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Director Bogdanovich Declares Bankruptcy

Finances: He files Chapter 7 petition a day after a jury rules against the filmmaker for failing to make house payments and orders him to pay $4.2 million.

June 04, 1997|ANN W. O'NEILL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Director Peter Bogdanovich is broke again. He filed for bankruptcy Friday--less than 24 hours after a Los Angeles Superior Court jury socked him with a $4.2-million verdict in a real estate dispute.

The 57-year-old former wunderkind director is seeking relief under Chapter 7 from a mountain of personal debt, which apparently began to build when one film project failed and another fell through during the early 1990s.

The forewoman of the jury that ruled against Bogdanovich said he had lived in luxury while failing to make payments on a $1.9-million Beverly Hills home he was buying from Aly and Barry Spencer.

Bogdanovich, director of "The Last Picture Show," "Paper Moon," "Mask" and 16 other films, is promoting his book of interviews with famous directors. His lawyers said the jury's verdict Thursday was the final straw that forced Bogdanovich into bankruptcy.

"Why am I not surprised?" said the forewoman, who spoke under the condition that her name not be published.

It was the director's second bankruptcy in a dozen years. He declined to comment, on the advice of his attorneys, who plan an appeal.

Avrum Rosen, who filed the bankruptcy petition Friday in New York, said: "There's a line we use with people: 'How much justice can you afford?' When you can't afford justice anymore, you're entitled to a fresh start."

To the Spencers, whose jury award includes $3.25 million in punitive damages, Bogdanovich's bankruptcy petition was yet another deadbeat dodge, their lawyer said.

"It's a pathetic attempt to avoid his responsibilities, and the latest in a series of attempts to abuse the system," said Stephen Zelig. "He ain't gonna get out of it either."

But to his lawyers and friends such as actor John Ritter, who testified on the director's behalf, Bogdanovich is a man who simply fell on tough times in a film community where image is everything.

Bogdanovich spent a day and a half on the witness stand, telling of his struggle to pay his bills while sustaining the trappings of a successful film director, which he said were vital for procuring more work.

"That's the life one leads in that industry," said Paul S. Sigelman, another of the director's attorneys. "If you do not stay visible, you're forgotten. It's somewhat like riding a tiger. If you fall off, you get eaten, and if you stay on it's a rough ride."

Much of the testimony presented on the Spencers' behalf focused on Bogdanovich's lavish lifestyle: He sports a $67,000 wardrobe, gets $250 haircuts and takes $50,000 vacations. He threw himself a $15,000 birthday party, according to documents in the case.

He and his wife drove top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benzes. In court, he wore $323 blue leather clogs. He toted his own water bottle, prompting one lawyer to quip, as he poured from a pitcher supplied by the court: "Tap water's fine with us, your Honor."

Long after he stopped making his payments, the director held an Oscar party at the house, Zelig contended. Defense attorney Sigelman said the get-together consisted only of "about 15 people eating potato chips and watching television."

The jury agreed that Bogdanovich had not fulfilled his obligation to make his house payments, returning a unanimous verdict for $937,000 in compensatory damages and the rest in punitive damages.

The Spencers are traveling and could not be reached. Zelig vowed that he would hunt Bogdanovich "to the four corners of the earth" for the money.

According to court records and attorneys in the case, Bogdanovich had signed a so-called "land sale" contract with the Spencers to purchase a home they had renovated on Mulholland Drive overlooking Beverly Hills. He signed a $400,000 promissory note and agreed to make staggered payments for 10 years.

But about a year after he moved in, a film deal with Paramount fell through and Bogdanovich stopped making the $6,000 monthly payments, forcing the couple into foreclosure, Zelig said.

*

Bogdanovich's bankruptcies seem eerily foreshadowed by the deaths of young beautiful people close to him.

The first followed the murder of his live-in love, actress Dorothy Stratten, a 1979 Playboy playmate of the year. When he filed for bankruptcy in November 1985, Bogdanovich blamed his falling fortunes on a failed attempt to distribute "They All Laughed," a memorial to Stratten, who was slain, apparently by a former husband.

The second bankruptcy follows a downturn that began with the death of River Phoenix.

The actor's last feature film was a Bogdanovich effort called "A Thing Called Love." Released after Phoenix's death, the film was critically panned.

Bogdanovich said Phoenix's death affected him personally and professionally in a December 1993, letter to the Spencers in which he tried to explain why his house payments were late.

"We are in a bad patch, but expect to be out of the woods shortly. Our situation was made worse by the tragic death six weeks ago of River Phoenix, who was a close friend as well as the star of our most recent film. This was not only a personal setback, of course, but also cost us a month of very valuable time."

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