"Six years of litigation and a half-a-million dollars in legal costs were thrown away in three to four hours--it's appalling to me!"
Lynn Redgrave, in a telephone interview, was bitterly acknowledging the time and money she spent on her unsuccessful $10.5-million lawsuit against MCA and Universal Television. Redgrave's contention that Universal fired her in July, 1981, from CBS' "House Calls" because she wanted to breast-feed her 3-week-old daughter, Annabel, during production hours was never argued in court. Instead, after a court date her attorney told her was unnecessary to attend, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jack Ryburn last February upheld Universal's contention that it settled the lawsuit with Redgrave a year ago this month. And he ordered the actress to pay $17,000 to Universal for court costs the studio incurred since the 1981 suit was filed.
Redgrave denies that she ever settled her lawsuit, but Ryburn last month refused to grant her a new trial. An appeal is planned, which could conservatively take a year; and, even if Redgrave succeeded in getting the decision overturned, that decision could be appealed by Universal. And so on.
When--or if--Redgrave's breast-feeding complaint is finally heard in court, daughter Annabel (now 6) may be breast-feeding her own offspring.
"I feel dumped on," Redgrave said angrily. "It seems terribly wrong that the system should work like this."
What happened to the trial that--at first glance--looked as if it could be a precedent-setting case for breast-feeding actress-mothers? Court documents offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how a major entertainment conglomerate handled a controversial lawsuit with a star.
Redgrave's lawsuit was filed Aug. 31, 1981, in a blaze of publicity. With feminist attorney Gloria Allred at her side, Redgrave maintained that her contract for "House Calls," the CBS series (which aired 1979-1982) in which she co-starred with Wayne Rogers, had been terminated over the breast-feeding issue. The studio claimed in a press release that the actress left the series because the studio wouldn't meet her salary "demands."
At the time, a transcript of a phone conversation between Redgrave's husband, John Clark, and Universal negotiator Pete Terranova was obtained by The Times. In it, Terranova told Clark, "breast-feeding is the biggest problem of all for us. I don't know how to get around that . . . ."
Universal subsequently filed a countersuit against Redgrave and Clark for breach of contract and for violation of California Penal Code 632--illegally taping a phone conversation.
In January, 1986, Redgrave and Clark replaced Allred with Robert Wrede of Finley, Kumble, Wagner, Heine, Underberg, Manley, Myerson & Casey. In May and June of last year, both sides participated in a series of court-ordered mandatory settlement conferences (held to keep resolvable cases from going to trial). The negotiations, detailed in court documents, centered around three main points. In exchange for Redgrave dropping the lawsuit:
--Universal would pay Redgrave's attorney's fees and court costs, make a cash payment to the actress in the area of $90,000 to $100,000 and hire her for a movie-of-the-week.
--Universal would issue two public statements--a press release and an advertisement to run in Daily Variety, weekly Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, which would constitute a public apology to Redgrave.
--The final settlement would remain confidential.
Universal's paid advertisement would consist of a letter from Universal TV President Harris to Redgrave. The proposed letter, filed with court documents, read: "Congratulations on being chosen UNICEF Mother of the Year for 1986.
"I regret that your role in 'House Calls' ended as a result of a misunderstanding over the relationship between your roles as mother and actress. Your dedication to your family and career has earned you the respect of the Hollywood creative community.
"We are looking forward to working with you at Universal soon."
Redgrave and Clark state, in affidavits filed in court, that they felt their attorney, Robert Wrede, was trying to force them into a settlement with Universal. Plus, they weren't happy with the proposed wording of the letter, which they felt was not appropriately apologetic. Early in June, after an argument with Wrede, Clark took matters into his own hands. Affidavits filed by both sides confirm what transpired.
Without informing his attorney, Clark called Universal's Harris and said Redgrave was ready to settle the suit because "we're sick of the whole thing."
