Last year's box-office shipwreck, "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery," has set the father and son relationship between the movie's producers, Alexander and Ilya Salkind, adrift--possibly forever.
The younger Ilya, 46, has sued Alexander, 72, his father and producing partner of 20 years, for breach of contract, fraud and racketeering over the $40-million picture that sunk at the box office. The $10-million suit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court Tuesday.
"My 52 years of filmmaking must end like this!" said a distressed Alexander Salkind from his Paris hotel room. "My son and his girlfriend Jane Chaplin are harassing me all the time, sending this terrible letter all around the world to all of my friends, banks and business relationships accusing me of scandalous things.
"Everything I have built up over the years, they are trying to destroy. I produced with my father (Michael) for years and we had disagreements. But never did it come to this. This is all very surprising, very upsetting to see my son come after his father. This all has to do with that woman, Jane."
"That woman" is Jane Chaplin, 36, daughter of film legend Charlie Chaplin and Ilya's companion of nine years, who is pregnant with his second child. She reportedly loaned the elder Salkind $6.75 million to bankroll the picture. Chaplin is a co-plaintiff in the suit filed against the elder Salkind and 35 others. A third plaintiff is Robert Simmonds, 52, the film's production manager, claiming $1.52 million in back wages due. The three, living in Orlando, Fla., say they are owed a combined $10 million in production fees, salaries, loans and interest.
Among the litany of other plaintiffs named in the suit are Alexander Salkind's friends and female companions, production and investment companies scattered in the Netherlands Antilles, Panama, Switzerland and Delaware. The trio are alleging breach of contract, fraud, racketeering, breach of good faith and fair dealing and conspiracy to defraud.
The suit was filed on the heels of a letter fired off to the elder Salkind and others Nov. 11, demanding the $10 million be paid by Nov. 16. After the elder Salkind refused, the trio's Los Angeles attorney Stephen Chrystie filed the suit. Chrystie, ironically, once pursued the Salkinds and Simmonds last year when their production company failed to pay millions owed to "Columbus" creditors around the world.
Ilya Salkind said the family feud was triggered by his father's "refusal to pay the small creditors in the spring (of '92). My father and I had a falling out over it in Paris. I told him I would walk off the picture if he did not pay these people and he said, 'Go to hell.' That was the beginning of the end.
"In the last four years, he started becoming unreasonable when it came to paying people. I told him I didn't want to be a partner on this picture, just an employee because I knew I would lose money if I were a partner," he noted, claiming he's owed $250,000. The two had been partners on other pictures including the first two "Superman" movies, one of which was encumbered by the Salkinds' late payment to creditors and talent.
In fact, it was late payment that prompted Marlon Brando, who starred in the first "Superman," to demand payment upfront for his $5-million cameo in "Christopher Columbus." Brando threatened to pull his name off the Columbus picture for what he called poor treatment of the Carib Indian tribe, which included the Salkinds' failure to pay salaries. The Salkinds finally remitted.
Ilya Salkind said some of the money to pay the creditors came from his pocket. That and his salary is what he claims his father owes him. Alexander Salkind says his son and Simmonds' salaries were all deferred until profits rolled in from the picture. When it bombed there was no money to pay them. The same applies to Chaplin who "invested in this picture like me, a partner," the father contends. The trio says otherwise.
"This is a very delicate situation for me because he is my father and I am an only child. I can't even talk to my mother," said Ilya Salkind. "But this comes down to a matter of what is right."
For Alexander Salkind it comes down to a freeze out. "I will probably never see my son or my four grandchildren again. And I know, after this, I will never make movies again."