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Doctor Sues the Makers of 'Medicine Man' : Film: Creative Artists Agency and actor Sean Connery are named in the suit.

August 18, 1992|TERRY PRISTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A doctor who claims to be the model for the "Medicine Man" depicted by Sean Connery in the recent movie of that name sued the actor and others connected with the film Monday, contending that they misappropriated the doctor's autobiographical story and misrepresented his work with Amazon Indians.

In their copyright infringement suit, the doctor, Wilburn H. Ferguson, and his co-plaintiff and backer, Phillip Lambro, allege that they had a series of meetings in 1988 at Creative Artists Agency, which then went ahead and packaged a movie telling a substantially similar tale but cut them out of the deal.

CAA represents both Connery, who also served as executive producer on the film, and screenwriter Tom Schulman, who was paid nearly $3 million for the "Medicine Man" screenplay. CAA declined comment, pending a review of the complaint.

Also named as a defendant, in addition to Connery, Schulman and CAA, was Walt Disney Co.'s Hollywood Pictures, which distributed "Medicine Man."

Ferguson, a Texas resident, and Lambro, who lives in Los Angeles, state in their complaint that they began developing a project they called "Tsanza" in 1973, based on the physician's "extensive jungle plant research which resulted in a cure for cancer."

The doctor, now 87, lived among Ecuadoran Amazon Indians in the 1930s but was never able to persuade the American Cancer Society and other members of what he describes as the "Cancer Establishment" to endorse the medicinal treatment he developed, his attorney, Monday U. Abengowe, said.

Abengowe said Monday that Lambro, an established composer and conductor, got to know Ferguson after learning about his research and became his backer in the hope that a book and movie would publicize the physician's controversial work.

Their contact with CAA began in 1987 after they mailed a copy of "Tsanza" and a screen synopsis and treatment to the agency, according to the complaint, which names an agent and two low-level CAA employees who allegedly had access to the material.

The lawyer estimated that Lambro spent 20 hours in meetings with CAA personnel. Abengowe provided a reporter with a copy of a letter from CAA employee Alison Claire-Genis to her uncle, a New York publisher, telling him that "Tsanza" "would make a fascinating book." Claire-Genis was described by CAA as a secretary who no longer works for the agency.

The complaint also contends that in 1990 Pamela Kellman, who worked for Lambro, submitted the same material to Carolco Pictures, a company partly owned at the time by Andrew G. Vajna. Vajna left Carolco to form Cinergi Productions, which produced "Medicine Man" as its first project.

Dede Lebovits, Cinergi's general counsel, said she had not seen the complaint and was therefore unable to comment.

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