It began as a favor, and a pact between the brothers Stallone and an independent production company to make "The Good Life," a little $5-million film about two golfing hit men. Now, it has turned into a nasty legal tit for tat with a plot line straight out of Hollywood.
Actor Sylvester Stallone, whose film "Cop Land" opened last week, fired the first legal salvo recently with a relatively tame breach of contract complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court. It accused the producers of risking a Stallone market glut by hyping his cameo in their film "The Good Life" as a starring role. The suit demanded $20 million--Stallone's going rate for a motion picture.
Producers Alan and Diane Mehrez countersued for $50 million in U.S. District Court. The suit, which names Stallone and his brother, Frank, as defendants, reads like a story treatment suitable for pitching to studio honchos as "The Godfather" meets "The Player."
You've got your megastar, your sibling rivalry, your private investigators and your allegations of death threats and extortion. There's even actor Marcus Aurelius taping phone calls like a mob stoolie, capturing Frank Stallone uttering what sound like lines from a B-movie.
The suit quoted the younger Stallone venting his unhappiness with the producers during a July 14 phone conversation with Aurelius: "They ain't gonna do it to Stallones. . . .
"My brother and I, we're going to own that company. . . .
"You (bleep)ed with my family. You (bleep)ed with me. . . .
"You know, they terminated my contract. I don't think so. I'll terminate their company. . . ."
What's next? A horse's head in somebody's bed?
In their suit, the Mehrezes said the "Stallone Bros." threatened them and tried to take over the film after backing out of their contractual obligations. The suit accused Sylvester Stallone of "massive abuse of star power."
The producers' suit described Frank Stallone as "a journeyman actor" with "few major movie credits and even less talent" who promised to deliver his more famous brother for "a significant supporting role." The suit alleged that Frank "hijacked" and rewrote the script four times.
Sylvester Stallone reluctantly agreed to appear in the film because his mother, Jackie, asked him to help his brother, the suit stated. He appeared only for one day of shooting, rewrote his own scenes and refused to leave his trailer most of the time, the suit said.
The producers accused the Stallones in their suit of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, breach of contract and myriad other charges.
In a prepared statement, Sylvester Stallone said: "I am shocked that the production company for 'The Good Life' would sue me, since I did nothing wrong."
Frank Stallone said through his publicist: "My brother did me a favor and performed a cameo appearance. I'm sorry that his name had to be dragged through the mud like this."
Pierce O'Donnell, who filed the federal countersuit, said: "I look forward to the day when I can cross-examine Sylvester Stallone under oath in front of a jury of Los Angeles citizens."
OFFICE POLITICS ALLEGED, DENIED: It seemed like such a noble pursuit: choosing the recipient of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation's annual Humanitarian of the Year award honoring a volunteer or charity that made "exemplary and significant contributions to ease human suffering throughout the world."
But Dr. William Richard Smyser, who was hired to run the award selection process, alleged in a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court that a jealous boss and office politics soon contributed to his own suffering.
Smyser said in the lawsuit that he gave up teaching jobs at four prestigious East Coast universities, rented out his house in Washington, D.C., and postponed two book contracts to take the job as executive director of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize.
The suit said he accepted the post in October 1994 after being assured in writing by foundation President Donald H. Hubbs that he would be granted autonomy in selecting and directing board members, screening candidates for the honors and making other decisions.
But almost immediately, Smyser contended in his suit, Hubbs began to undermine him, holding up expenditures and decisions until Smyser's position became "untenable." Finally, at a board meeting in July 1996, Hubbs all but replaced Smyser, the suit stated.
Smyser left his post "with great reluctance when it became clear Hubbs had become de facto director," the complaint stated.
"Let the facts come out," responded Hubbs, who added that he would deny "everything in [Smyser's] complaint." He called the dispute "a unique situation" and said, "We haven't had problems before, and we don't expect any problems in the future either."
Smyser is alleging breach of contract and is seeking compensation for lost wages and opportunities.
Pat J. Modugno, a foundation vice president, defended Hubbs as a "wonderful" boss and the foundation as "a wonderful place to work."
"I've been here 10 years," Modugno said. "We have great harmony within the office, and the fact is, at the end of the day, we're doing good work. There's a lot of feel-good from that."
HEY NEIGHBOR, LOSE THAT SKYLIGHT, STAT: A Beverly Hills neighbor of Eriq LaSalle, who plays the brooding Peter Benton on the hit TV doc drama "ER," is seeking a court order to perform some emergency surgery on the actor's new skylight, which the neighbor claims is blocking his view.
Morris M. Cohen alleged in his Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit that the height of LaSalle's skylight violates deed restrictions enacted when the neighborhood, which offers expansive city and canyon views, was developed 35 years ago.
The lawsuit, filed by 1980 MMC Revocable Trust, claimed that the "recently" erected skylight is encroaching on his view and reducing the value of Cohen's property, which is across the street from LaSalle's. LaSalle moved in last year, court records indicate.
Cohen claimed in his suit that he sent several neighborly letters to the 34-year-old LaSalle late last year but never received a response. He sued in March, but details of the case didn't surface until recently.
LaSalle denies the allegations, his lawyers said in court papers. If a judge orders the actor to get rid of his skylight, it "will cause more harm" to the actor than leaving it there would cause his neighbor, the court papers stated.
THE EX FILES: When last we saw "Arthur" star Dudley Moore and his fourth spouse, Nicole, they were newly reconciled and holding hands a few weeks ago in the peanut gallery at the Carroll O'Connor trial. They signed a few documents for Moore's lawyer, Allan A. Sigel, and--poof!--the actor's divorce petition was dismissed. Alas, the reconciliation was short-lived.
Moore, 62, last week again sued Nicole, 33, for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. He also obtained a restraining order and filed a paternity suit to determine whether he is the father of the couple's 2-year-old son, Nicholas.
Moore, in court papers accompanying the restraining order, alleged that Nicole displayed "severe mood swings" and "fits of rage." In February, he said in a court declaration, she "threatened to kill me but said that she would rather see me suffer." She also has ransacked and threatened to burn down his home in Marina del Rey, Moore alleged.
"When she is angry with me, she threatens to sell private intimate details of our lives to various publications," Moore stated in his declaration.
Meanwhile, she still has a lawsuit pending against him alleging mistreatment during the marriage. Indignities she claimed she endured included his kicking and hitting her, squeezing her new breast implants until they hurt and forcing her to dance provocatively for up to 20 hours at a time.