COLUMN ONE : The Mogul and the Democrats : Movie and music figure Ted Field, living a life of well-guarded privacy, has become a major force in national politics, a friend to the party and foe of the GOP's Religious Right.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton arrives in Beverly Hills tonight for one of his biggest fund-raisers, celebrity guests such as Barbra Streisand and Warren Beatty will turn heads instantly.

Not so their host, a bearded, ponytailed man named Frederick W. (Ted) Field.

Heir to one of America's great family fortunes and an established movie and music mogul in Hollywood, Field also has quietly become one of the most potent forces in national politics.

He is among the top five individual donors to the Democratic Party, with more than $1 million in contributions during the last six years. Field also financed without fanfare the national advertising campaign that helped sink conservative Robert H. Bork's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yet by living a life of well-guarded privacy, the Marshall Field department store heir, who is said by Forbes magazine to be worth about $700 million, is scarcely known to the public--even in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles.

Who, then, is Ted Field?

"He's a very intense man and a very internal man," said Robert W. Cort, a former CIA specialist who has headed Field's film company, Interscope Communications, for seven years.

Acquaintances invariably point to Interscope as evidence of Field's business ability. In slightly more than a decade he helped turn it into one of Hollywood's foremost production companies with hits such as "Three Men and a Baby" and "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle." London-based Polygram bought a majority stake in Interscope for $35 million last month, but thought enough of Field and Cort to leave them in control.

Walt Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, known as one of the industry's toughest deal-makers, called the concessions won by Field "extraordinary."

In a rare series of interviews with The Times, Field said his overarching goal in entertainment and politics "is to impact culture." His main target: the Religious Right of the Republican Party.

The Religious Right might not like him, either. One of the groups signed to Field's record label is a band called Thrill Kill Kult, whose songs include "Leather Sex" and "Devil Bunnies."

Field, whose dark-paneled office is large enough to dwarf his 12-foot-long desk, spoke at length about the privilege to which he was born, the mystique surrounding him and his delight in being the "black sheep" of his family.

"I've realized that one of the things I need to do is try to make clear I'm not this scary, mysterious figure everyone speculates about," Field said.

Friends say this newfound glasnost is part of a lifestyle shift: Field, known to delegate authority at his film company, is throwing his money and himself into the music business, spending nights in clubs like Manhattan's CBGBs. He has ended a years-long feud with Marshall Field V, his half-brother. Field also is trying to unload some of his priciest real estate--including estates in Beverly Hills, Santa Barbara and Aspen. And, he recently forfeited ownership of the 15-story Westwood office tower that houses his businesses.

"He's not the polo-playing snob," said Denis Hamill, a New York Daily News columnist who has written scripts for Field. "He cuts through Hollywood pretense like (an) ax through cottage cheese."

Premiere magazine, the snappy entertainment journal, presented another view of Field in May, while ranking him 38th among Hollywood's 100 most powerful people: "Rarely seen at meetings. Bizarre Trumpesque lifestyle, big inner-darkness problem."

Field bristles at the description.

"I go out of my way to try to put myself personally in the background of every story that's done (about Interscope)," he said, adding: "That isn't because I'm sort of this mysterious, Howard Hughesian figure. . . . It's simply because I believe that most of what I do doesn't require personal aggrandizement."

But Field's intertwined personal and business life is indeed unusual: His compounds have state-of-the-art security, as does his Westwood office suite, where TV monitors apprise him of arrivals. He plays rent-a-champ chess matches against the game's greats, including Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. Despite mangling a hand during an earlier auto racing career, he takes kick-boxing lessons from an expert who appeared in the "Batman" films.

Field provides multimillion-dollar homes and living allowances for his three former wives--while insulating his fortune with elaborate prenuptial agreements. One of his former wives testified that he "has a desire to be with other women on a constant basis." He also can be gracious with friends, hosting groups of them on Mediterranean cruises. But he icily discards associates who fall from favor.

"There (is) a very short list of people who I simply will not countenance," Field said. ". . . People who do things to me in a business or personal context which I regard as indisputably despicable or dishonest or mean, I am proud to say that, rather than trying to exact any kind of revenge on them--which I might be in a position to do--I absolutely do decide that I will not have them in my life."

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It is the first photograph on display for anyone passing through the foyer of Greenacres, Field's 16-acre estate above Benedict Canyon.

On the left is Clinton, the suit-clad Democratic presidential nominee. Center is a svelte-looking, bespectacled Field, in cropped ponytail. Right is Field's frequent companion of late, a stunning, blonde and blue-eyed actress named Tracy Tweed.

The color shot captures Field at age 40: He has lost weight, divorced his third wife and acquired a first-name relationship with the man who would be President of the United States.

"I have a great deal of respect for Bill," Field said. "I think he's going to make a terrific President. . . . He understands that it's important for Democrats to understand business."

