Saturday night, Angelo Arena, the president of Chicago's Marshall Field & Co., got a telephone call from his old boss in Los Angeles, Philip Hawley, president of Carter Hawley Hale Stores.

Though the two are old acquaintances, Hawley's message was cool and formal.

Hawlwy wanted to merge the two companies.

He wanted a meeting soon and if Arena wouldn't schedule the session, Hawley would serve notice of a formal takeover bid on Monday morning.

Arena said no. By the time Hawley's letter arrived Monday morning, Arena had polled his board of directors and told his lawyers it was time to act.

By mid-afternoon an antitrust lawsuit that had been carefully perpared weeks before was delivered to federal court in Chicago.

The corporate chess game for control of Marshall Field was on.

The eight largest department store operation in the country with sales of $600 million. Marshall Field had long been considered ripe for a merger.

Its home market of Chicago was nearly saturated, its profits had fallen for four straight yars and a bid to diversify into real estate investments had gone sour.

Dayton Hudson Corp. of Minneapolis had courted Marshall Field last year and as soon as Arena was hired away from Carter Hawley Hale there was speculation of a potential merger with Carter Hawley Hale.

That was not idle gossip, Arena confirmed yesterday. On Oct. 11, the day he took over as president of Marshall Field, Carter Hawley Hale officials suggested a merger.

They were not immediately rebuffed.

But the friendly overtures from his old company quickly turned into tough talk, Arena complained in a telephone interview yesterday.

'I was surprised and disappointed at the way they escalated this, and how they've approached us, in a completely unfriendly manner," he said. "It's not at all what I would have expected from my years of experience with Carter Hawley Hale."

Arena expected enough, however to be prepared when Hawley delivered his written offer Monday morning. Marshall Field lawyers several weeks before had prepared their first line of defense, he said.

Antitrust actions have become a standard tactic of companies seeking to block a takeover bid. The legal snarls can buy time fore regrouping and negotiation.

"The question is one of trying to do what is in the best interest of Marshall Field in its broadest extent for our stockholders, our employees, to communities," he added.

Carter Hawley Hale officers yesterday refused to respond to Arena's comments. The company issued the statement from Philip Hawley saying it was "hasty and ill advised" for Marshall Field to file the antitrust suit.