justice to its wall space. He raised money for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and for the rain forests. And later, for presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992. Barbra Streisand sang.
But the unassuming Field never stood up to speak at those gatherings. His passions were more private. Indeed, he says much of the reason he entered the record business is simply because he likes music. Unlike many executives, he goes to hear bands. In 1990 he connected with Iovine, an accomplished producer, and they signed on with Time Warner's Atlantic Records label.
Interscope's early talent spotters seemed to have an uncanny knack of finding unsung bands and small, new labels. They affiliated with Nine Inch Nails and a label that spun off from the group, Nothing Records. Tupac, who switched to the notorious rap record label Death Row about a year before his murder, joined Interscope early on. Death Row and Teddy Riley of Blackstreet ("No Diggity") came aboard. Organized Noise (they produced TLC's hit "Waterfall") and R. Kelly have set up labels there.
A major source of Interscope's success is its relationship with Death Row, which features the gangsta roster of Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tupac and, until recently, Dr. Dre. These groups are awesomely profitable, both in record sales and in boosting the value of Field's substantial remaining Interscope interest. But they were just as awesomely controversial. Bob Dole lambasted Field and Interscope on the Senate floor. In 1995 Time Warner dropped its half interest in Interscope under pressure from conservative author William Bennett of Empower America and C. DeLores Tucker of the National Political Congress of Black Women. Tucker contends that a white-controlled music industry is exploiting both black artists and black listeners: it's an issue of corporate responsibility. Recently the anti-rap campaign targeted MCA, just as it had focused on Time Warner before the company blinked and MCA stepped in. Alarmed by Snoop and Tupac's latest records, Bennett accused Edgar Bronfman Jr., CEO of MCA's parent, Seagram, of reneging on a pledge to reject such music.
MCA took that bullet, but the Field empire is finding its Death Row link increasingly troublesome. Since Tupac's death, federal authorities have pressed a massive investigation into Death Row and its founder Marion (Suge) Knight. Sources say the FBI, IRS agents and others are looking for evidence of drug dealing, money laundering and organized-crime links, among other things. Knight, who is rumored to have ties to the Bloods street gang, was driving the car in which Tu- pac was fatally ambushed. Knight is now jailed in Los Angeles for alleged parole violations.
So far, the investigation hasn't directly involved Interscope. And Field repeatedly emphasizes that Interscope simply distributes, but does not own, Death Row. "In a strange way," says one of Field's attorneys, "all of this is out of Ted's orbit."
Field steadfastly defends Interscope's right to distribute rap music and artists' right to produce it. As a parent, he says he wouldn't allow his 3- and 10-year-old daughters to listen to Snoop Doggy Dogg and Marilyn Manson. But he insists that as long as Interscope's artists keep producing good, credible music, the company will continue to support them. And he might have added: as long as Ted Field can stay in the shadows.
Little-known Ted Field and his company, Interscope, are behind some of the best-known names in movies and music. A look:
U.S. BOX MOVIE OPENED OFFICE Three Men and a Baby 11/87 $167,780,960 Jumanji 12/95 $100,458,310 Mr. Holland's Opus 12/95 $82,569,971 Cocktail 7/88 $78,222,753 Revenge of the Nerds 7/84 $40,874,452
ALBUM SALES, IN MILLIONS MUSIC GROUP CURRENT TOTAL Tupac Shakur 3.0 11.0 Nine Inch Nails 3.0 8.0 No Doubt 8.0 8.0 Snoop Doggy Dogg 2.3 7.0 Blackstreet 2.5 4.0