Producer Bing, Actor Penn Square Off

Times Staff Writer

While ugly contract disputes litter the Hollywood landscape, few reach the pitched level of Steve Bing vs. Sean Penn, which this week spawned two lawsuits and a spate of heated dialogue right out of a big-screen drama.

Bing, the multimillionaire producer and Democratic Party bigwig, and Penn, the Oscar-nominated actor with the bad boy persona, are engaged in a nasty fight over whether Bing owes Penn $10 million to star in a movie called “Why Men Shouldn’t Marry.”

The dispute has come to include charges of extortion, alleged threats of political embarrassment, ominous references to the Hollywood blacklist, and sniping back and forth about a recent trip Penn took to Iraq.

And that’s without getting into the heart of the dispute: whether Penn agreed to make the movie (written by and to be directed and financed by Bing, whose most recent screen credit was as writer of “Kangaroo Jack”) and on what terms.


Penn, in a lawsuit filed Tuesday, casts their dispute as a 1st Amendment battle in which the producer, known for his liberal politics, fired him from the film for expressing unpopular antiwar political views. In his suit, he calls Bing’s actions a page “from the dark era of Hollywood blacklisting.”

Bing, meanwhile, in his own suit filed the same day in Los Angeles Superior Court, accuses the actor of “civil extortion,” claiming Penn and his representatives “threatened Bing with public embarrassment unless millions of dollars in ransom money is paid to Penn.” His suit contends that the actor’s representatives warned that “negative publicity generated by Penn would cause other people in the creative community to avoid working with Bing.”

The suits come after months of negotiations punctuated by Penn’s controversial and well-publicized fact-finding mission to Iraq.

Both men are familiar with bad publicity, Penn for his brawling and public orneriness, and Bing for his paternity battle with former paramour, actress Elizabeth Hurley.


Martin D. Singer, Bing’s attorney, said the producer isn’t trying to avoid paying anything a court might decide he legitimately owes Penn, but “my client is not going to be threatened by bullying behavior. Bing tried to negotiate a deal with him for over six months and there were material issues that needed to be closed.... This is not a 1st Amendment issue.”

Penn’s agent, Bryan Lord of Creative Artists Agency, responded: “Mr. Bing is reneging on his commitment. The facts will reveal that Mr. Bing has no moral, ethical or legal basis for his actions.”