Trouble in the House of Redstone: National Amusements : Sumner Redstone : Showcase Cinema De Lux : Shari Redstone
A shopping mall in Dedham is a curious place to witness the waning days of an empire. Then again, life has always been curious when the Redstone family is involved.
From here in Dedham, Sumner Redstone transformed his family’s modest theater business, National Amusements, into a mighty kingdom that now extends into almost every corner of the media and entertainment industries. Through National Amusements, Sumner orchestrated the takeovers of Viacom in 1987 and CBS in 2000, as well as their related fiefdoms (MTV, Nickelodeon, Simon & Schuster, et al.). It was a power grab with few parallels in the history of American business. Today the Redstone holdings encompass more than $8 billion in assets, making Sumner one of the wealthiest men in the world. He is now 86, and his legend is secure. What he leaves behind is not.
Which brings us to the new Legacy Place shopping mall, where Sumner’s old offices have given way to a Banana Republic and a P. F. Chang’s, and where there now hulks a 15-screen Showcase Cinema De Lux, the mall’s centerpiece. The massive theater represents National Amusements’ attempt to establish itself as a luxury brand.
On this cloudless August day, several hundred VIP guests—a mix of tweedy country-clubbers and what passes for Boston’s young and hip—have gathered to christen the building. Teen beauty queens greet the arrivals, who sip cookie-dough martinis in a swank lounge as waiters circulate with duck canapés. (Tomorrow, the theater will be serving salmon pinwheels and $10 burgers, delivered to patrons who order via the touch of a button as they watch movies from Ultraleather loveseats.) There are ice luges and free bags of popcorn. A pianist on a baby grand plays hoary show tunes. All that’s missing is the ghost of Wallace Hartley on fiddle.
At the center of the hubbub is a small woman in lilac and pearls, a tiny, fine-boned creature with a familiar ginger dapple to her hair. She is Shari Redstone, Sumner’s daughter, president of National Amusements, caretaker of the family business through which Sumner’s corporate interests are controlled.
After a series of musty aldermen take the stage to pay tribute to various regulatory bodies and other musty aldermen, it’s Shari’s turn to address the crowd. She steps up to the podium. Even though her black pumps add a few inches, she still has to lower the microphone. She hardly needs one: Her voice, lacquered with a thick Boston accent, is conditioned to shouting.
"My grandfather was a visionary," she begins. "What I learned [from him] was the value of relationships."
The crowd quiets. Shari describes how her beloved grandfather, Mickey, laid the foundation for the Redstone fortune. She has spent most of the day talking up a bright future for National Amusements; behind the smile, however, is wistfulness. "This has been a dream come true," she says. "We have indeed come a long way…. [The business] has continued to be founded on the principles and values that were so important to [my grandfather]. I know that he’s up there smiling, and his legacy will live on forever."
When the speech is over, the audience claps and files into theaters to watch free screenings. By the time the credits roll, the lobby will be empty, the ice luges melted, only popcorn left to sweep up. On their way home, few people will remember that in her speech about legacy, Shari Redstone neglected to mention the father who had given her everything, and who may yet take much of it away.