This, from a self-described "ultimate capitalist," who in the late 1980s made $100 million on just one quick deal, the buying and selling of Panavision Inc.

If there is a single issue that most motivates Field to support campaigns, it's to counter the influence in national politics of Christian fundamentalists.

"I consider the Religious Right in the Republican Party to be very close to Nazism," said Field.

Some entertainment industry figures are surprised to learn that Field is not Jewish, perhaps because of his $500,000 contribution to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Although he practices no religion, Field said he wants to counter neo-Nazi attempts to deny the Holocaust.

Politically, Field and his recently divorced wife, Susan, gave $483,805 to the Democratic National Committee and to other Democratic Party accounts at the federal and state levels over the last four years, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington and interviews. Field gave big in 1989 and 1990--when many party stalwarts thought George Bush's reelection was a certainty.

"Ted Field gave money when it was needed the most," said Melissa Moss, finance director of the Democratic National Committee, adding that Field has remained among the party's top three to five givers, along with Alida Rockefeller Messenger and Richard J. Dennis, a Chicago commodities broker.

Combining his donations to federal and state party organizations and to candidates seeking all levels of offices nationally, Field has given approximately $1.2 million over the last six years, according to Robert L. Burkett, his in-house lawyer and top political assistant.

Field also is a leading individual donor to People For the American Way, a nonpartisan Washington lobby that has backed liberal causes. Relying largely on Field's money, the group orchestrated the campaign in 1987 that helped topple President Ronald Reagan's nomination of Bork to the Supreme Court.

"I felt that he was a super-authoritarian, completely insensitive to human concerns and to personal freedoms," Field said. "I thought he was a true monster--the most dangerous kind of monster, because he was a very smart monster."

Field added, recalling a conversation in 1987 with his political assistant, Burkett: "I remember saying to Bob, 'Takes a million? Spend a million. Go for it.' "

To avoid making himself, rather than Bork, the focal point, Field said, "We funneled the contributions through People For. " Field and Burkett said they ultimately spent $200,000. Because People For the American Way is not required by law to disclose its donors, Field's bankrolling of the anti-Bork campaign has not been known publicly.

"I like the way that he chooses to matter," said Norman Lear, the TV producer and founder of People For, who persuaded Field to become a member of the organization's board.

Sen. Paul Simon, the Illinois Democrat who won reelection with the help of Field's money in 1990, said Field is unusual among large-scale donors.

"A difference is that I have never sensed anything other than a public-service motive on his part," Simon said in an interview.

Added Ronald H. Brown, the Democratic National Committee chairman to whom Field gave $10,000 to boost his 1989 candidacy for the post: "He asks for nothing in return."

But Field's ability to give and raise from others such vast sums elevates him above those who must elbow their way past a string of doorkeepers to collar officeholders.

Take the Democratic nominee. "Bill Clinton came here to talk to Ted," said Burkett. "Ted was one of the first people in this town who urged Bill Clinton to run."

In May, Field hosted at Greenacres what, to that point, was the biggest-dollar event for any of the Democratic candidates for President. The Hollywood-flavored event generated more than $400,000 for Clinton's campaign.

And tonight's fund-raiser at Greenacres, sponsored by the Hollywood Women's Political Committee, is no less significant: Half of the $1.1 million to be raised at Field's mansion is earmarked for the Democratic National Committee's registration and Election Day get-out-the vote efforts for the Clinton-Gore ticket.

At Greenacres, with its flowing lawns and expansive rose gardens, Clinton, Streisand and the rest will mingle at one of California's most regally appointed estates.

The 44-room, 36,000-square-foot living quarters also is where Field has hosted chess greats Fischer, Spassky and Garry Kasparov, the reigning world champion. Field is unranked by the United States Chess Federation and has not won a game from the three champions he pays to play.

"He plays better players to improve his mental skills," said Lev Alburt, a Soviet emigre and four-time U.S. national champion whom Field once defeated in a game. "I think for him, tennis is for body, chess is for mind."

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Field's mother, Katherine Fanning, remembers him playing chess against his father when he was only 4 or 5 years old. Fanning, who would eventually edit the Christian Science Monitor, divorced Marshall Field IV when Ted was 13, and moved Ted and his two sisters to Anchorage, Alaska.

There, the children attended public schools and tasted life beyond the Field dynasty. By the time Field returned to Chicago and claimed his half of the Field fortune, he already considered himself an outsider. He and Marshall Field V each inherited $260 million under an arrangement that allowed Ted to force sale of the Chicago Sun-Times--provoking a feud between the brothers that is only now healing.

Marshall said they recently forged a rapprochement by phone when he called Ted to offer to pay half of the living expenses of the brothers' former nanny.

"It just became stupid," Marshall, 51, said of the rift.

