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Woody Allen's Suit Against Former Partner Settled

Courts: Filmmaker had accused producer Jean Doumanian of cheating him of earnings. Terms were not disclosed.

June 12, 2002|ANITA M. BUSCH and RACHEL ABRAMOWITZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NEW YORK — Woody Allen and his former producing partner, Jean Doumanian, reached an out-of-court settlement late Tuesday, ending an ugly and at times highly personal dispute between the filmmaker and his longtime friend and associate.

Allen last May sued Doumanian and her production company, Sweetland Films, as well as Sweetland producer Jacqui Safra, accusing them of cheating him of earnings on eight films and seeking $12 million he said he was owed.

Tuesday's surprise settlement came after several bruising days of testimony in which Justice Ira Gammerman outright rejected Doumanian's main defense. New York newspapers ridiculed her performance on the stand, with the New York Daily News going so far as to dub the stylish producer a character out of "Dumb and Dumber."

In the early 1990s, Allen and Doumanian, a close friend of nearly 40 years, had agreed to go into business together. In the initial written contract, which covered the films "Bullets Over Broadway," "Mighty Aphrodite" and "Everyone Says I Love You," Allen, Doumanian and Safra had agreed to share both the losses and the profits from all three films.

In 1996, the trio decided to make more films together. Doumanian and Safra later argued that their original agreement to share in the losses and profits extended to the subsequent films, a contention that the judge rejected on Friday.

While the domestic grosses on Allen's films have fallen off considerably in the last decade, some of his films have remained profitable because of his popularity in Europe.

The judge, who had been urging both sides to settle the case, brought the competing lawyers into his chambers Friday and again Tuesday. During what was supposed to be a five-minute recess late Tuesday, the lawyers huddled with the judge and emerged about 50 minutes later with a settlement.

The settlement terms were not disclosed.

Doumanian had been expected to take the stand again.

Outside the courtroom, the two sides issued a joint statement saying only that "the parties have reached a business resolution of their dispute."

Allen's lead attorney, Michael Zweig, added: "The plaintiffs are happy."

Doumanian would not comment. Her attorney, Peter Parcher, was unavailable.

Allen also declined to comment. He spent the evening in Brooklyn filming his latest movie, which stars Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci.

The lawsuit brought a bitter demise to what had been a long friendship.

In happier times, Allen and Doumanian talked every day on the phone, dined constantly at the New York celebrity restaurant Elaine's and traveled the world together on a private jet.

Doumanian was one of five people to attend Allen's wedding to actress Louise Lasser in 1966 and in 1992 Allen even saved her life by performing the Heimlich maneuver on her after she began choking at a restaurant.

The disputed films that followed the original three were "Deconstructing Harry," "Wild Man Blues," "Celebrity," "Sweet and Lowdown" and "Small Time Crooks."

In two days of testimony, Allen spent much of the time sparring with Doumanian's lawyer, who tried to get him to agree that the last series of pictures he did for her were covered by the same financial rules that governed their initial three-movie deal.

Allen got a $2.5-million fee for his typically wide-ranging role on each film--as writer, director and often the star--and shared in 50% of the profits.

What divided the two sides was whether profits from the final films should be calculated one by one or as a group--so that Allen's extra take from a movie that was successful at the box office would be diminished by losses on others.

Allen testified that he at first had hoped he and Doumanian could remain good friends even as he took her to court, but by the time of the trial the case had become a somber matter for both.

Yet while Allen tried to remain all business on the stand, others in the lower Manhattan courtroom were more carried away by the theater of the proceeding, playing to the celebrity plaintiff and even going for laughs.

During the filmmaker's first hour on the stand, Allen frequently tried to explain his answers in detail, and at one point began explaining how he had "a film crew out now, shooting on the streets of New York," prompting the judge to say, "That's enough."

"Stop talking?" Allen asked.

"Stop talking," Gammerman responded. "I'll do the directing."

Busch and Abramowitz reported from Los Angeles. Paul Lieberman contributed from New York.

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