Is Kirk Kerkorian, the Las Vegas financier, angry enough at Columbia Pictures Industries Inc. to go to court even if it means shedding some of his cherished privacy?
"Kirk is prepared to do that," insists his attorney Stephen D. Silbert.
Industry sources, however, doubt the case ever will get to court, claiming that Kerkorian, a master at complex financial strategies, is bluffing.
Kerkorian refuses comment, typically relying on Silbert and a stream of press releases from his public relations firm, Booke & Co.
The financier and his privately owned Tracinda Investment Corp. own about 24 percent of Columbia stock, along with 47 percent of the stock of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Film Co. The long-bubbling feud between the 63-year-old financier and Columbia, which began in 1978 when he began acquiring Columbia stock, came to a boil when Kerkorian tried to increase his holdings in Columbia.
In an unsuccessful attempt to scuttle a $50 million offering of debentures which would be convertible to stock by Columbia, Kerkorian personally offering to pay $50 million for the stock. He claimed he would save Columbia costly fees for the public stock sale. And, not incidentally, the deal would have upped Kerkorian's interest in Columbia to 32 percent.
On the other hand, the new offering dilutes his hold on Columbia by creating more stock. One theory shared by Wall Street analysts and top executives of Columbia is that Kerkorian is attempting to force the film company to pay him top dollar for his stock.
When his offer was rejected, Kerkorian immediately filed suit. Among his allegations was that Columbia did not clear the $50 million offering with him, which he said the film company promised to do in a 1978 agreement. Among those named in the suit was Herbert A. Allen, a Columbia board member and major stockholder. Kerkorian has accused his company, Allen & Co. Inc., of making millions of dollars from marketing the debentures.
Columbia soon answered in kind, accusing Kerkorian of a fraudulent scheme to "seize control" of Columbia.
The two sides have exchanged harshly worded press releases ever since. For example, a federal judge this month set the case for trial in Nevada, ordering the Columbia suit to be moved from New York to Nevada. A Columbia spokesman said the company is appealing.
Jumping on the relatively innocuous decision, the Kerkorian camp issued a press release hailing the change-of-venue announcement as "a major victory." And Silbert included an unexplained slap at Columbia for its "attempt to try the case in the press."
On Tuesday, Kerkorian asked the federal judge in Las Vegas to order Columbia to postpone its upcoming annual shareholders meeting until the trial takes place.
Despite Silbert's assertions that his employer is spoiling for a court battle, nobody who has followed the assiduously private and fiercely independent Kerkorian believes he wants painful pretrial legal discovery. Although Kerkorian has made a fortune out of investing in show business, he has avoided the spotlight's glare.
Indeed, Kerkorian managed to stay in the financial shadows until 1968, when he began buying MGM stock. But, in fact, Kerkorian had been a major West Coast operator long before he began receiving publicity.
During World War II, Kerkorian was a pilot ferrying planes across the oceans, and after the war he bought and sold surplus aircraft. Then, in 1947, he borrowed $15,000 from Bank of America to establish Los Angeles Air Service, a shuttle to carry gamblers between the Coast and the Las Vegas craps tables.
Bank of America has been a major source of financing for Kerkorian over the years, and the relationship continues right up to today, according to Silbert in a rare comment on his client's financial affairs. With the help of the bank, Kerkorian has become a master of the financial art of leveraging -- acquiring large amounts of assets with small small amounts of cash.
In 1965, the LAAS was renamed Trans International Airlines Corp. of Nevada. Three years later, Kerkorian sold the successful charter line to Transamerica Corp.
Kerkorian also was the controlling shareholder of Western Airlines. He sold off the last of his stock about five years ago.
Reputedly a one-time Las Vegas high roller, Kerkorian also has plunged into real estate along The Strip -- and won. He built the International Hotel and acquired the Flamingo Hotel-Casino in the late 1960s. The two hotels were owned by International Leisure Corp., and when it sold stock to the public in 1969, Kerkorian's holdings were worth $170 million. Kerkorian has since sold off his ILC stock to finance other ventures.