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Company Town: Disney’s Mega-Merger : PROFILE : Sid Bass Gave It His Blessing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sid Richardson Bass is neither a director nor an executive of Walt Disney Co. But when Disney makes a decision as monumental as its planned $19-billion purchase of Capital Cities/ABC Inc., Sid Bass’ advice counts for plenty.

Just ask Disney Chairman Michael D. Eisner, who told a press conference Monday that he’s long leaned on Bass’ opinion--and never more so than in the Cap Cities deal.

Bass, 53, is one of four tycoon brothers from Ft. Worth, Tex., who in the past decade have parlayed a fortune built on an oil inheritance into a variety of hugely profitable investments--including a major stake in Disney.

Although the Bass clan has sold off some of its Disney stock over the years, a Bass family trust remains Disney’s largest stockholder, with a 6% stake, according to the company’s most recent proxy statement.

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Including other Disney shares that are owned individually by Bass family members and their business associates, however, the Bass clan controls a total of 18% of Disney’s stock, Eisner said. That stake has a current market value of $5.5 billion.

It was the Basses’ initial investment in Disney in 1984, and the advent of Sid Bass’ influence at the company, that helped Disney avoid a threatened hostile takeover that year and led to the arrival of the Eisner management team.

As Disney’s performance sharply improved, the Basses’ payoff skyrocketed. Only two years after making their initial investment, the Basses’ enjoyed a capital gain of $850 million on their stake, according to the book “Storming the Magic Kingdom,” John Taylor’s account of Disney’s problems at the time.

Since then, Eisner said, he’s sent financial information on possible deals to Sid Bass, asking his advice. Bass, in his laconic style, would characteristically respond with comments like, “ ‘Yeah, it’s something we should look at,’ ” Eisner said.

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But Eisner said that when he faxed details on the Cap Cities proposal to Bass, the Texan given to understatements “called me 15 minutes later and said, ‘Yeah, I think we should do it.’ ” In Sid Bass terms, Eisner said, that reaction was the equivalent of “Anthony Quinn as Zorba the Greek raising his hands and dancing around.”

The Basses seldom grant interviews, but Sid Bass does not always shun the spotlight. His second wife, Mercedes Kellogg Bass, is a notable socialite, and their names frequently appear in the society pages.

According to Forbes magazine, Sid Bass’ net worth last year was $1.5 billion.

Times staff writer Michael A. Hiltzik contributed to this report.


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