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Ex-Wife Asks for Half of $17.8 Million Awarded to Ventriloquist

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

The former wife of ventriloquist Paul Winchell is seeking half of a $17.8-million judgment award he won against Metromedia for destroying tapes of his popular “Winchell-Mahoney Time” children’s television show.

Tessie Nina Moore, who was married to the ventriloquist for 11 years, Tuesday asked Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Joel Rudoff to overturn the couple’s 1973 divorce judgment. She contends that she is owed $8.9 million as her half of the Metromedia judgment.

Moore, 57, who said she wrote and acted in the show, claimed she was not aware of the value of the tapes when the couple’s assets were divided at divorce. She contends that Winchell concealed a partnership with Metromedia for syndication rights. The show, produced by Metromedia, aired from 1964 to 1968.

The 66-year-old ventriloquist claimed during the divorce that April Enterprises, a personal service corporation the couple owned and named after their daughter, was valued at only $3,000 but made no mention of the syndication rights, said Moore’s attorney, Robert A. Kahn.

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Moore agreed to $1,500 as her share of the corporation.

Winchell testified in court Tuesday that he did not believe the rights were of any value since Metromedia had refused to let him use the tapes and had in fact threatened to destroy them. Winchell began negotiating with Metromedia in 1970 to syndicate the 305 color segments of the show but could not come to terms.

Moore said she was unaware of the alleged deception until April, 1986, when her deposition was taken by Metromedia as part of Winchell’s lawsuit.

In July, 1987, a Superior Court jury awarded Winchell $3.8 million for the value of the tapes and $14 million in punitive damages.

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An appellate court upheld the verdict and the California Supreme Court last week refused to consider overturning the case, said Winchell’s attorney, Lawrence P. Grassini. Metromedia has pledged to appeal the verdict to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Winchell has not received any of the money, Grassini said.


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