Actress Raquel Welch won a $10.8-million verdict against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Tuesday when a jury decided that the studio breached her contract by firing her from a starring role in “Cannery Row” and hiring actress Debra Winger to take her place.
The verdict, handed down after three days of deliberations and nearly four weeks of testimony, upheld on nearly every count Welch’s claims that the studio had ruined her film career in what was to have been her first attempt to win recognition as a serious actress.
“I never expected such an overwhelming victory as this,” said a tearful Welch outside the courtroom. She had raised her arms in exultation as the verdict was announced.
“I think what this shows is that it’s important to stand up for your rights, and I hope that women in and out of Hollywood stand up for their rights when they feel they’ve been wronged,” she said.
MGM officials say Welch was fired from her role in the 1980 film, based on the John Steinbeck novel, because she insisted on taking three hours a day to put on makeup and do her hair at home, refused to use the trailer provided for her at the studio and refused to make herself available for early morning rehearsals.
The issue came to a head in December, 1980, when then-studio chief David Begelman ordered Welch to show up at the studio for makeup the following morning. She failed to appear, and the studio concluded that she had broken her contract.
Welch claimed, however, that MGM decided to get rid of her when Winger became available--at a lower salary. She alleged that studio executives invented the makeup controversy to avoid having to buy out the remaining $194,000 of Welch’s $250,000 contract.
The incident ruined her career, Welch said, perpetuating a perception that she is a difficult actress to work with.
“It’s a small town, and once they think you have breached your contract, who wants you, no matter who you are?” she asked. “I haven’t made a movie in almost six years.”
The eight-woman, four-man jury upheld Welch’s claim that studio executives conspired to induce her to break the contract in order to fire her.
The jury assessed $27,500 in damages against Begelman, who reportedly ordered the firing during a meeting called to discuss the production’s mounting cost overruns.
MGM attorney Christina Snyder said the studio will appeal.
“We expect to be fully vindicated when further proceedings go through with this case,” she said.