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Mule Kicks Up a Fuss--and a Lawsuit

February 07, 1999|ANN W. O'NEILL

Suit: A Rolling Stone gathers no facts? . . . Metabosuit . . . The case of the Amazon autograph hound.

As far as we know, Francis the talking mule made it through his seven films during the 1950s without inciting litigation.

Alas, the same cannot be said for an obstinate, no-name brute out of Carolina that allegedly terrorized the cast and crew of a film called "Morgan's Ferry."

The script called for a mule to sit on its haunches--a feat far easier to write about than to accomplish.

Enter self-described "mule wrangler" Alicia Rudd who, according to a Los Angeles federal court lawsuit, claimed to own a sitting mule. A contract was signed giving Rudd and the mule $2,500 for five days of work.

It didn't take long, the suit says, before "it became obvious the mule would not sit on its haunches as the script required." Rudd, the suit alleges, had no idea how to handle the creature, which turned out to be rented.

"Plaintiff attempted to locate another mule of the same color and size; however, one was not available," the suit states. Instead, the producers paid the beast's real owner $500 a day to hang around the set and calm it down. Filming ran over budget and behind schedule.

The producers claim that Rudd defrauded them and breached the contract. They seek $111,111 in damages to cover overruns caused by the ornery mule, which allegedly posed a danger to everyone on the set.

Rudd could not be reached for comment. But you can bet the farm that mule will never work in this town again.

TRUTH OR DARE: The drug education group DARE is suing Rolling Stone magazine for $50 million, alleging that a critical article written by disgraced whiz kid journalist Stephen Glass was more fiction than fact--not to mention libelous.

Glass, who has admitted that he never let the facts get in the way of a good story, accused the Culver City-based Drug Abuse Resistance Education program in a March 1998 piece of engaging in intimidation or criminal acts to "silence critics, suppress scientific research and punish nonbelievers."

The suit, filed by attorney Skip Miller, accuses Rolling Stone managing editor Robert Love of ordering up a "derogatory" story on DARE to carry out editor Jann Wenner's "ongoing efforts to discredit anti-drug organizations and promote legalization of drugs."

Glass, 27, was not named in this suit, which was filed shortly after he answered DARE lawyers' questions about Rolling Stone's fact-checking procedures to settle the group's $10-million suit against him. Glass is now studying law at Georgetown and could not be reached.

DARE was co-founded by former Los Angeles Police Chief Darryl F. Gates and a former LAPD deputy chief, Glenn Levant, who now heads the organization.

Rolling Stone editors responded: "We believe Rolling Stone acted responsibly at all times, and we are confident that the magazine will be vindicated."

METABO-WHATEVER: Metabolife vs. Metaboslim is the latest trademark war to raise its head in federal court. It involves dueling diet aids. You've probably seen the advertisements for Metabolife, the nation's best-selling herbal weight loss supplement, in magazines and on television.

Metabolife, which can be acquired at those ubiquitous carts at the mall, promises to boost energy and help with weight loss. It has been on the market since 1993. Metaboslim has only been out a few months.

Their red and yellow labels look strikingly similar, Metabolife's suit against its rival claims. How similar?

"For example, both Metabolife and Metaboslim have 10 letters and four syllables," states the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego. The analysis continues:

"The first six letters and three syllables are identical. In addition, two of the four letters in the fourth syllable of each word are the letters 'L' and 'I' in the same order. Thus, eight out of the first 10 letters are in the same order and orientation."

Metabolife contends that this could cause no end of confusion to consumers. It seeks an injunction against Utah-based Sunshine Products, which makes Metaboslim.

We have our own diet plan, which needs no trademark: Eat less. Exercise more. If only we could follow it.

WARNING! WARNING! Danger, Will Robinson! There's litigation ahead. A movie producer who acquired the film rights to "Lost in Space" is taking New Line Cinema to court, claiming he was muscled out of creative decisions.

Mark W. Koch, chairman of Prelude Pictures, is seeking $5 million in Los Angeles Superior Court. He blames the film version's disappointing box office performance on his being cut out of the creative process.

Koch says he spent two years and traveled more than a million miles to acquire the rights to "Lost in Space." Then, in a manner the suit alleges was "malicious and oppressive," he says he was shoved aside and others took credit for acquiring the rights.

"Lost in Space" was released in 1998 and starred Gary Oldman, William Hurt and Matt LeBlanc. It knocked "Titanic" from the No. 1 perch its opening week, but barely broke even.

No comment from New Line.

QUOTABLE: "It looked like she wanted to slap the taste out of my mouth. She was large and mean and looked scary."

--Former child star Gary Coleman, who weighs 86 pounds and stands 4 feet, 7 inches tall, testifying at his misdemeanor battery trial in Inglewood about an encounter with a 200-pound autograph seeker. A short time later, Coleman pleaded no contest to disturbing the peace. His sentence: 90 days in jail, suspended; a $400 fine; and 52 anger management classes.

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