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Penn's Poison

September 28, 1986

I found Patrick Goldstein's fascinating "When Studios Smell Trouble, They Screen Out the Critics" (Sept. 7) particularly interesting because I was the Unit Publicist--for all of a day-and-a-half--on the Sean Penn/Madonna fiasco, "Shanghai Surprise," until Penn had me fired for daring to ask the two of them to sit in a rickshaw for a couple of photographers from Newsweek and the London Observer.

Although my stay on that unfortunate farrago was brief, I could tell you some of the many horror stories that occurred during its production, due to the antics of what the British press brilliantly dubbed "The Poison Penns."

Since Goldstein's article concentrates on the lack of press screenings for the finished product and the fact that neither of the film's stars gave any interviews to support the film, I will simply pass on a quote from Penn which should be a warning to any company daft enough to consider employing him in the future.

Moments before running off to the producer to have me fired, Penn made a pronouncement of such stunning stupidity and arrogance (both of which he has in spades) that it deserves to be writ large in Hollywood folklore:

"This film doesn't need publicity," quoth Mr. Madonna. "The people will go to see it because we're in it."

$730,000 from 401 theaters, eh, fella? What was your name again?

CHRIS NIXON

East Twickenham, England

As of last Sunday, MGM said "Shanghai Surprise" had grossed $1,708,114 and was running in 350 theaters.

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