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Company Town : A Partnership on the Rocks?

The longtime partnership between Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, one of Hollywood’s most successful producing duos, is on very shaky ground, and some sources close to the two say their 13-year business relationship could be on the rocks.

The irony is that after a prolonged lull, this is considered Simpson and Bruckheimer’s comeback year with three back-to-back hits, “Bad Boys,” “Crimson Tide” and their current release, “Dangerous Minds,” the second-highest-grossing movie in the country, with the No. 1 soundtrack album.

Several other sources caution that while the partnership is clearly in jeopardy, its fate is still undetermined and that people in this community have written the two off in the past before they patched things up.

“I hope this is just a bad stretch,” said one friend and associate.

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“People have said before that these guys will go their separate ways,” said another. “I have a hunch it will all work out.”

Other sources say the partnership has reached its most serious impasse ever. They say Bruckheimer is threatening to sever his professional ties with Simpson if his partner and friend of 20 years doesn’t straighten out his mounting personal problems. Those troubles escalated two weeks ago when a 44-year-old Pacific Palisades doctor, Stephen W. Ammerman, was found dead in the pool house on the grounds of Simpson’s Bel-Air home.

Police have said Ammerman’s death may have resulted from a drug overdose; a toxicology report is expected within the next five weeks.

Both Bruckheimer and Simpson, whose production company is based on the Walt Disney Studios lot, were out of town Monday and unreachable. Calls to Simpson’s office were referred by his assistant to the producer’s younger brother, Larry Simpson, an attorney who works at the Beverly Hills law firm of Bloom, Dekom, Hergott and Cook. He did not return repeated calls.

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Calls to Bruckheimer’s office were referred to Anthony Pellicano, a private detective who has been an associate of Simpson’s at least since 1989. Pellicano was one of the first people called by Simpson after Ammerman’s body was found on his property on the morning of Aug. 15.

Pellicano, who explained that he was speaking on behalf of Simpson and Bruckheimer in his role as handling “crisis PR” for a number of Hollywood figures (including Michael Jackson), said rumors of a possible split between the producers were unfounded.

“One [Simpson’s situation] has nothing to do with the other. There is no breakup. There is no pending breakup,” Pellicano said.

Disney motion picture group Chairman Joe Roth declined to comment other than to say, “I think they’re terrific producers and we look forward to starting ‘The Rock’ next month.”

“The Rock,” to star Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris and to be directed by Michael Bay (“Bad Boys”) is scheduled to shoot in mid-to-late October in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The producers also have plans to make a sequel for Columbia Pictures to “Bad Boys,” which starred Martin Lawrence and Will Smith and grossed $65 million domestically.

Bruckheimer has been devoted to Simpson for years. (He always refers to him as “my partner.”) Sources say Bruckheimer bore the brunt of responsibility both on Tony Scott’s submarine thriller “Crimson Tide” and the Michelle Pfeiffer feature “Dangerous Minds.” In an interview with The Times in April, Simpson admitted he had not spent one day on the set of “Crimson Tide.”

Simpson said at the time that because he had spent “day and night” overseeing the rewrite of the script-troubled “Bad Boys,” Bruckheimer would oversee the shoot of “Crimson.” Bruckheimer also worked extensively on the difficult, protracted post-production on “Dangerous Minds.”

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But a Disney source said that until a few weeks ago, Simpson was “very much a presence” on the pre-production for “The Rock,” particularly in working with the three sets of writers on the project.

Simpson and Bruckheimer--considered the quintessential action producers of the last decade--had a phenomenally successful run at Paramount Pictures in the 1980s with such hits as “Flashdance,” “Beverly Hills Cop” (I and II) and “Top Gun,” which collectively grossed $1.5 billion worldwide.

The partners, however, fell off their horse after bragging in the media about their windfall and their unique “visionary alliance” with Paramount in 1988, when the studio signed them to an unprecedented deal that would have allowed them to make five movies of their choice over a number of years.

The hype backfired when their first movie under the deal, “Days of Thunder,” which cost more than $50 million and under-performed domestically, received a ton of bad press. Their “alliance” with Paramount ended in a bitter split, and they were branded by the national media as egomaniacal overspenders who personified the excess of the ‘80s.

In 1991 the producers moved their company to Disney under a new, less risky studio deal, but until this year had been struggling desperately to get back on top. When “Bad Boys” broke the streak in April, Bruckheimer, the quieter, softer-spoken partner, said he and his partner had learned from their mistakes and this time were going to “tone down” the hype.

Bruckheimer, sans Simpson, is currently in Italy, where “Crimson Tide” opens the Venice Film Festival this week. Simpson’s assistant declined to say where he was.

*

Use your imagination: David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-founders of DreamWorks SKG, the new studio, had breakfast Monday at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills with Michael Jordan, the chairman of Westinghouse Electric Co., which has made a deal to buy CBS Inc.

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“They [the DreamWorks partners] are looking for a new home,” said one entertainment executive.

Walt Disney Co.'s plan to buy Capital Cities/ABC Inc. for $19 billion may have soured the television production deal that DreamWorks struck with the network last year. Despite attempts to mend fences in public, relations between Michael Eisner, the chairman of Disney, and Katzenberg, who left the company last summer after not getting promoted and is considering suing for breach of contract, are still strained.

DreamWorks, which can get out of its contract with Capital Cities/ABC if the network changes hands, has been talking to CBS and other networks that could provide time slots for its product. Neither CBS nor DreamWorks would comment.

Times staff writer Sallie Hofmeister contributed to this report.


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