July 17th, 2009
If you’re lawyer, you’ll never be out of work in Hollywood. It’s lawsuit city. Someone’s always going to be sued for something – defamation, libel, ripping-off, damages, wanting to build a basketball court, the courts have never been busier. Not unexpectedly, Bruno, recently banned in the Ukraine, is already competing with prequel Borat’s numerous actions, with its first of no doubt, many suits.
Apparrantly, while filming a charity bingo at which Bruno was the celebrity, the organiser was so appalled by his behaviour she rushed off in hysteria, fainted, hit her head which led to internal bleeding and is now in a wheelchair.
Actors of course are often either suing someone or being sued, but one of the most remarkable actions, which is unlikely to happen in today’s Hollywood, took place in 1936. Up and coming star, Bette Davis was contracted to Warners and was so fed up with being given poor scripts she sued the studio. She lost, but the next script she was asked to do was Marked Woman, which, phew, she liked. It turned out to be a great success, bringing Davis well and truly into the limelight – along with Humphrey Bogart who had second billing!
Money of course, is the subject of many suits, as with the infamous battles on Lord Of The Rings, between director Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema, and the Tolkien Estate and New Line for various shares of profits. Hollywood accounting has a lot to answer for and was highlighted by a landmark case in 1990, the Buchwald v Paramount case. Writer, Art Buchwald claimed Paramount stole his idea for the Eddie Murphy movie, Coming To America. He won, accepted a settlement and surprisingly Paramount didn’t appeal. This was because part of Buchwald’s contract entitled him to a share of the net profits and during the trial, Paramount claimed that out of the $350m in revenue, there were none! The court ruled this impossible, allowing Buchwald to pursue a separate claim. So Paramount settled for an undisclosed sum, if they had appealed and likely lost, they would have been opening the flood gates for suits from many other writers, actors and directors. This has since made studios and producers more careful about being sued for ripping-off scripts or ideas.
The fragile, strange, sometimes tragic lives of Hollywood residents reveal some equally tragic legal actions. Gary Shandling, star of ‘90’s comedy hit, The Larry Sanders Show – a fictional Letterman, which showed life on both sides of the camera, became embroiled in a scandal which continued for many years.
In 1999, Shandling sued his manager Brad Grey for $100m, saying he had been taking excessive payments for his HBO show. Soon after, a lot of bad press was being written about Shandling revealing aspects of his private life. This came out as Shandling was giving evidence along with a host of other stars, at the trial of Hollywood PI Anthony Pellicano in 2008. It was alleged that Grey had Pellicano wiretap Shandling’s phone as a means of gaining information to create a smear campaign, indeed, Grey called Shandling one night, threatening to, ‘make his life miserable’. Shandling won his case in 1999 amid much scandal and Grey agreed to pay him more than $10m.
Brad Grey is now CEO of Paramount Pictures.
And now, basketball. In 2004, Leonardo Di Caprio, star of The Basketball Diaries, wanted to build a basketball court in the grounds of his rented Hollywood home. His builders started excavations and the neighbours went crazy. They sued for $250,000 claiming damage to their pool, deck and bedrock. Initially the judge ruled the suit was inadequate but after some adjustments, by 2008 it went ahead. Yesterday it was revealed, the case was dismissed by the court last week, though details of any settlement weren’t revealed.
When I started researching this week’s blog I Googled, Hollywood lawsuits, a quarter of a second later I had 1.18 million results. I’m only just getting through them!