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THE COURT FILES / ANN W. O'NEILL

No Easy Ride for Hopper Over Rip Torn's Lawsuit

April 05, 1998|ANN W. O'NEILL

Adventures in cutlery . . . Stooge justice . . . Making contact with Lynda Obst.

About 30 years after the fact, we're still hearing about that New York dinner party at which Dennis Hopper and Rip Torn got frisky with the cutlery in a tiff over whether Texans are hippie-hating rednecks.

From Hopper's lips to Jay Leno's ears to a California appeals court, here's the story: Hopper, who directed the epochal film "Easy Rider," told Leno during a 1994 "Tonight Show" appearance that Torn lost the part of booze-addled lawyer George Hanson after pulling a knife on him. The part launched Jack Nicholson's film career. Hopper said on the show that Torn attacked him over script changes.

But other eyewitnesses identified Hopper, decked out in buckskin, as the knife-wielder. Peter Fonda recalled the two going at each other with a butter knife and a salad fork, according to court records.

Hopper's "Tonight Show" anecdote was false and he knew it, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled. A three-judge panel upheld a $475,000 Superior Court award to Torn, who had sued Hopper for defamation. And the judges ruled that Torn could take Hopper back to court for punitive damages.

Hopper says he holds no malice toward Torn. He says his remark that Torn was "cut" from the movie over the knife incident was an effort to extricate himself from "an intended pun gone bad."

STOOGES RULING: The heirs of Moe, Larry and Curly have won another courtroom victory in their battle against bootleg Stooges.

Superior Court Judge Carl J. West, sitting in Burbank, found that charcoal artist and T-shirt purveyor Gary Saderup had sold thousands of Stooge trinkets without the permission of Comedy Three Inc., the company founded in 1959 by Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Joe DeRita to manage Stooges licensing and memorabilia.

The judge awarded Comedy Three $225,000--including attorneys' fees. According to Comedy Three's lawyers, Bela Lugosi Jr. and Robert N. Benjamin, the case reaffirmed the landmark 1984 Celebrity Rights Act, which established a celebrity's right to control his or her publicity, and made it inheritable property.

DON'T CALL US, WE'LL CALL YOU: Attorneys for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution are looking for film producer Lynda Obst to help their defense against a libel suit brought by security guard Richard Jewell, who was suspected, then cleared, in the Olympic Park bombing.

They want to know details of Obst's efforts to shop Jewell's story around Hollywood, according to papers filed in Superior Court in Los Angeles. They also are seeking documents relating to any deal, "however preliminary."

Obst, who produced "Contact," "Sleepless in Seattle" and "Flash-dance," is on location in New York, where she is filming her latest project, "Martial Law," with Annette Bening, Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis. She referred calls to Fox Television, which has the movie deal with Jewell. A Fox spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

Jewell, 36, is suing the newspaper, seven of its reporters, five editors and a columnist. He claims that their stories about him damaged his reputation beyond repair.

NO COMMENT! The president of a Beverly Hills modeling agency sued ABC Television and a crew from the newsmagazine show "20/20," charging that they stalked her while trying to get an interview a year ago.

Francesca de Tolomei says a reporter, a producer and two camera operators "ambushed" her as she reported to work at Glamour Models.

The Los Angeles Superior Court suit says De Tolomei was shouted at by reporter Arnold Diaz, who "specializes in ambush interviews . . . and asking questions in a nasty manner." The suit alleges that ABC is "the most notorious abuser of the rights of privacy and ambush journalism in the United States, proud of it and unrepentant of it."

No immediate comment from ABC.

GOING GOLD AND GOING BUST: Singing sensation and five-time Grammy winner Toni Braxton, who has sold more than 20 million albums, filed for bankruptcy in January, and now lawyers are blaming her record companies.

In court papers filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Los Angeles, attorney Alan J. Kornfeld and four other lawyers handling the bankruptcy charged that Arista Records grossed $180 million from Braxton's two solo albums while defrauding her of her fair share. Also named in the suit is LaFace Records, which is managed by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and Antonio "L.A." Reid.

The suit, which also alleges that the record companies charged Braxton too much for business expenses, seeks to void her 1989 Arista contract and a 1991 contract with LaFace. The bankruptcy lawyers say the LaFace contract is "heavily weighted in favor of the record company."

A spokesman at LaFace called Braxton's suit "fiction" and an attempt "to gain leverage in the pending renegotiation of her recording agreement."

The court papers tell how Braxton was discovered at a Maryland gas station, where she was warbling as she filled her tank. The daughter of a minister and a member of his choir, Braxton was promised she would become a rich recording star, the documents say.

"Ms. Braxton did become a star. She did not become wealthy," the suit says.

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