Clark said the couple simply wanted their attorney's fees paid and a full-page ad with Universal's letter of apology published in entertainment trade papers. In subsequent conversations, Redgrave, Clark and Harris discussed the settlement and a written proposal confirming their discussions was sent to the couple.
The document was never signed or returned. In the interim, Wrede and Clark had reconciled their differences and Wrede notified Universal's attorney Gail Title that Clark and Redgrave no longer wished to pursue the settlement. Wrede declared in a statement filed later on the incident that Title did not "object to (Wrede's) rejection."
However, several months later, Universal filed a "motion to enforce," declaring that the two parties had reached an oral settlement in June.
Redgrave and Clark were stunned. "Not only had I told Robert (Harris) that our conversation was off-the-record," Clark told The Times, "but we never signed anything."
Despite its claim that an agreement had been reached, MCA/Universal made another settlement offer last February, The Times has learned.
On Feb. 1, Redgrave and Clark were invited to MCA Chairman Lew Wasserman's Beverly Hills home for a meeting with Wasserman and MCA President and Chief Operating Officer Sidney J. Sheinberg. During the two-hour meeting, Clark said, "everything" was discussed.
Two days later, Universal summoned Wrede and "considerably raised their offer to settle," Clark said.
Redgrave and Clark rejected it. Redgrave told The Times that she was offered $750,000 as a "settlement" but said, "It wasn't a settlement at all; they were offering me money that I would have to work to receive.
"I find it morally reprehensible and disgusting. Why should I work again for money I had already earned? It's like barely surviving a DC-10 crash and being told that instead of a settlement, I can fly DC-10s free the rest of my life."
Redgrave said she never felt the public letter MCA would print in trade papers contained a sufficient apology, a matter of utmost importance to her.
"I can't prove that I lost work after 'House Calls,' but I know there are people in town who still think I'm trouble. Plus, as long as I have an ongoing litigation with Universal, there's a certain intimidation to people who want to hire me and work with them too."
Sheinberg confirmed the meeting in an interview, but said, "I'm not going to discuss anything (talked about) in the meeting. It was confidential."
When asked why Universal would arrange a settlement meeting after claiming a settlement had been reached, he said, "Well, as I understand it, there was a controversy on whether there was a settlement. We were there to settle the fact that there was a settlement agreement, as well as what the terms were."
That set of meetings wasn't mentioned during the court hearings on the settlement issue that began 10 days later. Wrede said he was precluded by the code of professional ethics from discussing the settlement offer. He said the meetings weren't mentioned in court because "no settlement was reached. Settlement discussions are not admissible." If they were, Wrede suggested, "nobody would negotiate,"
(Redgrave's current counsel, Peter diDonato, disagreed and said the unusual circumstances would have merited asking Ryburn for a ruling.)
Redgrave didn't attend the trial. "I had an understudy all ready to go (on stage in "Sweet Sue" on Broadway), but (Wrede) told me it wasn't necessary for me to attend," she told The Times. Wrede's response was that "Sweet Sue," in which Redgrave co-stars with Mary Tyler Moore "wasn't drawing large crowds at the time and an understudy would have been required to replace her, which might not have helped. I was balancing her professional interest with the fact that I doubt she had anything to add. The matter was principally between her husband and Harris."
Ryburn ultimately found that Universal "presented evidence of an (oral) agreement" that "bound the plaintiffs" in his decision, issued Feb 23.
On May 18, diDonato appeared in court to request a new trial. He claimed that there was insufficient evidence of a settlement, which should have been signed and in writing. Ryburn denied the motion the next day. There will be no published letter from MCA to Redgrave, court documents indicate, until all appeals processes have been exhausted, which, Redgrave says, won't be soon.
"Universal seems to have gotten off scot-free," Redgrave said, "but I'm determined that people somehow will know what went on (with Universal and breast-feeding) and that it will be put right for me. All I want is to have my position heard in open court, in front of a jury."