Earlier this week, a hardcover called "The Beverly Hills Cop Story" arrived in local bookstores. "Sixty Million Saw the Movie, Now Read the True Story," the jacket blares. On the surface, the Vantage book looks like the typical movie novelization that routinely appears in the wake of a hit movie.
But this one is vastly different.
"The Beverly Hills Cop Story" is really an old book dressed in a new jacket. In 1976, retired Beverly Hills undercover officer Lynn Franklin and co-author Maury Green (former television journalist and educator) wrote a book called "Sawed-Off Justice," recounting Franklin's experiences on the force. Franklin now claims that his book was the inspiration for the movie "Beverly Hills Cop," and he has told The Times that he plans to sue Paramount Pictures, producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer and screenwriter Dan Petrie Jr.
The issues in this controversy pose intriguing questions about precisely what can and cannot be protected in the movie business.
While the movie "Beverly Hills Cop" is a fictional story of a black Detroit police officer who comes to Beverly Hills to investigate the murder of a friend, Franklin's book is a real-life account of his experiences on the force. Franklin's attorney, Beverly Hills- based Ronald Katz, maintains that there are grounds for a suit because of a "breach of responsibility."
"Based upon evidence made available to me, I am convinced that Mr. Franklin and Mr. Green have been wronged by several organizations and individuals. I am considering several actions of law for filing with the courts," Katz said.
(In these kinds of cases litigants can file for copyright infringement, unfair competition or breach of an implied contract. Katz did not specify which they would pursue.)
A spokesman for Paramount Pictures said the studio could not comment on the planned suit, but The Times was able to reach most of the principals in the case.
According to Franklin, in April, 1977, shortly after his book was published, the Franklin-Green manuscript was submitted to International Creative Management for representation as a potential movie. As is routine, the book was synopsized and analyzed--in this instance by screenwriter Petrie, who at the time was a young agent.
The Times has obtained a copy of the ICM internal "coverage" (industry jargon for these notes) in which Petrie wrote, "The character of Lynn Franklin seems to lend itself to larger-than-life portrayal. . . . If this is to be a film, it will need a writer or director who can discover an approach to this property that would make it work as a film."
Reached on location in Baker, Calif., Petrie said he did remember writing the coverage but that the book had nothing to do with the screenplay he wrote for Paramount. "The book is about his (Franklin's) true experiences as a police officer and has nothing to do with the movie which is about a Detroit cop on vacation," Petrie said. "It's a fish out of water comedic situation, which is the complete opposite of the real police force he wrote about in his book."
Petrie said that before the movie was released, he and others connected with the film received letters warning of an impending suit. "I am outraged," Petrie said. "It's hard for me to imagine that you could know the book and have seen the movie and have any kind of good faith about claiming the movie was based on the book."
But Franklin also claims that "Sawed-Off Justice" was submitted to Paramount Pictures through producer Freddie Fields in January, 1977, for consideration as the basis for a movie. The Times has obtained a brief synopsis of the Paramount submission which reads: "A Beverly Hills Police Department detective reminisces about his police career, busting gangs, arrests and undercover work, plus his abject disallusionmen (sic) with the courts and the judges (he captures criminals . . . the courts release them). He becomes totally disgusted and resigns."
The Paramount coverage in this case rated the characterization and dialogue "good" (the highest rating possible is "excellent") and the structure and uniqueness of the story as "fair."
In 1980, Marble Arch productions developed a two-hour TV movie based on "Sawed-Off Justice" called "Beverly Hills," but the script never got the green light to go into production. A 1980 Hollywood Reporter story on the project described it as ". . . the true story of a young Midwesterner who goes to work for the Beverly Hills police force, focuses on the sophisticated residents of that city as seen through the youthful officer's eyes."
While "Beverly Hills Cop" did not reach the screen until 1984, the project was launched around the time of the initial publication of Franklin's book. Although Petrie wound up with sole screenwriting credit on the movie, several other screenwriters also wrote drafts before him, including Danilo Bach, William Wittliff, Vincent Patrick and even Sylvester Stallone, according to Petrie.
Simpson, who co-produced the movie, called the potential suit "ridiculous." "It's extraordinary that this man (Franklin) proposes to bring suit based on Petrie's involvement. Dan was the last of about five writers we brought in."
Bruckheimer, Simpson's partner, said the movie was based on an idea of Simpson's. "It was an idea of Don's about a tough Chicano police officer from East L.A., who gets transferred to Beverly Hills. That's the origin of the idea." Simpson said the idea gained momentum when then-studio President Michael Eisner was stopped by a Beverly Hills police officer.
Simpson said he had no recollection of the book "Sawed-Off Justice."
But screenwriter Bach, the first screenwriter brought in to work on the project, said he did remember Franklin's book. Work on the screenplay was proceeding, Bach said, when the book was sent over by Simpson's office as a possible research source. (At the time, Simpson was the supervising executive on the movie for Paramount.) "I already had come up with the story, so I decided not to read it," Bach told The Times. He said he then called his lawyer who advised him not to even look at the book. Bach said he then called Simpson back and told him he was not going to read it.
When told of Bach's recollections, Simpson maintained that he had never read "Sawed-Off Justice" and said that it was possible that the book was sent over by someone in his office without his knowledge. "I am shocked," Simpson said. "Under oath I will tell you I have never read this book and I don't recall seeing coverage on it."
When asked for similarities between the book and the movie, author Franklin cited two examples. Early in the book, he said, he writes about an undercover operation in which he made a trip to Mexico and brought back a large cache of drugs to the Beverly Hills home of a narcotics kingpin. In the movie, said Franklin, actor Eddie Murphy is involved in a similar operation. "In the book, the drug dealer's name was Joe Ricco; in the movie, he was called Victor Maitland," said Franklin.
Franklin also said that at one point while working undercover he was known as "the hijacker" because he supposedly hijacked truckloads of goods. In one scene in the book he is about to be paid $3,000 for his goods when the police make a bust. In an early scene of "Beverly Hills Cop," Axel Foley (Murphy) is on a similar sting involving hijacked cigarettes. "I know I have a case," Franklin said.
Franklin, 63, worked for 20 years on the Beverly Hills force and says he was one of the first undercover cops the department had. He worked on the Tiffany robbery in which more than $500,000 in jewelry was stolen from the store in broad daylight. He also worked on the "ski-mask robberies" in which $1.2 million in diamonds were stolen from various stores over an 11-month period.
Franklin said three attempts have been made on his life--he believes he was the target of hired killers--and in one case he was forced to kill his assailant. One attempt was foiled when an informant tipped him off that his murder was planned at a policeman's ball.
Franklin said he decided to re-release his book with the new title after seeing the movie. "I was so disappointed in the way they portrayed Beverly Hills cops," Franklin said. "I decided I've got to come out and show what the true street cops are like."
While the book makes reference to the movie on the cover, Paramount was not aware of the book until a reporter called the studio.
The new edition of Franklin's book has a curious final sentence: "On 12/5/84 'Beverly Hills Cop' was released in 2,000 theaters across the nation."