A long shadow

Times Staff Writer

EDWARD BASS has a resume that would make any novice movie producer envious: four films in two years, with his latest, "Bobby," garnering early award season buzz with its all-star cast that includes Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Helen Hunt, along with Sharon Stone, Demi Moore and Martin Sheen.

But long before he was known as Edward Bass the producer, he was Michael Bass, the ex-con turned Hollywood promoter who staged some glitzy -- and controversial -- celebrity-driven events around town in the late 1980s and 1990s.

His 1992 Oscar night gala touted prominent attendees such as then-Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and actor Jack Lemmon. Neither showed, and an irate Lemmon said he'd never had anything to do with the event. Bass' "celebrity airlift" called Toyskis for Totskis, designed to bring Christmas cheer to needy Russian kids, stalled when the toys got stuck at the airport. And his 1993 Beverly Hills poetry contest, promising $50,000 in prizes and a star-studded gala celebrating the 85th birthday of comedian Milton Berle, was marred by complaints from some poets about a lack of prizes, judging and meals.

Fast-forward about 20 years, and Bass, 49, still finds himself in the thick of controversy, this time on "Bobby." Before shooting started, he battled with Emilio Estevez, the film's director and screenwriter, and it wasn't long before the cast and crew were whispering about Bass' background. Ultimately, Bass was asked to part company with Bold Films, the production company.

Whether Bass can successfully put his past behind him remains to be seen. He doesn't want his past to affect the movie and said he is willing to withdraw his name if his involvement jeopardizes the film's chance at an Oscar run: "Why can't we just let Michael Bass die and let Edward Bass live? He's my evil twin."

"Bobby," due Nov. 17, tells the dramatic story of 22 fictional characters whose lives intersect at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968, in the hours leading up to the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

Days before filming was to start, there were at least three scripts floating around, and Bass and Estevez, who also costars in the movie, couldn't agree on which to use. The cast and crew were at a loss. Bass, one of three people granted a "produced by" credit in the movie's press notes, said he threatened to remove Estevez from the production -- effectively taking Estevez off his own movie.

"We argued over every single frame of that film," Bass said of his clashes with Estevez over "creative differences." "In the heat of battle, yeah, we were pretty passionate, pretty intense. We were on the phone from 7 in the morning to 2 o'clock at night. We were high-fiving, yelling, fighting, thinking and living every moment of this picture. We knew we were on to something that would have historical importance, and it had the intensity of being in a political campaign. We knew that we were dealing with a legacy inside this picture.

"But you know what?" Bass said. "The picture came out and it's great. I thank everyone who worked on the picture."

Neither Estevez nor officials at Bold Films would comment for this article.

The Weinstein Co., which acquired the film and is co-releasing it with MGM, declined to discuss Bass. "We are incredibly proud to be presenting 'Bobby' and are looking forward to a successful release in November," a company spokeswoman said.

Bass had been brought into the production after producer Holly Wiersma, the wife of William Morris agent Cassian Elwes, showed him the script. Bass was the gateway to Michel Litvak, a Belgian-born industrialist whose Bold Films put up the money for three of the movies that Bass co-produced after returning to Hollywood and launching a new career. He said he began going by his middle name, Edward, and didn't discuss his past because "I wanted to get a fresh start in life."

Bass and Wiersma already knew each other because they had worked together on the upcoming film "Come Early Morning," starring Ashley Judd. Litvak's wife, Russian-born actress Svetlana Metkina, has roles in "Bobby" and two other films Bass produced: "Mini's First Time," starring Alec Baldwin and Nikki Reed, and "Slingshot," starring David Arquette.

Bass claims that Estevez's original script for "Bobby" was too long. Nashville screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury was brought on to do minor polishing on the script. Screenwriter John Ridley, who received a co-producer credit on the film, was also hired to work on the material.

Ridley said that when a production ends up with competing scripts so close to going before the cameras, "clearly, that makes for a very uncomfortable situation all around."

Of his ultimate ouster by Bold Films, Bass said: "They thought I was a little rough on Emilio. Michel felt I could have been a little kinder and gentler."

Robert A. Glazer, Bass' family physician and longtime friend, defends Bass.

"I know there were problems between Emilio and Edward Bass," Glazer said. "I know they argued during filming. Eventually, of course, Edward was sacked, which I think was a little unfair, because as one of the producers he did a magnificent job."

Glazer describes Bass as a "promoter -- I don't want to say hustler -- a very active guy trying to make things happen. I feel sorry for him when things don't work out. He always has hope for the future, and there is a glint in his eye that he's still going to make it no matter how old he gets. Basically, he's a likable character that sometimes you want to choke to death."

In casting the film, Estevez already had connections that helped land the stars. Moore is an ex-fiancee and Hopkins a longtime pal. But Bass said it was his own expertise at getting stars for Hollywood parties that allowed him to line up so much talent for "Bobby." He said he even staked out the Chateau Marmont just so he could buttonhole Lindsay Lohan and convince her that taking a role in the movie would enhance her career.

Bass credits Harvey Weinstein's editing suggestions for giving the film its final shape. Without Weinstein, he said, the film wouldn't be a good as it is. He also praised Estevez.

"He just did a lot of things that were great," he said. "This is a picture that is going down like 'The Godfather.' It's a really great picture, and I'm not blowing my horn, because 200 people made this a great picture."

Bass says he did not go out of his way to publicize his record before getting involved in "Bobby."

In the mid-1980s, he served time in prison for mail fraud after prosecutors alleged he and another man falsified information to obtain a higher credit rating for a company through which they purchased televisions and other equipment, bilking manufacturers out of more than $1 million. Bass admits he did wrong but chalks it up to being "just a kid" -- he said he was 27 at the time he was indicted -- who was not savvy in business.

Bass said he always had the best of intentions when he embarked on his charity events and fundraisers, and stressed that he never used them to personally enrich himself. He said that much of the controversy was the result of critics who unfairly pounced on shortcomings. For example, Bass said, while Yeltsin could not ultimately attend the 1992 gala as planned, the former world leader did accept the honor that was being granted to him that night.

Bass eventually left America and surfaced in Moscow, where he said he provided unpaid public relations advice to ultra-nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky to tone down his rhetoric.

Bass also published a lifestyle magazine in Russia called Metropolitan.

Bass is now living in an apartment in Paris on Avenue Montaigne, struggling to find and make his next film. He said he is writing a book on his life and a "tragic comedy" screenplay.

But he worries that his past problems could become a distraction for "Bobby" as Weinstein revs up the Oscar campaign for the movie. After all, this is one of the first films to come from the company Weinstein created after his high-profile breakup with the Walt Disney Co.

That's why, Bass said, he is prepared to resign as a producer.

"It's not about me; the film is about Bobby Kennedy," he said.

He says that his background shouldn't be held against those involved with the film.

"They gave an ex-con a chance, and they're going to be punished for that. They didn't do something mean. I didn't want to hurt them. I know that I am potentially someone that associating with me can hurt everybody. I've been a really good person. I was so careful not to make mistakes and hurt anyone. I wanted the film to speak for itself."

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robert.welkos@latimes.com

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