Thirty-four years ago, Rupert Murdoch showed up in Hollywood with US$250 million, buying a stake in the 20th Century Fox film studio – even though he had little interest in making movies. The scrappy Australian newsman, then known for his clamorous tabloids, was viewed with suspicion. Sceptics assumed he was a corporate raider intent on stripping value from the studio. Instead, Murdoch rescued a threadbare operation from financial ruin and turned it into the centrepiece of a growing empire that has reshaped the entertainment industry. Now, Murdoch is dismantling his life’s work: a kingdom worth more than US$100 billion. On Tuesday, his largest company, 21st Century Fox, will be broken apart. Walt Disney Co. will absorb Fox’s legendary movie and television production studios, with their deep trove of titles that include Avatar , Deadpool , Family Guy and The Simpsons . The Murdoch family will create a new entity, simply known as Fox that will include Fox News Channel, the Fox broadcast network, national Fox Sports channels, TV stations and the 50-acre Fox studio lot in Century City, Los Angeles. The sale seemed unthinkable to many. But the 88-year-old Murdoch was never enamoured of the clubby movie business. He wanted the film studio to support his global push into television, where he has left a more indelible mark. Along the way, he has relished his influence and his image as an outsider, a rascal who took big swings and thumbed his nose at the establishment. “Rupert has been the most influential person in Hollywood in the last 25 years,” Peter Chernin, Murdoch’s former deputy who now owns his own media company, said. “He has been the key driver of trends that now define the industry.” On the Fox Studios lot, Rupert Murdoch is the godfather. A throwback to an earlier era, he is the only boss most employees can remember. Murdoch’s original company, News Corp, purchased the film studio in 1985, midway through his long campaign to buy and launch properties that now span the world and touch the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Murdoch in 2013 divided his holdings into two separate companies: News Corp, the publishing unit that includes The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal ; and 21st Century Fox, the entertainment arm. The Murdoch Family Trust controls both through its ownership of 39 per cent of the companies’ voting shares. Murdoch agreed to the corporate split to appease Wall Street, which agitated for him to sell his newspapers – something he refused to do. Rupert Murdoch’s management style, and its pitfalls: former right-hand man’s book The Murdoch Method lifts the lid So when word leaked, in late 2017, that Murdoch was planning to unload much of his Hollywood operation, many were stunned. Staff members cried as they struggled to process the news. The heaviness saturated Fox’s annual holiday party that December, which was held on the studio backlot known as New York street. Strings of lights stretched between the worn facades, lending a surreal feel to the night. “It was really reminiscent of the Vito Corleone backstory that takes place in Little Italy,” said John Landgraf, CEO FX Networks, referring to the titular character in The Godfather. “I remember just standing there thinking that this has been a place in which films have been made for a long time,” Landgraf said. “And even though Fox will still exist, this Fox isn’t going to exist in the same way.” Murdoch was not available for comment. Bloomberg estimates his fortune (including family trust holdings) at US$19.5 billion, putting him at No. 46 on Bloomberg’s billionaires list. He is most associated with Fox News, the conservative-leaning outlet, which he has helped run since Roger Ailes was forced out in 2016 in a sexual harassment scandal. But Murdoch also is a towering presence at Fox Studios in Los Angeles. The seven men we know are on a ‘cleared list’ who can call Trump at the White House directly John Candreva, executive director of Fox’s studio facilities, recalled that Murdoch used to walk almost 6km from his home, then in Beverly Hills, to the Pico Boulevard lot. “Who walks to work from Beverly Hills?” Candreva said with a laugh. He recalled a morning when he was at Murdoch’s house, checking his security system. “He said: ‘Hey, sit down and have breakfast with us,’” Candreva said. “He’s just a phenomenal person, he really is. It was him and the bodyguard … and I am sitting there. And, of course, what did he want to discuss? Politics.” In liberal-leaning Hollywood, there are plenty of detractors who disagree with Murdoch’s politics and resent Fox News’ influence in American politics. Last summer, Steve Levitan, co-creator on the hit ABC show Modern Family (a Fox production), wrote in a Twitter message that he was “disgusted” to be part of a corporate family with Fox News. Let me officially join @SethMacFarlane in saying I’m disgusted to work at a company that has anything whatsoever to do with @FoxNews . This bullshit is the opposite of what #ModernFamily stands for. https://t.co/dnvIbgoIyA — Steve Levitan (@SteveLevitan) June 19, 2018 <!--//--><![CDATA[// ><!--\n\n\n//--><!]]> “I do not remotely share Rupert’s politics, but he was an excellent boss of a creative operation because creativity involves risk, and Rupert understood risk,” said Tom Rothman, a former Fox movie chief who now is chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group. “And I admire him for that.” Rothman and other Fox veterans credit Murdoch for encouraging them to take risks. And, they say, his conservative politics did not influence programming decisions – unlike at his publications and Fox News. “Rupert was never a micromanaging boss,” said Chernin, who worked with Murdoch from 1989 to 2009. Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons , said he is grateful for Murdoch’s support for his show, the longest-running scripted series in prime time. Other networks wouldn’t have touched such an unorthodox cartoon, he said. Murdoch even voiced his animated self, introducing himself in one episode as “the billionaire tyrant”. “He was a good sport. He liked the show, so that was a help,” Groening said. Murdoch shrugged off problems that might have rattled others. When the budget for James Cameron’s epic Titanic was ballooning, Murdoch told Chernin: “Don’t let it overwhelm you. Keep your head down and keep going.” How Rupert Murdoch solved his Don Corleone dilemma with a masterpiece of deal making He had strong opinions, and he made them known. At the 2002 Super Bowl in New Orleans, Murdoch was frustrated that Fox network programmers hadn’t ordered a TV show that his daughter in London, Elisabeth, had recommended. “What’s going on with that show?” Murdoch demanded. He ordered his lieutenants to buy the rights and told them not to change the format. It became Fox’s biggest hit, American Idol . Murdoch did not hide his disdain for the film business. “Murdoch was always railing against Hollywood in our weekly meetings with all the heads of the company,” said Bill Mechanic, who ran the Fox movie studio in the mid-1990s. “He’d attack me or the movie business. He said: ‘You guys never take any chances’.That was crazy, considering the movies I was making.” Bob Greenblatt, who is now chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment, worked at Fox in the early 1990s when he was a young TV executive. “He would come in and talk about what shows he liked, or what shows he did not like,” Greenblatt said. One particular show, Party of Five , about five siblings trying to make it after their parents were killed by a drunken driver, did not escape Murdoch’s critique. “He would be like: ‘Let’s get rid of it, the ratings are terrible,’” Greenblatt recalled. “But everyone else was so fervent about keeping the show. Rupert never stood in the way of decisions like that. He let us do our jobs.” Murdoch’s career began unexpectedly in 1952 upon the death of his father, a respected Australian newspaper editor. Sir Keith Murdoch controlled two newspapers, but one was sold – over Rupert’s objections – to satisfy tax obligations. (His mother, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, was 103 when she died in 2012.) Murdoch, then 22, returned from Oxford University (where he kept a bust of Lenin in his room to cultivate a rebel image) to run The Adelaide News , earning the nickname “boy publisher”. He would thunder around town in a bulky American car with a Great Dane named Webster. Soon, he was on a buying spree of newspapers around Australia as well as TV stations. In 1968, Murdoch returned to Britain and bought his first London tabloid, News of the World , and then a second, the Sun . In the ’70s, he had crossed over to America, buying magazines and papers, including The New York Post , Chicago Sun-Times and The Village Voice . Murdoch would also later own the South China Morning Post . He collected friends and enemies in the British Parliament. When his tabloids got caught in a mobile phone hacking scandal nearly a decade ago, a committee of Parliament called Murdoch “unfit” to run a news organisation. He would later become an unofficial adviser to US President Donald Trump, a devoted Fox News viewer. Explaining his Hollywood strategy in the 1990 book Outfoxed: Marvin Davis, Barry Diller, Rupert Murdoch, Joan Rivers, and the Inside Story of America’s Fourth Network by Alex Ben Block, Murdoch said: “I went (into) entertainment not to get into entertainment. It was part of a broad strategy to get into the media industry – the heart of the media industry.” For Murdoch, “buying the (Fox) studio wasn’t about rubbing elbows with Hollywood stars. Fox, for him, was always a business deal,” Block said in an interview. “He recognised that compelling content was key to gaining economic and political power.” In September 1985, Murdoch’s News Corp. bought Denver oilman Marvin Davis’ 50 per cent stake in the studio for US$325 million, gaining full control. Because he was a foreigner, Murdoch wasn’t allowed to own television stations. That obstacle was expeditiously removed, also in September 1985, when he became a US citizen in a federal courthouse in Manhattan with 185 other immigrants. His company quickly snapped up an independent TV station group and scurried to launch the fourth network, Fox Broadcasting. “When the Fox network first went on the air, a lot of people did not even get the station. People would put tin foil on their antenna, and move it around to try to get a picture,” said Ed O’Neill, who starred as Al Bundy in Married … With Children , one of Fox’s original hits. “When I’d go back to visit my family (in Ohio), no one knew I had a television show. They saw me in a couple beer commercials – that’s what made me famous.” Fox did not become a force in television until it lured an NFL football package away from CBS in 1993 in an eye-popping US$1.6 billion, four-year deal. Then came the edgy FX cable channel, the launch of Fox News and the purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, which Murdoch used to launch regional sports networks before selling the team in 2004. The company bought the social network MySpace in 2005 for US$580 million, which famously crashed. Murdoch unloaded it six years later for just US$35 million. In 2007, Murdoch claimed The Wall Street Journal through the US$5-billion acquisition of Dow Jones & Co. Within two years, Murdoch’s company took a write-down of nearly US$3 billion on that investment. Fox also teamed with NBC to launch the streaming service Hulu, which Disney will soon control. “To say he is a driven man is an understatement,” Rothman, the former studio chief, said. “The thing he would say to me the morning after a big hit was, ‘What’s next?’” With the future in mind, Murdoch concluded nearly two years ago his company would be too small to effectively compete with rising tech giants such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple. The Murdoch family will become among Disney’s largest shareholders, giving them an interest in yet another major entertainment company. The asset sale to Disney also helps alleviate a thorny issue of succession. His two sons no longer will have to share management of the enterprise. Instead, his oldest son, Lachlan, will oversee the slimmed-down Fox as its chairman and chief executive. And his younger son, James, plans to strike out on his own after two decades of working for his father.