Charles George Bluhdorn, born Karl Georg Blühdorn (September 20, 1926 – February 20, 1983) was an Austrian-born American industrialist.
Bluhdorn was born to a Jewish family in Vienna, Austria. Per Who's Who in Ridgefield (CT), he was considered such a "hellion" that his father sent the 11-year-old to an English boarding school for disciplining. At 16, he came to New York, studying at City College and Columbia and, in 1946, went to work at the Cotton Exchange, earning $15 a week. Other accounts say that he emigrated to the United States in 1942 and served in the U.S. Army Air Forces.
Three years later, he formed a company that would make him a millionaire at 30; in 1956, he acquired Michigan Bumper, a small auto parts company that eventually grew into Gulf+Western Industries, a conglomerate that ranked 61st in the Fortune 500 by 1981.
Charles married Yvette M. LeMarrec, formerly of Paris, about 1950.
Subholdings of Gulf+Western were blue chip names such as Paramount Pictures (acquired in 1966), Madison Square Garden, and Simon & Schuster publishing as well as less glamorous holdings such as mining, New Jersey Zinc Company. Paramount was suggested to Bluhdorn by Sumner Redstone and the acquisition was encouraged by Paramount's head of publicity, Martin Davis. It was during Gulf and Western's ownership of Paramount that it went from being Number 9 at the boxoffice, based upon total receipt sales, to number 1 with such hits as The Godfather and Chinatown.
In 1974 he hired Barry Diller as Paramount's chairman and chief executive, making Diller, at age 32, the youngest studio chief ever and the first to come from the TV business.
Bluhdorn was known to be an incredibly energetic workaholic once dubbed "The Mad Austrian of Wall Street." He maintained his position as chairman of Gulf+Western Industries until his death. He was also infamous (and widely imitated) for his cement-thick Austro-German accent, which has been lampooned in interviews by former collaborators such as Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Evans.
He died of a heart attack on his private jet while returning to the United States from his Casa de Campo resort in the Dominican Republic.
While Jewish by birth, his private funeral services were held at St. Mary's Church in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Among those who attended was friend and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
At Tufts University in Boston, there is the Charles G. Bluhdorn Prize in Economics, awarded annually to an undergraduate majoring in economics who has demonstrated outstanding scholastic ability. This prize was founded in 1983 by Donald Gaston in memory of Charles G. Bluhdorn.
Bluhdorn's rocky relationship with appointed Paramount executive Robert Evans was documented in Evans' 1994 biographical book The Kid Stays in the Picture and in the 2002 film of the same title. Bluhdorn initially hired Evans in 1966 to head European production for Paramount Pictures. He would promote Evans almost immediately to head of production at Paramount Pictures.
The 1990 film The Godfather Part III was dedicated to Bluhdorn, "who inspired it."
Charles Bluhdorn was very passionate about his projects for this island. He invested a lot of resources into its social and economic development. Bluhdorn is credited as being the father of the Dominican tourism industry.
In 1967 Gulf+Western paid $54 million for South Puerto Rico Sugar Company. Most of the company's operations were in the Dominican Republic, where it owned the extensive Central Romana sugar mill in La Romana and 300,000 acres (1,200 km2) of land. Nearly half of the land was used to produce sugar cane and, at the peak of the cane-cutting season, the company employed 19,000 people, making it the country's largest private employer as well as the largest taxpayer and landowner.
Gulf+Western acquired Consolidated Cigar in 1968 and shifted the Canary Island cigar-making operation to La Romana.
As Gulf+Western had purchased Paramount in 1966, Bluhdorn had plans to turn the island into a moviemaking mecca. For that purpose he constantly invited producers, directors, writers and movie stars so they could appreciate the natural beauty of the country.
- Godfather Part II (1974) – the scenes that took place in Cuba were shot in Santo Domingo.
- Sorcerer (1977) – produced under rugged conditions in the jungles of the Dominican Republic
- Apocalypse Now (1979) – some scenes were filmed on the Chavón River
In 1975 Gulf+Western developed 7,000 acres (28 km2) of the sugar mill's land into the Casa de Campo resort. Casa de Campo is home to three internationally renowned golf courses designed by Pete Dye – Teeth of the Dog, Dye Fore and Links.
One of Bluhdorn's Dominican friends, Oscar de la Renta, was hired to do interior design for Casa De Campo and licensed his men's wear line through Kayser-Roth.
Kayser-Roth (a division of Gulf+Western), owned the Miss Universe pageant via its acquisition of Pacific Mills. Pacific Mills had invented the pageant to sell its Catalina Swimwear brand. Miss Universe 1977 was held in the Dominican Republic in order to promote tourism to this island.
Former Paramount Studios set designer Roberto Copa designed the artist village of Altos de Chavón in 1976 and it was built by Bluhdorn in the early 1980s. Bluhdorn's daughter, Dominique Bluhdorn, is the current president of the Altos de Chavón Cultural Center.
Altos de Chavón also has a 5,000 seat open air Greek style amphitheatre, which was inaugurated in 1982 by Frank Sinatra with the Concert for the Americas. Bluhdorn had Paramount Pictures record the concert so it could be shown all over the world. Viewers could see the Altos de Chavón artist village, the beauty of the landscapes, beaches and
golf courses of Casa de Campo.
Casa de Campo, an hour away from Santo Domingo, was a 7,000-acre (28 km2) exclusive retreat founded by Bluhdorn in 1974. His wife, Yvette, would sell the property after his death in 1984 to the Fanjul Brothers of Palm Beach, Florida.
In February 2007 the Bedford, New York estate of his late wife, Yvette, was put on the market for the highest price ever asked for a Westchester County residence. Acquired in 1990 with 25 acres (100,000 m2), Mrs. Bluhdorn expanded the estate to 70 acres (280,000 m2). It included a restored 20,000-square-foot (1,900 m2), 23-room Georgian mansion built in the 1920s, another six-bedroom home of 8,000 square feet (740 m2), several guest houses and two pools.
A portion of Charles Bluhdorn's fortune continues with the Charles G. & Yvette Bluhdorn Charitable Trust. As of December 2005 it was reporting $2,396,383 in assets. [via Form 990 IRS]