JAMES BRADY; CURIOUSER & CURIOUSER

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In an early reel of "Dirty Harry," the movie that established Clint Eastwood's screen persona most indelibly and provided President Reagan (and other politicians) an irresistible slogan, "Make my day!" a sociopath stalks San Francisco, threatening to kill citizens one after another until a ransom is paid.

The mayor, the killer stipulates, is to respond through the classified columns of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Now, in a bloodless coup d'etat, the 75-year-old chairman of the media company that publishes the Chronicle was bounced and is suing to get her job back.

And at the center of all this excitement is one of the oddest and yet most successful men I know in media, John B. Sias. But first, the ouster of Nan Tucker McEvoy described variously as a Washington socialite....an heiress....tough....feisty and the like (Mr. Sias, following her dismissal, said even nicer things, hailing her great contributions just before they put her out the door and changed the locks):

What happened, apparently, was this. The company held its annual board meeting April 19. An hour or so prior to the meeting's opening, members of the family and others gathered and ran through a new rule that changed the retirement age to 73 (they originally proposed 70 but that would have axed a director they wanted to retain along with old Nan. So they settled on 73 and out she went).

By April 26 Nan Tucker McEvoy was suing the company on grounds of age discrimination and demanding her job back, as chairman and damages as well.

She holds about 26% of the stock, so this is hardly a frivolous lawsuit brought by an affronted but minor stockholder. In addition to the Chronicle newspaper, the firm also owns three TV stations, several other newspapers and a book company. According to Mrs. McEvoy, there are about 24 family members who own bits and pieces. And she believes, according to The New York Times, that some of the kin folk feel "she was responsible for removing several family members from management and replacing them with newspaper industry professionals."

Which is, I assume, where Mr. Sias makes his entrance.

John Sias was for more than 20 years a senior executive of Capital Cities (later CapCities/ABC) and ran its publishing operations including Fairchild Publications, which was where I first met him. On his retirement a couple of years ago, a wealthy man by then I assumed, with all those lovely Cap Cities options, instead of buying a farm or playing golf, he went out west to San Francisco to join the Chronicle in a senior management capacity which, as I understood it, would include sprucing up the paper and getting it ready to be sold to somebody.

After that, nothing. Not until this current furore in which I must confess not knowing just what Sias' role might have been. Was he siding with the family? Had he dropped the hammer on old Nan? Was he caught in the middle? Nobody was saying.

But what in this extremely curious business people seemed to be overlooking was the extremely curious Mr. Sias.

Tom Murphy of Cap Cities hired Sias after he'd had a falling out with John Kluge of Metromedia. This was several years after Cap Cities had taken over Fairchild where I was publisher of Women's Wear Daily and editorial director of the company, reporting to John Fairchild, the president, and to Uncle Edgar, who was chairman of the board. Uncle Edgar belonged to the Union League Club and had a yacht and stuff yet it was John Fairchild who was really the boss. But the Cap Cities brass had all gone to the Harvard B School so they thought they ought to send a grown-up down to East 12th Street to help us run the shop.

The first guy was Bill James but his wife didn't like New York and they went back to Detroit. Then came John Sias.

He was a tall, very fit looking guy with close-cropped hair who didn't know anything about publishing but soon Uncle Edgar was retired and John Fairchild became chairman and Sias was named president, which was a job I wanted and so a year or two later I took an offer from Hearst and went elsewhere and amongst others.

But I was around long enough to get to know Sias, who habitually sported either a "Captain America" or a "Captain Marvel" T-shirt, the logo of which showed quite clearly through his white business shirt and could easily be read. This caused John Fairchild enormous pain and suffering but he didn't say anything, concluding this was what broadcasting people were like.

In elevators in the building, Sias called off the floors. Out loud. On the Lexington Avenue subway station platform he also called out, very loud, "All aboarrrddd!" Then, on the crowded train, he would announce the next stop. People edged away from him. Homeless people dressed in rags and with shopping bags full of empty pop bottles for deposit, they edged away. Sias was always neatly dressed in a suit and tie (and his "Captain America" underwear) but rummies from the Bowery missions edged away when they saw Sias coming.

Out in Vegas one time at a big men's wear trade show when Sias emerged from the amphitheater into the vast parking lot with its several thousand cars, John and a companion raced the entire width of the parking lot atop the cars, leaping from one roof to another. He was also famous for running backwards and claimed even toting an attache case, to be the swiftest backward runner in Manhattan.

The last time I encountered John Sias was a few years ago near the Time & Life building. He pretended to conceal himself behind a trash can and conducted a conversation with me from there as passersby stopped, stared and uneasily edged away.

I have no idea what role he'll play in court re these bizarre events at the Chronicle in San Francisco but am sure his testimony will not be dull.

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