The heated four-year legal battle between actress Elizabeth Taylor and her former boyfriend, Henry Wynberg, over her Passion perfume came to a stunningly polite and sedate conclusion Thursday when the former lovers dropped their lawsuits against each other.
The trial had been expected to last three weeks and air the lavish lifestyles and love lives of the violet-eyed movie legend and the former used-car salesman. Instead, the proceedings did not even last through the jury selection.
Wynberg and Taylor had spent only a day and a half seated across from each other at the counsel table in Los Angeles Superior Court when Judge Coleman Swart announced that the two had agreed to drop claims against each other.
Attorneys said Taylor will retain control of the Passion perfume line, and the two agreed never to take any other action against one another regarding the legal issue.
“I was ready to go the full mile,” Taylor said in an interview after the proceedings. “But I’m delighted. I feel vindicated because I worked very hard to put my perfume line together. Henry Wynberg had no right to it.”
Wynberg also said that he was pleased with the outcome.
“I took the option (to settle),” he said. “I’m pleased it’s all over with.”
At stake in the trial was more than $70 million a year in profits from the highly popular line of Passion fragrances and cosmetics that Taylor launched with Chesebrough-Ponds in 1987. Taylor sued Wynberg in 1986 to get out of a contract she had signed with him a decade earlier.
Under the 1977 agreement, Taylor had given Wynberg “perpetual” rights to 30% of the net profits from any cosmetics marketed under her name. But she later alleged that he had not lived up to his part of the contract.
Wynberg then sued her for breach of contract, fraud and misappropriation. He contended that Passion was a “copycat” of a fragrance that he developed and gave to her during a Beverly Hills dinner party in 1984.
On Thursday, the parties involved did not reveal many details about the settlement. Taylor’s attorney, Neil Papiano, would only say: “No money exchanged hands.” Likewise, when Taylor was asked if Wynberg were getting any money, she replied: “Not from me.”
In a telephone interview, Chesebrough-Ponds attorney Gregory Read of San Francisco refused to comment when asked if the corporation had provided a monetary settlement to Wynberg.
Wynberg’s suit had originally included Chesebrough-Ponds as a defendant, claiming the company interfered with his business relationship with Taylor. But the court ruled that the company could be dropped from the suit. He appealed the decision.
Each side had threatened to reveal embarrassing details about the lives of Taylor and Wynberg.
Swart earlier ruled that jurors would be allowed to learn of Wynberg’s past criminal record. Wynberg was given a 90-day jail sentence in 1977 on a misdemeanor conviction of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He had been arrested on suspicion of fondling a 16-year-old girl during a photography session with another man and four Beverly Hills High School girls at his home.
Wynberg said that his decision to reach a settlement had nothing to do with his conviction being aired in court.
“That’s a two-way street,” he said. “Anything they wanted to ask of me could have been asked of Elizabeth.”
Taylor had contended that the incident was one of the reasons she had tried to get out of a contract.
Court papers filed before the trial indicated that the defense also planned to grill Taylor about past romances.
As state Sen. Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco) ushered his client, Wynberg, down the hallway after the proceedings, he noted that while the sudden ending may have been disappointing to court-watchers, it was far from unusual to have a settlement just as the trial got under way.
“Most of these things end on the day of the trial on the courthouse steps,” he said, disappearing into an elevator with Wynberg.
As for Taylor, the 57-year-old actress said she plans to launch a new line of fragrances next year.