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Wife Strife: While Viacom Succeeds, the Boss's Marriage Fails

A blow-by-blow account of the rise of a business empire and the concurrent fall of a businessman's marriage.

No good deed goes unpunished. At least that's how Sumner M. Redstone, elder statesman of the media-entertainment behemoth Viacom (VIA) - Get Via Renewables, Inc. Class A Report, must have felt when, less than two weeks after announcing Viacom's plan to acquire CBS (CBS) - Get CBS Corporation Class B Report for about $35 billion, his wife of 52 years filed for divorce. On Tuesday this week, she offered to resign as director on Viacom's parent board.

Seems like ol' Sumner should have seen it coming. Not because of his alleged affair with film producer and former model Christine Peters, but because of an eerily similar occurrence November 1993. At the same time that Viacom was in the thick of another business deal, scuffling with


for control of

Paramount Communications

, Phyllis Redstone was deciding -- not for the last time -- that she couldn't take it anymore. In that instance, both Viacom and the marriage prevailed. Mrs. Redstone dropped the suit three weeks after filing, and Viacom emerged from the battle with Paramount in its grip.

Mrs. Redstone, it seems, isn't so much jealous of her husband's lady friends as she is of her husband's corporation. Perhaps Sumner's company and his better half have never reconciled their competing bids for his attention. Happily (for


anyway) the Redstones' highly unethical marriage counselor met us at a Wall Street watering hole this week and slipped us his notebook with jottings on their sessions. The notes offer more than just a little insight.

February 1994:

Continuing to see the Redstones. Sumner is jubilant over the January announcement of his company's $8.4 billion merger with

Blockbuster Entertainment Corporation

(BBI) - Get Brickell Biotech, Inc. Report

. Phyllis, however, has been exhibiting passive-aggressive behavior -- recently insulted him in front of guests and last week scorched the leftover meatloaf. Document this correlation?

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March 1995:

Phyllis left Sumner's portable television set on the patio during a storm, possibly prompted by Viacom's $1.1 billion sale of

Madison Square Garden

? Sumner is upset that he can no longer watch

Pop-Up Videos al fresco.

September 1996:

Continuing problems with the Redstones. Viacom and its holding company,

National Amusements

, announced a program to buy as much as $500 million of Viacom equity securities. Sumner came home to find his clothes balled up and soaking wet in the washing machine, not the dryer, leaving them badly wrinkled. Also, Phyllis fixed Sumner's usual Scotch and water with five ice cubes instead of three.

April 1997:

Things have escalated. Last week, Phyllis "accidentally" dumped spaghetti in her husband's lap and left his Buick without gas -- forcing him to walk to the train station and arrive 45 minutes late to work. Sumner was especially livid about the latter, as he has been "really busy" pursuing plans for an IPO early next year of a stock tracking Blockbuster's performance. Little progress was made in the rest of the session, as Sumner insisted on explaining how the tracking stock would build equity interest in

Spelling Entertainment

(SP) - Get SP Plus Corporation Report

to 80% by year-end. Note to self: Call broker, pronto.

Todd Pruzan is an editor at the humor quarterly


and at


magazine. The Brooklyn-based journalist also freelance writes for

The New York Times Magazine





. At the time of publication, Pruzan had no position in any of the securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Pruzan welcomes your