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Trouble in the House THAT Mac Built : A Custody Battle for Macaulay Culkin by His Parent-Managers Offers a Glimpse Into What Can Happen in Hollywood When a Son Is Also a Star.

November 05, 1995|Susie Linfield | Susie Linfield, a writer and editor, is a visiting professor at New York University's Department of Journalism

LOVE AND MONEY ARE INEXTRICABLY BOUND IN THE CULKIN SPLIT-UP. IN June, when the couple had been separated for several months, Patricia Brentrup filed an affidavit in New York State Supreme Court seeking temporary custody of Macaulay and his siblings Dakota, Kieran, Quinn, Christian and Rory. (At 19, Shane, the eldest Culkin kid, is too old to be included in a custody proceeding.) Brentrup's petition accuses Kit of abandonment, "excessive drinking, physical abuse and unfaithful behavior."

According to Lois Liberman, another of Brentrup's lawyers, "These people have been in trouble for a while. There had been other separations [before March]." Adds attorney Lotwin, "We were told that [around Easter] he had another relationship, that she confronted him and that he left."

But the immediate cause for Brentrup's affidavit last summer, filed as an emergency measure, was the film "Amanda," in which Kieran stars. Lotwin says Kit tried to withdraw his parental consent from the film, set to begin shooting in Montana, as "a way [to] assert his authority." According to Brentrup's petition, Kit had tried to "pull the plug" on the project and, therefore, "the careers of the Culkin children could be irretrievably damaged."

And although Lotwin insists that "this is not a fight about money, or about sharing commissions," it is striking just how much of Brentrup's affidavit concerns Macaulay's agents and lawyers. In a typical passage, her petition warned that "the agents from William Morris have informed me in no uncertain terms that if the respondent [Kit Culkin] deliberately botches up this deal, no one in Hollywood will want to work with our children again," a prospect the complaint terms "an unwarranted tragedy."

In response, State Supreme Court Judge David Saxe granted Brentrup temporary custody of the children but, within one week, reversed himself when Kit filed opposing papers in which he characterized Brentrup as "inept" regarding business decisions and accused her of concocting "outright lies."

Kit's attorney, Donald Frank, denies the charges of physical abuse and unfaithfulness, and claims Kit left the Culkins' home last spring only because "he didn't want a media firestorm, and she threatened to call the police if he didn't leave." He adds: "My sense is that the stereotypical image of Kit is mostly hyperbole. He's gotten a bad rap because in Hollywood there's a great deal of 'playing the game,' and he's not one to do so." Frank further argues that Kit is a committed father--"I defy anyone to show one instance of where Kit Culkin hasn't done great things for his kids, personally and professionally"-- who has shared equally in his children's upbringing and been "the prime force" in Macaulay's career. And while Frank says that Culkin is seeking co-management and joint custody with Brentrup (she is asking for sole custody), he insists that "the key issue is: does an award of custody equal management of a career? I don't think so."

But the parent-manager arrangement inevitably raises questions of propriety. Says Raoul Lionel Felder, a New York divorce lawyer and no stranger to large fees, whose clients have included Robin Givens and Mrs. Anthony Quinn: "It's bothersome that any parent would take 15%--the thought is kind of offensive." Frank counters, "My feeling is that the parent of a child star is never in a winning position: If they're too nice, they're gonna get screwed. If they're too tough, they're [using their child as] a meal ticket."

To represent Macaulay and his siblings, the court appointed Mara Thorpe, a former Manhattan family court judge who represented Moses and Dylan Farrow in the Mia-Woody war. (Macaulay and his siblings are currently living with their mother on New York's Upper WestSide. Kit has taken an apartment in the same building "so he can be in proximityto the children," according to Frank.) One prominent New York divorce lawyer praises Thorpe's appointment and says her only consideration will be the children's best interests. But another lawyer laughingly suggests, "Mike Ovitz should have been the court-appointed guardian."

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MACAULAY CULKIN HAS MADE TK FILMS SINCE HIS FIRST MOVIE, 1988's "Rocket Gibraltar." Last year alone he starred in "The Pagemaster," "Getting Even With Dad" and "Richie Rich." But it was 1990's "Home Alone" that made him a golden boy. The movie, which cost about $18 million, grossed $285 million domestically and about $500 million worldwide. Since then, Macaulay's box-office appeal has dwindled while his fee has increased dramatically. For "Home Alone" he was paid about $100,000. For "Richie Rich" and "Dad," which grossed $38 million and $18.8 million, according to Entertainment Data Inc., he reportedly received $8 million per film.

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