Sumner Redstone was one of Hollywood’s biggest media tycoon having owned Viacom and CBS, the parent companies of Paramount, television networks and book publisher. But Unscripted: The Epic Battle for a Media Empire and the Redstone Family Legacy isn’t simply a book about a family struggle with an ailing father figure. Instead it’s a messy affair about powerful white men obsession with sex, lust and toxic wealth.
The New York Times journalists, James B. Stewart (Disney War) and Rachel Abrams take readers on this sometimes weird but true journey of Sumner as he fends off ill-treatment from his two live-in girlfriends, Sydney Holland and Manuela Herzer (nicknamed S&M) as they siphoned millions out of his pocket. All the while, his media conglomerate is going downhill as the acid-tongued old man refused to relinquish control to his daughter, Shari Redstone.
In this scandalous retelling, we never get a chance to know Sumner as a man capable of turning his father’s small movie theatre chain into a global media empire. Because of his ailing health, he remains incapacitated mostly despite boasting back in 2009 he had reversed the aging process and the sex life of a twenty-year-old. Yet another true but weird fact consider he sounds more like a next-door horny teenager than an ultra-successful head of a multibillion-dollar entertainment empire.
Through various legitimate legal accounts, Sumner was in fact a victim of his own actions. He casually spent his riches on women he barely knows, professed love for them, buying them luxury homes and cars and even promise that they will inherit his fortune. Rather than spending time mending his relationship with his estranged children, Sumner is the vivid example of a lonely rich old man whose wealth has blinded his morality and way of thoughts.
The story doesn’t end here unfortunately as the book details the antics of yet another lusty old man- longtime CBS head Les Moonves. The man is alleged to be involved in a number of sexual assaults including forcing himself on his diabetic doctor and many other women he worked with at CBS and prior. At the same time, Moonves together with the Board members are fighting with Shari over the merger of Viacom and CBS despite the allegations. As the late producer and CBS board member Arnold Kopelson said, “We all did that”. It’s generally a hot mess behind-the-scenes and it’s almost sacrilegious to think that anyone who is rich and powerful can get away with any account of sexual misconduct.
The book by Stewart and Abrams is an in-depth studying of a dysfunctional family and decades (probably centuries) of bad behavior by powerful white men at the top of the corporate ladder. Amid the chaos, Shari Redstone remains the only figure worth rooting for. Suffering verbal abuse and betrayal from the men around her, Shari is the only light coming out of this dark, dreary affair. With the emergence of the #metoo movement and the Harvey Weinstein scandal, readers will continually be amazed by all the dirty laundry aired and there’s likely more after Unscripted.
Review by Linus Tee
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