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Eastwood Undermined Locke's Directing Career, Attorney Says

Courts: Ex-girlfriend is suing the star for fraud, contractual interference. Warner Bros. deal he engineered called a sham.

September 12, 1996|STEVE RYFLE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

BURBANK — Movie star Clint Eastwood ruined the career of his former girlfriend, actress Sondra Locke, by getting her a movie development deal in return for calling off a palimony suit and then using his influence to block her from making films, Locke's attorney contended Wednesday.

"This deal with Warner Bros. was a sham. It was not real," attorney Peggy Garrity told jurors in Burbank Superior Court during her opening argument in Locke's $2-million civil suit against Eastwood for fraud and contractual interference.

Locke "has not done any work as a film director since she made that deal with Warner Bros.," Garrity said.

"It caused her serious harm and destroyed her directorial career."

As a director at Warner Bros. from 1990 to 1993, Locke proposed 30 films to the studio's producers, all of which were rejected, Garrity said.

Eastwood's attorney, Raymond C. Fisher, said in his opening remarks Wednesday that Locke will not be able to prove that Eastwood knowingly and intentionally defrauded her. In fact, he said, Eastwood believed Locke was a talented filmmaker and had hoped to "help her directorial career."

"He thought she wanted a development deal to direct movies, and that's what he set out to accomplish," Fisher said.

Locke, 49, met Eastwood on a film set in 1975 and had a 13-year romantic relationship with him. They co-starred in several films.

Locke originally filed a palimony lawsuit against Eastwood in 1989, shortly after the couple broke up, but she dropped that case when Eastwood agreed to help her get a development deal with Warner Bros., a studio he has a long relationship with.

He helped negotiate a three-year, $1.5-million deal that gave the studio first right of refusal for any movie that Locke wanted to develop or direct. As part of the settlement in that case, Eastwood also paid Locke $450,000 and gave her title to a Hollywood Hills home appraised at $650,000, according to court records.

But Garrity said Eastwood did not tell Locke about a "secret reimbursement agreement," in which the actor agreed to repay the studio any expenses it incurred as a result of the Locke deal. Had Locke known about this caveat, she would not have accepted the contract because it showed the studio had "no investment" in Locke and did not take her seriously as a filmmaker, the attorney said.

In fact, Locke later learned that most of the $1.5 million it paid her was billed to Eastwood's film "Unforgiven" as cost overruns, according to the lawsuit.

"This contract was a way for Mr. Eastwood to get out of the previous lawsuit cheaply," Garrity told jurors. "It was entered into merely in order for Warner Bros. to accommodate Clint Eastwood."

Terry Semel, chief executive officer and co-chairman of Warner Bros., testified Wednesday that the studio's agreement with Locke guaranteed only that it would consider any project Locke proposed, with no guarantee that any films would be produced.

In 1986, Locke directed the fantasy film "Ratboy," which Eastwood produced, and in 1989 she directed the psychological thriller "Impulse," produced by Eastwood-Locke associate Alan Ruddy. Both films received good reviews but neither was commercially successful.

Locke also claims in her suit that Eastwood used his influence to dissuade Warner Bros., which released "Impulse," from adequately promoting and advertising the film, causing it to fail at the box office and contributing to her difficulties as a director. She has not directed any films since.

Semel, being questioned by Garrity, said Locke was not under exclusive contract to Warner Bros. and had the right to submit any film rejected by the studio to other studios for consideration, "as every other filmmaker" does.

"Every single day, throughout the history of this deal, Sondra Locke was free to work elsewhere as an actor and a director," Semel said.

Locke alleges that the allegedly bogus development deal was negotiated while she was recuperating from a double mastectomy operation for breast cancer, which further added to her stress and emotional strain.

Both Locke and Eastwood are expected to testify at the trial, which could last a week, court officials said.

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