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Lynn Redgrave Waiting For Her Day In Court

June 05, 1987|DEBORAH CAULFIELD | Times Staff Writer

"Six years of litigation and a half-a-million dollars in legal costs were thrown away in three to four hours--it's appalling to me!"

Lynn Redgrave, in a telephone interview, was bitterly acknowledging the time and money she spent on her unsuccessful $10.5-million lawsuit against MCA and Universal Television. Redgrave's contention that Universal fired her in July, 1981, from CBS' "House Calls" because she wanted to breast-feed her 3-week-old daughter, Annabel, during production hours was never argued in court. Instead, after a court date her attorney told her was unnecessary to attend, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jack Ryburn last February upheld Universal's contention that it settled the lawsuit with Redgrave a year ago this month. And he ordered the actress to pay $17,000 to Universal for court costs the studio incurred since the 1981 suit was filed.

Redgrave denies that she ever settled her lawsuit, but Ryburn last month refused to grant her a new trial. An appeal is planned, which could conservatively take a year; and, even if Redgrave succeeded in getting the decision overturned, that decision could be appealed by Universal. And so on.

When--or if--Redgrave's breast-feeding complaint is finally heard in court, daughter Annabel (now 6) may be breast-feeding her own offspring.

"I feel dumped on," Redgrave said angrily. "It seems terribly wrong that the system should work like this."

What happened to the trial that--at first glance--looked as if it could be a precedent-setting case for breast-feeding actress-mothers? Court documents offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how a major entertainment conglomerate handled a controversial lawsuit with a star.

Redgrave's lawsuit was filed Aug. 31, 1981, in a blaze of publicity. With feminist attorney Gloria Allred at her side, Redgrave maintained that her contract for "House Calls," the CBS series (which aired 1979-1982) in which she co-starred with Wayne Rogers, had been terminated over the breast-feeding issue. The studio claimed in a press release that the actress left the series because the studio wouldn't meet her salary "demands."

At the time, a transcript of a phone conversation between Redgrave's husband, John Clark, and Universal negotiator Pete Terranova was obtained by The Times. In it, Terranova told Clark, "breast-feeding is the biggest problem of all for us. I don't know how to get around that . . . ."

Universal subsequently filed a countersuit against Redgrave and Clark for breach of contract and for violation of California Penal Code 632--illegally taping a phone conversation.

In January, 1986, Redgrave and Clark replaced Allred with Robert Wrede of Finley, Kumble, Wagner, Heine, Underberg, Manley, Myerson & Casey. In May and June of last year, both sides participated in a series of court-ordered mandatory settlement conferences (held to keep resolvable cases from going to trial). The negotiations, detailed in court documents, centered around three main points. In exchange for Redgrave dropping the lawsuit:

--Universal would pay Redgrave's attorney's fees and court costs, make a cash payment to the actress in the area of $90,000 to $100,000 and hire her for a movie-of-the-week.

--Universal would issue two public statements--a press release and an advertisement to run in Daily Variety, weekly Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, which would constitute a public apology to Redgrave.

--The final settlement would remain confidential.

Universal's paid advertisement would consist of a letter from Universal TV President Harris to Redgrave. The proposed letter, filed with court documents, read: "Congratulations on being chosen UNICEF Mother of the Year for 1986.

"I regret that your role in 'House Calls' ended as a result of a misunderstanding over the relationship between your roles as mother and actress. Your dedication to your family and career has earned you the respect of the Hollywood creative community.

"We are looking forward to working with you at Universal soon."

Redgrave and Clark state, in affidavits filed in court, that they felt their attorney, Robert Wrede, was trying to force them into a settlement with Universal. Plus, they weren't happy with the proposed wording of the letter, which they felt was not appropriately apologetic. Early in June, after an argument with Wrede, Clark took matters into his own hands. Affidavits filed by both sides confirm what transpired.

Without informing his attorney, Clark called Universal's Harris and said Redgrave was ready to settle the suit because "we're sick of the whole thing."

Clark said the couple simply wanted their attorney's fees paid and a full-page ad with Universal's letter of apology published in entertainment trade papers. In subsequent conversations, Redgrave, Clark and Harris discussed the settlement and a written proposal confirming their discussions was sent to the couple.

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