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THE COURT FILES / ANN W. O'NEILL

'Good Life' Turns Rocky for Stallone Brothers

August 17, 1997|ANN W. O'NEILL

It began as a favor, and a pact between the brothers Stallone and an independent production company to make "The Good Life," a little $5-million film about two golfing hit men. Now, it has turned into a nasty legal tit for tat with a plot line straight out of Hollywood.

Actor Sylvester Stallone, whose film "Cop Land" opened last week, fired the first legal salvo recently with a relatively tame breach of contract complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court. It accused the producers of risking a Stallone market glut by hyping his cameo in their film "The Good Life" as a starring role. The suit demanded $20 million--Stallone's going rate for a motion picture.

Producers Alan and Diane Mehrez countersued for $50 million in U.S. District Court. The suit, which names Stallone and his brother, Frank, as defendants, reads like a story treatment suitable for pitching to studio honchos as "The Godfather" meets "The Player."

You've got your megastar, your sibling rivalry, your private investigators and your allegations of death threats and extortion. There's even actor Marcus Aurelius taping phone calls like a mob stoolie, capturing Frank Stallone uttering what sound like lines from a B-movie.

The suit quoted the younger Stallone venting his unhappiness with the producers during a July 14 phone conversation with Aurelius: "They ain't gonna do it to Stallones. . . .

"My brother and I, we're going to own that company. . . .

"You (bleep)ed with my family. You (bleep)ed with me. . . .

"You know, they terminated my contract. I don't think so. I'll terminate their company. . . ."

What's next? A horse's head in somebody's bed?

In their suit, the Mehrezes said the "Stallone Bros." threatened them and tried to take over the film after backing out of their contractual obligations. The suit accused Sylvester Stallone of "massive abuse of star power."

The producers' suit described Frank Stallone as "a journeyman actor" with "few major movie credits and even less talent" who promised to deliver his more famous brother for "a significant supporting role." The suit alleged that Frank "hijacked" and rewrote the script four times.

Sylvester Stallone reluctantly agreed to appear in the film because his mother, Jackie, asked him to help his brother, the suit stated. He appeared only for one day of shooting, rewrote his own scenes and refused to leave his trailer most of the time, the suit said.

The producers accused the Stallones in their suit of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, breach of contract and myriad other charges.

In a prepared statement, Sylvester Stallone said: "I am shocked that the production company for 'The Good Life' would sue me, since I did nothing wrong."

Frank Stallone said through his publicist: "My brother did me a favor and performed a cameo appearance. I'm sorry that his name had to be dragged through the mud like this."

Pierce O'Donnell, who filed the federal countersuit, said: "I look forward to the day when I can cross-examine Sylvester Stallone under oath in front of a jury of Los Angeles citizens."

OFFICE POLITICS ALLEGED, DENIED: It seemed like such a noble pursuit: choosing the recipient of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation's annual Humanitarian of the Year award honoring a volunteer or charity that made "exemplary and significant contributions to ease human suffering throughout the world."

But Dr. William Richard Smyser, who was hired to run the award selection process, alleged in a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court that a jealous boss and office politics soon contributed to his own suffering.

Smyser said in the lawsuit that he gave up teaching jobs at four prestigious East Coast universities, rented out his house in Washington, D.C., and postponed two book contracts to take the job as executive director of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize.

The suit said he accepted the post in October 1994 after being assured in writing by foundation President Donald H. Hubbs that he would be granted autonomy in selecting and directing board members, screening candidates for the honors and making other decisions.

But almost immediately, Smyser contended in his suit, Hubbs began to undermine him, holding up expenditures and decisions until Smyser's position became "untenable." Finally, at a board meeting in July 1996, Hubbs all but replaced Smyser, the suit stated.

Smyser left his post "with great reluctance when it became clear Hubbs had become de facto director," the complaint stated.

"Let the facts come out," responded Hubbs, who added that he would deny "everything in [Smyser's] complaint." He called the dispute "a unique situation" and said, "We haven't had problems before, and we don't expect any problems in the future either."

Smyser is alleging breach of contract and is seeking compensation for lost wages and opportunities.

Pat J. Modugno, a foundation vice president, defended Hubbs as a "wonderful" boss and the foundation as "a wonderful place to work."

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