EXCLUSIVE: You’d think that Hollywood would be talking about Viacom’s posting of a bigger-than-expected quarterly profit that sent shares up 4%. Instead, Hollywood is talking about very public fights between the company’s chairman Sumner Redstone and his wife, most recently her spat on the Paramount lot at the Stardust premiere, and a few weeks ago her meltdown over dinner at Dan Tana’s. Normally I don’t delve into the moguls’ personal lives, but, let’s face it, Redstone’s train wreck of a family life remains Page One news these days. (Feuds and/or lawsuits with his daughter Shari, his nephew Michael and his son Brent not to mention a 2002 divorce from first wife Phyllis after 52 years of marriage.). So I decided to explore further. Sources tell me that the 84-year-old Redstone wants out of his four-year-old marriage to 44-year-old schoolteacher Paula Fortunato. “He’s asked her to leave the Beverly Park house, and she won’t leave. It’s a Mexican standoff,” an insider explained to me. I’m told she signed one of those iron-clad prenups and would only get $1 million if the marriage breaks up. “He’s not happy in the relationship, and he has not been happy for a while,” a source told me. “I don’t think it’s going to last for too long.”
The couple met six years ago on a blind date in New York that was arranged by mutual friends from investment bank Bear Stearns, then married in April 2003. Insiders explain that Fortunato began complaining that she was “a fish out of water in his world” and felt “left out”. At one point, they say, Redstone tried to “give her more acknowledgement and more visibility” by arranging for her to sit in on MTV meetings with Tom Freston (before he was fired by Sumner). Last summer, Fortunato suddenly took on a higher profile in Hollywood when she influenced Redstone to end Tom Cruise’s production deal at Paramount, reportedly over the actor’s couch-jumping behavior on Oprah and his Today Show denunciation of Brooke Shields for taking drugs for postpartum depression. Redstone admitted his wife’s role in the decision to Vanity Fair: “Paula, like women everywhere, had come to hate him. The truth of the matter is, I did listen to her. His behavior was entirely unacceptable to Paula and to the rest of the world.”
Insiders told me Redstone has become “concerned” about his wife’s “explosive behavior”, especially “now that he’s rearranging his whole company”. I’m told he didn’t want Fortunato to accompany him on a New York trip this week for Viacom business or a family dinner at Manhattan’s Il Postino eatery Wednesday night with his daughter Shari and others. His feud with Shari has been all over the press ever since he claimed in public last month that she has made “little or no contribution” to building his Big Media empire and made known he wants to buy out her 20% interest in National Amusements, which maintains controlling stakes in Viacom and CBS. By contrast, the failure of Redstone’s marriage to Fortunato has been kept on the down-low. However, recently Redstone has been frequently squiring his former flame Christine Forsyth-Peters (photo left), a producer with both CBS and Paramount (How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days) and ex-wife of mogul Jon Peters. The question is who will be by Redstone’s side when he oversees next week’s two-day CBS board meeting.