Marshall said he saw his brother infrequently even before their rift, and never met Ted's third wife. Of that and his two other divorces, Ted Field said that prenuptial agreements have shielded his fortune while providing amply for the ex-wives and his five daughters.

But not all of the splits have gone smoothly. Field and his second wife, Barbara G. Stephenson, sued each other in the late 1980s. He wanted her out of one of his homes. She accused him of adultery and sought compensation far in excess of that called for in their prenuptial and post-marriage contracts.

Field "has a desire to be with other women on a constant basis," Stephenson testified in a sworn statement on file at Los Angeles Superior Court. "He had been having affairs throughout our marriage and constantly told me about them. In fact, at times he went so far as to bring them into our home."

Field told The Times: "Whether or not I continued to see other women after the (second) marriage was in place--gentlemen never say. . . . I'm certainly no hypocrite and don't run from the fact that I might have a bit of a reputation as a womanizer. . . . I'm probably someone who's better off single, in general. We'll leave it at that."

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Ted Field came to California in 1974 to carve his own legacy--unfettered by the mantle of being a Chicago Field. Within a year, he did what certainly no Field had: He plunged into auto race driving, buying the highest-priced cars.

Field, who has attended seven colleges but does not hold a degree, left racing in 1983. He is remembered as a spender who at first was an embarrassment as a driver, but who transformed himself into a worthy competitor, winning the prestigious 24 Hours of Daytona race.

Field's nadir in racing remains what he calls the "most defining moment of my life." The accident happened on Nov. 5, 1975, when a tow truck tried to pull Field and his car off the track at Riverside International Raceway.

"Would you like to see it?" Field asks, referring to his left hand, the one that was pulverized by the tow truck's cable and now is masked by an elastic bandage. Unsheathed, only the thumb appears intact; two fingers are gone; two others that remain are shriveled, inwardly curled hooks.

"People who underestimate my toughness would have to have been there to realize what that was like," Field said of the accident and its aftermath. "If anyone thinks that I've had the ultimate, cushy, easy life, I promise you that that year and a half to two years would give the lie to that notion."

In Hollywood, Field also is known as a risk-taker who "carries a big pen."

He learned the entertainment business through failure. After losing money as the passive financier of two films, he took more direct control of production and began structuring partnership deals that shielded him from the exorbitant costs of marketing and distribution.

The signature of Field's films is that they are cheap to make and thematically undaring--"The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" cost $11.5 million and has taken in $87.5 million domestically.

Yet Field, after producing 28 films, remains an enigma in Hollywood, socializing with only a few of its top players. And, within hours of Field's recent sale of a 51% stake in his film company, disagreement sprouted over who got the better of the deal.

Many viewed the $35-million cash sale to Polygram as vindication for a man who not many years ago was scoffed at as a money-burning dilettante. Long-term, said Interscope President Cort, the aim is no less than forging a new major studio.

The more cynical interpretation of the $35-million film company sale is that it might suggest Field's empire is feeling the pinch from his spending so hugely over the last 2 1/2 years to launch the record company.

Is Ted Field, who in the 1980s more than doubled his $260-million family inheritance, at any risk of plowing through his fortune? Burkett and Field, who declined to estimate his net worth, insist not.

Yet there are a handful of circumstances that warrant at least posing the question.

Field is trying to sell his five trophy residential properties, including Greenacres, a 43-acre compound in Santa Barbara and a mansion that is the largest ski-in, ski-out home on Aspen Mountain. And in May, Field relinquished ownership of Murdock Plaza, the Westwood office tower that remains home to his businesses.

The holdings are for sale, Field said, because he does not use them often enough or has tired of them.

"This house Greenacres has become a complete albatross, in a certain sense, around my neck," Field said, referring to the estate built in 1928 for the silent screen star Harold Lloyd. "Hopefully it won't become a white elephant, as well, in the real estate market."

Field bought the mansion six years ago in a court-ordered sale for $6.5 million. After spending millions more to refurbish it, he put Greenacres on the market in 1990, asking $55 million. The property now lists for $39 million. Also on the market are Field's retreats in Santa Barbara, $21 million, and Aspen, $19.9 million.

As for Murdock Plaza, Field relinquished ownership in May of the Wilshire Boulevard tower, which he purchased in 1985 for $70 million. Land records show that Field in 1988 took out a loan of $88 million for the property from Sumitomo Life Realty Inc.--secured only by the building and its lease income--not by any of Field's other assets.

So, in the end, Field still may have profited because he gave up property that he purchased for less than the loan amount. Field has kept his operations headquartered in the building, only now he is a tenant, not a landlord.

Eighteen years after coming to California, Ted Field still chafes at fitting any family tradition.

"I don't particularly relate to being a, quote, Field," he said. ". . . I am deliberately the rebel. Deliberately the maverick. And totally unconcerned about how I fit into the Field nexus and the Field legacy. Now, that may sound ungrateful. And frankly, I don't care about that either."

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