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Dunaway Sues Lloyd Webber Over 'Sunset Blvd.' Firing

August 26, 1994|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In retaliation for being dumped from the Los Angeles production of "Sunset Boulevard," Faye Dunaway on Thursday filed a $6-million-plus lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against composer/producer Andrew Lloyd Webber and his Really Useful Co.

The movie star was to have taken over the role of Norma Desmond on July 5, but only three days before Glenn Close was to leave the role June 26, Lloyd Webber abruptly announced that Close's final performance would be the swan song for the entire Los Angeles production. Dunaway, he contended, could not sing the role well enough.

Dunaway is seeking $1 million for breach of contract, at least $5 million on a variety of defamation and fraud charges, and punitive damages.

Had she assumed the role, Dunaway's salary would have been $25,000 a week, plus 5% of the weekly gross over $700,000. With full houses, she could have earned as much as $38,000 a week.

In a brief statement Thursday, Dunaway said she welcomed "a public forum to set the record straight and clear both my name and my reputation. . . ."

"I hope I am the last in a long line of artists who have come to this man's productions in good faith and have suffered great personal and professional injury at his hands," she said.

The lawsuit paves the way for another high-profile celebrity trial--or, as Dunaway's attorney, Pierce O'Donnell, jocularly called it Thursday, "Dunaway vs. Webber--the 'Sunset Boulevard' You Never Saw." The case has been assigned to Judge Michael Berg but probably will not go to trial before next year, O'Donnell said.

Peter Brown, a longtime spokesman for Lloyd Webber based in New York, responded angrily to the suit: "We've never seen a lawsuit with so little foundation. It's a stickup, and we're not going to tolerate it."

In a 37-page complaint filed Thursday, O'Donnell contends that Dunaway was cast as "a stalking horse to test the financial viability" of the show and that Lloyd Webber fired Dunaway out of greed.

The suit claims that when advance sales for "Sunset Boulevard" diminished, the producer and his investors decided that they could save money by sending the already seasoned Los Angeles cast to the Broadway production scheduled to open in November. It also contends that the closing was aimed to recoup some of the Lloyd Webber group's Los Angeles investment by selling the set used in Los Angeles to the upcoming Toronto production, which it claims was announced just one day before Lloyd Webber's decision to fire Dunaway.

The suit asserts that Dunaway was the victim and that Lloyd Webber "cast a dark shadow" over the actress's professional abilities and breached her contract. The complaint characterizes Lloyd Webber and his fellow defendants as "coldblooded character assassins cravenly abusing their awesome power over the world's media and public opinion."

Brown, in turn, accused Dunaway on Thursday of being the media manipulator. "The complaint is a press release masquerading as a pleading--a further log thrown by Miss Dunaway and her representatives to fuel the fire of media attention, which they have stoked since her termination from the role of Norma Desmond."

The lawsuit also pits Lloyd Webber against his longtime collaborator, Trevor Nunn, director of "Sunset Boulevard." The complaint quotes extensively a letter from Nunn to Dunaway dated June 28, in which the director says he protested "vigorously" over the lack of time scheduled for rehearsals where both he and Dunaway would have been present.

O'Donnell argues that Nunn was given six weeks to prepare Betty Buckley, a more experienced musical theater actress, to take over the role in London, while he was given only six days to work with Dunaway.

Nunn also is quoted as recalling the meeting at which Lloyd Webber reportedly gave encouragement to Dunaway only one day before he decided to fire her. The next morning, Nunn said, he reminded Lloyd Webber of what he had said to Dunaway. "He replied that he realized at the time that he was saying the opposite of what he thought."

The complaint goes into considerable detail about whether Dunaway's shooting schedule for the film "Don Juan de Marco and the Centerfold" was a factor in the decision to fire her. The "Sunset Boulevard" producers knew about the shooting schedule all along, argues O'Donnell, and it "never changed during the six weeks from when Ms. Dunaway was offered the part until her termination."

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