He’s ‘Star'-Crossed No Longer

Robert W. Welkos is a Times staff writer

A gold-colored urn rests on an upper shelf in producer David Kirkpatrick’s Santa Monica office--a memento from his movie “The Evening Star.”

It contains no ashes, only fond memories of making the film, which includes a remarkable scene in which Shirley MacLaine holds the urn aloft while riding in an open convertible as Jack Nicholson roars along a deserted beach.

The scene conveys a celebration of life and hope amid much pain and, in some ways, could be a metaphor for Kirkpatrick’s journey through Hollywood, where he rose over 15 years from a script reader to president of the motion picture group at Paramount.

Then it all came crashing down in 1991, when Kirkpatrick was ousted from his high-level post and later sued Paramount.


But today, in an odd twist that only Hollywood could fully appreciate, the 45-year-old Kirkpatrick is warmly embracing Paramount, and the studio, in turn, is distributing “The Evening Star,” which opens Christmas Day. There is nary an ill word said between them.

Out of this rapprochement has come the sequel--Kirkpatrick calls it a “continuation"--to Paramount’s 1983 Academy Award-winning film “Terms of Endearment,” which also garnered Oscars for MacLaine (best actress), Nicholson (best supporting actor) and James L. Brooks (best director and screenplay adaptation).

MacLaine herself credits Kirkpatrick with being a driving force in getting “The Evening Star” to the screen.

“He is the one who had the faith,” MacLaine told The Times.


In the film, MacLaine reprises her role as the feisty and passionate Aurora Greenway, whose complex relationship with her irreverent, terminally ill daughter (Debra Winger) touched audiences in the original movie.

“The Evening Star” also stars Bill Paxton, Juliette Lewis and Miranda Richardson, with brief appearances by Nicholson (who was paid $500,000 a day for four days’ work to reprise his role as Aurora’s former lover, Garrett Breedlove). The film is directed by Robert Harling, who also wrote the screenplay based on Larry McMurtry’s novel. The movie was produced by Kirkpatrick, Polly Platt and Keith Samples.

How the movie ever managed to get made is a story in itself.

“Terms of Endearment” was a tough act to follow. Not only is it one of Paramount’s most prized films, but it is also among its most profitable.

“It cost $11 million,” Kirkpatrick said, “and it ended up grossing worldwide about $140 million.”

The new movie tells the story of Aurora--15 years after her daughter Emma’s death--as she struggles to raise her grandchildren in her own devoted but overbearing way.

Kirkpatrick had held onto the project since his ill-fated production days at Paramount.

“I really loved the [McMurtry] manuscript because I thought it had the same emotional elements as the original movie,” the producer said. “It was very funny and moving.” Kirkpatrick said he ran it by Brooks to see if he would be interested in making it, but the director told him it was an area he had already traveled in.


“We brought in Bob Harling [as screenwriter], and the studio blessed it,” Kirkpatrick said. “Shirley and Bob had worked together on ‘Steel Magnolias,’ and Bob had done ‘Soapdish’ for us. We had a great experience. We turned it in to the studio and they liked the script, but nothing ever really happened to it. Around that time, I ended up with my troubles with Paramount.”

Kirkpatrick has alleged in a suit that his troubles with Paramount centered on Stanley Jaffe, then president of the studio’s parent company. Jaffe had once been a producer who had come to Kirkpatrick wanting to make a movie called “School Ties.” Kirkpatrick further alleged that he and Jaffe clashed over the proposed budget for the film, with Kirkpatrick wanting it kept at $14 million and Jaffe demanding $19 million.

The suit alleged that Jaffe subsequently conducted a “no-holds-barred personal vendetta” against Kirkpatrick. Jaffe denied the allegations.

Kirkpatrick was removed from his post, given an independent production deal and banished to “The Unhappy Kingdom Office,” a place on the lot where studio executives went after palace coups.

To make matters worse, in 1993 Kirkpatrick was told to vacate his production office. Because of an administrative snafu, the move was pushed up and, to his surprise, he found his furniture piled on the studio lawn. He had an intern videotape the furniture and later sued the studio.

“I have to say, at the time I was bitter and angry and it was really a very dark period of my life, because suddenly you are plastered on the front page: ‘Kirkpatrick Suing Paramount,’ ” the producer recently recalled.

Jaffe eventually lost his job when Viacom Inc. acquired Paramount in a hostile takeover. Studio chief Sherry Lansing and her new boss, Jonathan Dolgen, quickly went about mending relationships around town and an undisclosed settlement was worked out with Kirkpatrick, who was represented by well-known litigator Pierce O’Donnell.

Among the film projects Kirkpatrick kept was “The Evening Star.” However, he was given only four months to pull everything together--the financing, the cast, the director--or risk losing the project.


What could have been a daunting task proved otherwise. Kirkpatrick went to Rysher Entertainment, where today he is a consultant, and was able to get back to Paramount in time with the film ready to go. Paramount has numerous deals with Rysher; under this one, Rysher gets many of the foreign rights, and Paramount and Rysher are joint partners in the domestic release.

Kirkpatrick is an executive producer on the critically acclaimed movie “Big Night,” and another Kirkpatrick production, “Rasputin,” which premiered last March on HBO, won three Emmy Awards.

Summing up his turbulent past, Kirkpatrick said: “People say, ‘Oh, that’s all behind us now.’ Nothing we ever say or do is behind us. It is always a part of us. We just have to find a way to deal with it and not let it rule our lives.”