Chris-Craft Industries, which suddenly has zoomed into ownership of a major stock position in Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., has a record of being anything but a passive investor. And that goes double for its chief executive, Herbert Jay Siegel.
A mere glance at Siegel's business history would suggest the wisdom of Fox management's keeping a weather eye on the horizon for signs of raider craft flying the Jolly Roger.
A dozen years ago Siegel made a Hollywood reputation, observed or not, as a corporate enfant terrible in a takeover attempt at Paramount Pictures. He didn't win control, but he came out with a handsome profit by selling his stock to Gulf & Western Industries.
Still on the sunny side of 50 (which he'll become on May 7), Siegel is described by some who know him as highly intelligent and perceptive, with the instincts of a jungle fighter.
His aggressive business style has been evident since the days of the donny-brooks at Paramount.
Not long afterward, Siegel used what was then his corporate vessel - Baldwin-Montrose Chemical Co., one of the world's biggest makers of DDT insectiscide - to put a boarding party on Chris-Craft.
Baldwin-Montrose bought enough of Chris-Craft's stock to induce the famed pleasure boat manufacturer to acquire it by merger - and Siegel took over the helm of Chris-Craft in January, 1968.
Siegel hardly paused before launching Chris-Craft in a raid on Piper Aircraft Corp.
With cash and exchange offers to Piper shareholders, Chris-Craft sought to gain voting control against the desires of management, mostly members of the Piper family. The family, holding about 31 percent of the stock, allied itself with Bangor Punta Corp., which launched its own tender offer battle.
Bangor Punta won control of Piper Aircraft in September, 1969, but its fight with Siegel and Chris-Craft was just beginning.
For the next eight years, the competing sides engaged in a bitter court fight - a process that tied up a big chunk of hris-raft's assets. (During 5 of Siegel's 10 years at Chris-Craft, the company ran deficits. Even in profitable years, the fickleness of the boat market has been a drag on income from broad-coasting and production of chemicals and plastics.)
Chris-Craft won $35.8 million damage award in the case in 1975, only to have it taken away early last year when the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the lower court's ruling. Finally, last October, Chris-Craft sold its 43 percent share of Piper to the foe, Bangor Punta, losing several million dollars in the investment.
Siegel's company came away from the deal with $49.8 million, of which $40 million was in cash. He immediately served notice that the firm would expand its activities in the broadcasting and entertainment fields. (Chris-Craft for years has aperated KCOP in Los Angeles and a Portland, Ore., TV station).
It also was noticed that the wraps were off Siegel for the first time in a long while.
A few weeks ago, rumors began circulating that Chris-Craft was buying Twentieth Century-Fox stock at the market. Fox, for which proxy battles have been almost a rite of spring during the 1970s, pricked up its corporate ears. On March 6 Chris-Craft said it had acquired 5.3 percent of Fox's shares. The threshold for ownership disclosure under federal securities laws is 5 percent of a publicly traded company.
On the same day, Siegel paid Fox Chairman Dennis Stanfill the courtesy of a telephone call in which he said what he had reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission - that the stock was acquired as an investment. That expression means there is no intent to take over management. There was no indication from Stanfill that he took the assurance at less that face value.
Other competent Hollywood observers said, however, that Siegel could always change his mind at a propitious time in the future.
"Herb Siegel is inmensely perceptive," commented attorney Greg Bautzer, whose business includes putting together film industry deals. Bautzer said Siegel is an old friend.
"He's made an intelligent investment in a very sound company with great management. He's put Chris-Craft in a position that if anyone seeks to tender and attempt a takeover of Fox - and it's conceivable that someone will - then he's got the option of joining them from a position of strength or being assured a profit for his shares. And he can always change his mind. What is an investment now can be control in the future," Bautzer said.
A coincidence that has developed is that David Mahoney, a member of the Chris-Craft board since 1975, is chairman of Norton Simon Inc., which owns about 2 percent of Fox's stock. An NSI spokesman said the stock was acquired in 1973 with its acquisition of Max Factor and Co.
The Norton Simon spokesman said its Fox holdings are not related to the Chris-Craft matter. Fox executives said they consider Norton Simon and Mahoney to be friendly to its management anyway.
A veteran Hollywood agent, who has followed Siegel's career with admiration, said "I can't believe he is going to sit there with a $9 million investment." He added that he does not think Siegel would "make a run" at Fox management at a time of record-breaking profits, largely from "Star Wars."
"But", the agent said, "It is a cyclical business and the minute they have a bad year, he'll be right there."