Putting Dreams Into Words
Actress Janet Leigh is sitting in her home office high above Sunset Boulevard. On her desk: a yellow legal note pad and several No. 3 pencils, the tools of her other trade, as an author.
Dressed in pink slacks and a pink sweater, with understated gold jewelry, Leigh curls up in a chair and talks.
She’s a woman of a few thousand words, as her publishing career will attest. Her output includes an autobiography, a book about the making of “Psycho” and two novels.
“It’s surprising ... that I’m still around,” says Leigh, who’s 75. “Longevity doesn’t seem to be one of the perks of this business.”
But she seems to have found it, in five decades of acting that include such highlights as “Touch of Evil,” “The Manchurian Candidate” and, of course, that famous shower scene.
For nearly four of those decades, she has been married to stockbroker Robert Brandt, a third marriage for both. “It didn’t work marrying for life, did it?” Leigh said. “So, we’ll do it one day at a time.”
Her new novel, “The Dream Factory” (Mira) begins at the deathbed of Eve Handel, a character loosely based on Leigh’s mentor, a drama coach at MGM. The book then looks back over Handel’s life in 1950s Hollywood.
“The dream factory of that time was much simpler,” Leigh says, under the unsmiling gaze of Alfred Hitchcock, who looks down from a black-and-white photo she received from daughter Jamie Lee Curtis. “As media outlets grew, everything became so complicated. It’s like the Cookie Monster. ... " She hesitates. “No, wait, not the Cookie Monster.” Leigh jumps up and grabs the phone to ask her assistant: “What’s that play, with the man-eating plant? Yes, that’s it. ‘The Little Shop of Horrors.’”
She returns to her chair, satisfied.
“It’s like that play. Today, there’s not enough product to feed [the monster].” And, she adds, “It’s hard to make something which has a single vision.” Unless, she added, “you’re Steven Spielberg"--or a writer.
In that role, Leigh says, “You do manufacture dreams, but in order to dream, you need to have a springboard which is the facts"--like quotes from her manicurist’s daughter, whom she credits as inspiration for a character. “It gives it that touch of reality, and I think that’s quite important ... truth with fiction.”
Wearing an electric-blue suit and his trademark coiffure, the Godfather of Soul strode into Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday morning trailed by his bodyguard, his attorney and a phalanx of reporters. James Brown was in court to testify on his own behalf in a $2-million sexual harassment suit filed by Lisa Ross Agbalaya, who managed Brown’s West Coast operations.
Agbalaya has testified that from July 1999 to February 2000, Brown repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances while she worked for New James Brown Enterprises Inc. Agbalaya, who is married with two children, claims she refused Brown’s overtures and was fired for it. Brown denies Agbalaya’s accusations and claims he fired her because financial troubles forced him to close his West Coast office. “I just felt bad because the office wasn’t making money,” said Brown.
Agbalaya claims in the suit that during a visit to Brown’s Augusta, Ga., home in summer 1999, Brown, now 68, cornered her in his den, pulled her toward him, then produced a pair of zebra-print panties and asked her to slip them on while a dinner of liver and onions was prepared. It was to be, according to the suit, “a night
Early on, Brown spent half an hour on the stand verifying his signature on a series of legal documents. He shifted uncomfortably and shook his head in frustration.
“It feels good to clear the record, but I don’t understand,” Brown said of the charges during a break. “I was just trying to help someone. ... I never demeaned anybody.”
“The key thing here is the defendant has to be an employer and the plaintiff has to be an employee,” said Brown’s attorney Debra Opri after a court session Monday. Agbalaya was “an independent contractor” for Brown, Opri contends, and therefore, she argues, Agbalaya can’t sue as an employee of his company.
Agbalaya is demanding $2 million for sexual harassment, wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Dust storm dust-up
A proposed class-action suit was filed on behalf of “Planet of the Apes” extras last week, claiming they were exposed to cancer-causing substances during filming of a dust storm.
During a shoot in the Mojave Desert, the extras, playing apes or humans, were blasted with 80,000 pounds of dust called Fuller’s Earth, which contains a known carcinogen, according to the complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Fox Entertainment Group Inc. and Entertainment Partner Service Group Inc.
The Fuller’s Earth bags had warning labels that were allegedly removed, and although the product labels said particle masks should be worn, no masks were given to the extras, the suit claims.
“If it wasn’t [dangerous], why was Tim Burton wearing a respirator [with] two canisters?” said attorney Neal J. Fialkow, who represents the plaintiffs. “He wasn’t taking any chances.”
Fox Entertainment Group would not comment, a spokeswoman said.
“We’re the ones who decide what we do and when we do it,” 15-year-old Ashley Olsen tells Connie Chung when asked during an interview that airs tonight on ABC’s “20/20 Downtown” about the power she and twin Mary-Kate Olsen have in their multinational company.