Tradition and sentiment were dying and there was no one to play taps. Starting last year, the great Field newspaper-TV empire was being dismantled and sold, piece by piece, to the highest bidder. The first big chunk was Chicago’s WFLD-TV, to Metromedia for $140 million; next to go were Detroit’s WKBD-TV (to Cox Communications for $70 million); Boston’s WLVI-TV (Gannett, $47 million); San Francisco’s KBHK-TV (United Television, $23 million); and seven cable franchises (American Cable TV Investors 2, $20.5 million)—$300 million in all. Then, last month, came the coup de grace: the peddling of the 42-year-old Chicago Sun-Times. Although publisher James Hoge and friends scrambled to patch together an offer of $63 million, they were $7 million short of the bid by Australian press czar Rupert Murdoch, who tossed in another $20 million for the Field Newspaper Syndicate. The Field brothers, the empire’s factional inheritors, went for the cash in a deal to be consummated next month. And if Marshall Field V, 42, and his half brother, Ted, 31, had qualms about turning the family flagship over to Murdoch and his raffish, often sensational crew of journalists, they did not show it.
“Ted wanted to maximize [the price],” said Marshall, co-heir of the fortune whose symbol had been the paper that captured six Pulitzers in the past 13 years. “It was in our agreement that we would sell to the highest bidder. I didn’t want a big fight with him.”
Known around the Sun-Times as, respectively, “the Wimp” and “the Weirdo,” Marshall and Ted Field are opposites who, many maintain, have had plenty of fights already. “They’re not all that distant from Bobby and J.R.,” says one acquaintance. Yet Kay Fanning, Ted’s mother and editor of the Christian Science Monitor, denies there is any “long-standing ill feeling.” She insists that the brothers are dissolving Field Enterprises simply because “they are vastly different people with vastly different interests.”
That much, at least, seems sure. Slim and commonly described as “conservative and contemplative,” Marshall is the product of stylish Eastern schooling (Deerfield Academy, Harvard) and corporate politics. Ted, on the other hand, is bearded and stocky, a shy peripatetic whose mother whisked him away from the Fields of clover to grow up in Alaska and who once admitted he had attended seven or eight colleges without graduating.
These disparate half brothers share a formidable legacy. In 1856 the original Marshall Field went to Chicago from Pittsfield, Mass. and in 12 years was head of a huge department store. In 1941 his grandson Marshall III sold the by-then famous shop and started up the Sun (the Times was added in 1948), which Marshall IV continued. Marshall V did not aspire to greatness but had it thrust upon him when, at 29 in 1969, he was made head of Field Enterprises after a four-year crash training program that began the day his father died. The green-visor brigade on the news desk found his editorial judgment lacking, but even his critics credit him with a fierce nose for business. During his apprenticeship on the copy desk, one editor remembers, “He had a thing about using pencil stubs that other guys had thrown away.”
Some time ago, however, Marshall’s interests wandered from the fourth estate to real estate. Although he will stay in Chicago with his second wife, Jamee, and their three daughters (a son by an earlier marriage, Marshall VI, 16, attends boarding school in the East), he plans to devote his energies to Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, the Boston-based real estate firm acquired by Field Enterprises in 1979. If it had not been for his father’s death at age 49 of heart failure, Marshall V might never have dabbled in newspapering at all. “I’d have preferred retailing,” he has said. “I once sold suits at Bloomingdale’s and I loved it.”
Ted, who is variously described as generous, self-effacing, remote and willful, is the mystery man in the Field equation. In 1977 he told the Los Angeles Times, “I don’t want to be famous…I’m just a 25-year-old guy doing what he likes to do.” From the early ’70s right up until this year, that meant car racing—mainly with mercurial Indianapolis-class driver Danny (“On-the-Gas”) Ongais. Says one racing promoter, “Their relationship was like the Prince and the Pauper. Ted leaned on Danny for everything.” Field burned up money like high-grade petrol, at the rate of more than $3 million a year, until last February. Then he sent Danny a handwritten note at the Miami Grand Prix: “I’m not going to drive anymore; the cars and the team are yours if you can find a sponsor.”
Apparently, Ted could no longer afford both Danny and Interscope Communications, a movie company he started four years ago with Englishman Peter Samuelson. Interscope was initially regarded as something of a joke—”a couple of rich boys who came to Hollywood and wanted to be movie moguls,” says one film executive. But last year Field hired David Obst, a Hollywood wheeler-dealer, and Interscope is now scheduled to do a remake of the 1959 nuclear disaster film On the Beach and a Norman Mailer script of Henry Miller’s Rosy Crucifixion. Ted needed liquid capital, all the more, presumably, since he is divorcing his wife of eight years, Judith Erickson (they have one child, Judith Danielle, 4).
But there may be a longer-standing reason for his desire to be rid of Field Enterprises. Jon Woodner, a race driver who knows him well, says that Ted has referred to Marshall as his “scary older brother” and felt “like Cinderella” inside the company. To his mind, it was the Marshall Field empire.
Upon coming into his inheritance at 25, Ted told the L.A. press, “I’m not obsessed by carrying the [family] torch.” For his part, Marshall has said, “The only real tradition is that each succeeding generation shouldn’t blow it. If you can leave the family fortune a little bigger than you found it, that’s what counts.” Some of the 2,000 employees at the Sun-Times, contemplating the prospect of Murdochian headlines about lust and terrorized tots, are saying the Field brothers have already blown it.