By - Michael Rogers

(FORTUNE Magazine) – TO HEAR Merv Adelson tell it, he would rather be horseback riding in Aspen, walking the Malibu beach with his dogs, or playing with his new granddaughter than building a television empire. Don't be fooled by these homey protestations. In 1986 Adelson, 56, climbed off his horse and: merged Lorimar Inc., the TV and movie company he co-founded in 1969, with Telepictures Corp., a TV-show syndicator, creating an $800-million entertainment powerhouse; bought the historic MGM movie lot for $100 million and future obligations; and married TV journalist Barbara Walters. For someone who wants to keep a low profile, Adelson sure makes it tough on himself. He has the lean, tanned figure of a man who took a smooth ride to the top. But his success was neither smooth nor quick. As a Los Angeles teenager Adelson drove a delivery truck for his grocer father, a Russian immigrant. He dropped out of UCLA in his sophomore year, played semipro baseball, and helped run his father's business. On a vacation to Las Vegas in 1951, he noticed that while the gambling tables were open all night, there was no place to buy a loaf of bread after dark; with the help of a $10,000 loan from his father, he started the first 24-hour supermarket in Las Vegas. After working as a home developer, he began investing in more lucrative real estate ventures, including a resort near San Diego called La Costa. Then in 1969 he and a partner put up $450,000 to start Lorimar, which in ten years became one of the most successful TV production companies with the help of hits like The Waltons, Dallas, and Knots Landing. No one would say prosperity has gone to Adelson's head. He drives himself to the office in a 13-year-old Mercedes, avoids Hollywood previews, and appears in public without gold chains and jewelry. He spends as much time as possible with Walters, his third wife (he is her third husband). Though they each have offices on both coasts, catching up with one another can be a problem since Adelson works most of the time in Los Angeles and Walters is based in New York. Walters says Adelson spends more time flying to see her than she does to see him. A devoted father, Adelson took his two sons into his business; Gary, 34, and Andrew, 32, are independent producers for Lorimar-Telepictures. In a town where not many moguls can be described as ''likable,'' that is the word people use for Adelson. He is an informal man, the sort of fellow who will pick up a microphone among friends and croon a few tunes. His favorite: My Kind of Girl. While Adelson's longtime partner, Lee Rich, was considered the creative genius behind Lorimar, Adelson made the company's money tree grow. He took Lorimar public in 1981. Then, with a series of acquisitions and mergers, he built it into a diverse business whose success does not depend wholly on the whims of television audiences. LorimarTelepictures owns Bozell Jacobs Kenyon & Eckhardt -- one of the ten largest U.S. advertising agencies -- a home video distribution company that sells Jane Fonda's fitness tapes, and a magazine publishing group that includes Us. Adelson says immodestly that he intends to make Lorimar-Telepictures ''the best in the business.'' Besides producing or syndicating 16 first-run television shows -- the most of any company -- he wants to control when they appear on the air. In early 1985 he came up with a $1-billion bid for Multimedia, a publishing and broadcast company. The company rejected his overtures. Then, following the Telepictures merger, he tried to purchase six TV stations from Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. After seven months of negotiations, Adelson finally decided the $1.4-billion asking price was too high; in November he quashed the deal. However, he is in the process of buying two independent stations and may buy more broadcast properties when the price is right. ''He goes to Aspen every fall to see the leaves turn,'' says Walters. ''But he's also a very tough negotiator.'' Early in 1986 Lee Rich, Adelson's partner of 17 years, quit to become head of United Artists. Rich developed most of Lorimar's hits, and some industry executives wonder how well the company will do without him. Adelson bristles at the notion that he is just a dealmaker: ''Anybody in this business has to walk a fine line between creativity and business.'' His creative half helped bring Bobby Ewing back from the dead on Dallas. Adelson and Larry Hagman, the show's star, came up with the idea as a way of improving ratings, and it worked. Dallas, which fell to No. 11 last year, is back among the top ten shows this season.