Martin S. Davis, 72, who reshaped the sprawling Gulf & Western conglomerate into the publishing and entertainment powerhouse called Paramount Communications, died of a heart attack Oct. 4 after collapsing while walking near his office in New York's Rockefeller Center.
The volatile entertainment industry mogul, once described by Fortune magazine as one of the 10 toughest bosses in America, bought and sold dozens of companies. The list of top executives who once worked for him -- and who typically left after butting heads -- reads like a who's who of today's media chieftains. Among them were Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner, USA Networks Inc. chief Barry Diller and DreamWorks SKG partner Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Mr. Davis was a Bronx, N.Y., native who began his career as an office boy with Samuel Goldwyn Productions. He attended the City College of New York and New York University but was largely self-taught in business.
He became assistant to the Goldwyn president and eastern manager for Allied Artists Pictures before joining Gulf & Western in 1958. He was named its chief executive in 1983.
The company by that time had become a classic diversified conglomerate, with assets ranging from cigars and agricultural products to financial services, industrial products, chemicals and motion pictures. It had acquired Paramount in 1966.
Mr. Davis began a sweeping corporate restructuring, selling about 150 businesses with revenue amounting to $6 billion from 1983 to 1989 and liquidating a $900 million investment portfolio.
The company focused on its publishing and entertainment operations, which included Simon & Schuster, Prentice Hall, Madison Square Garden, television stations and Paramount Pictures. It changed its name to Paramount Communications in 1989.
In September 1993, Mr. Davis and Paramount agreed to sell the corporation to Sumner Redstone's Viacom Inc., the owner of the MTV and Showtime pay TV service, for about $8.2 billion.
But the deal provoked a bidding war and involved many of the biggest names in the media and entertainment businesses. Viacom eventually prevailed, although the price was about $2 billion more than the initial agreement.
Mr. Davis had been managing partner in recent years of Wellspring Capital Management, an investment firm whose holdings include the maker of Lionel trains.
Survivors include his wife, Luella Davis, and a son, Philip Davis of Arlington.