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Star Witness Takes the Stand

Rosie O'Donnell testifies that she agreed to start her namesake magazine only after being promised creative control.

November 07, 2003|From Times Wire Services

NEW YORK — Rosie O'Donnell took the witness stand Thursday to defend herself against a bitter breach-of-contract lawsuit, saying she agreed to start her now-defunct namesake magazine only after being promised full creative control by the company now suing her.

O'Donnell, the former television talk show host, was referring to a conversation with Daniel Brewster, chief executive of Gruner & Jahr USA, the company that published Rosie magazine from April 2001 to December 2002.

Gruner & Jahr is suing O'Donnell for $100 million, alleging breach of contract for walking away from the magazine.

O'Donnell is countersuing for $125 million, declaring that by cutting her out of key editorial decisions, Gruner & Jahr had violated its contract with her.

In testimony Thursday, O'Donnell said she was open to launching a magazine with her name on it. She said she had been impressed by the success of Oprah Winfrey's magazine, O, and was interested in a similar translation of her successful television show into print.

However, she said, she came away unconvinced after her first meeting with executives of Gruner & Jahr.

They asked for another meeting, and Brewster persuaded her to go ahead.

"Mr. Brewster was quite passionate about the Democratic ideals I had espoused on my show," O'Donnell said. "He said I would add a much-needed voice to the world of women's magazines. He convinced me."

O'Donnell said the issue of control was addressed up front in talks with Brewster.

"Are you going to be a controlling bitch like Martha [Stewart] and Oprah [Winfrey]?" she said Brewster had asked, referring to the two high-profile media personalities who have their own magazines.

"I laughed and said, 'They're pretty successful at being controlling bitches, don't you think?' " O'Donnell testified. "He laughed and I guess he thought I had a sense of humor."

At the start of her one-hour of testimony, O'Donnell drew some laughs after Judge Ira Gammerman asked her to lower her voice and speak more slowly. She looked at him and deadpanned, "Right. Lower and slower."

O'Donnell told the court that one of her conditions all along was that she have creative control of Rosie. She said Brewster agreed and told her he would have control of the magazine's business side.

On Wednesday and again Thursday before O'Donnell took the stand, Brewster testified that the actress' inflexibility and controlling posture were the cause of much of the tension at the magazine during its final months and ultimately the cause of its death.

When O'Donnell left court Wednesday, she said Brewster had "threatened to ruin me, and he's trying to do it now."

Gruner & Jahr lawyers say O'Donnell destroyed the magazine because of a fight over which cover photo should be used for a feature on actresses from the cable television show "The Sopranos." The cover, showing O'Donnell standing between two of the actresses, was never used.

O'Donnell quit the magazine in mid-September 2002 after a months-long dispute over editorial control.

Earlier Thursday, Daniel Rubin, Gruner & Jahr's executive vice president for strategic development and planning, said O'Donnell cost his company tens of millions of dollars by walking away from Rosie.

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