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Fighting Like Cats and Dogs

'K-9' star Jim Belushi files a $4-million suit against former Catwoman, actress Julie Newmar, claiming harassment.

November 10, 2004|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

It's an unlikely place for a catfight -- a sedate Brentwood neighborhood lined with orderly homes and gardens and 25 streets in a row named "Helena Drive."

But right in the middle, just off 12th Helena Drive, is where TV's Catwoman and the star of the "K-9" movies are hissing and growling at each other over the backyard fence.

Julie Newmar is being sued for $4 million by next-door neighbor Jim Belushi, who alleges she has harassed and defamed him in an ongoing campaign to drive him out of the neighborhood.

Newmar counters that it is Belushi who seems intent on running her off by making her life miserable.

Belushi, 50, is now featured as a down-to-earth family man in the current ABC sitcom "According to Jim." Newmar, 71, is best known for her role as Catwoman in the 1960s television show "Batman."

Their feud has been going on for years -- once even involving the police when Newmar threw an egg at Belushi's house to protest a noisy air conditioner. Last week, the fight spilled into the Santa Monica courthouse and set the upscale neighborhood, just north of the Brentwood Country Club, on its ear.

Newmar is well-known to those living along all of the Helena Drives. She is a familiar presence in her garden, which is filled with exotic fruit trees and hybrid roses. She walks daily through the neighborhood with her 22-year-old son John, who is deaf and has Down syndrome. A community advocate, she has fought for restrictions against noisy leaf-blowers.

"She's weird. And he's a bully," said one neighbor who has watched over the years as Newmar-Belushi hostilities have escalated with fights over such things as whether the curb in front of Belushi's home was illegally painted red.

In court papers, Belushi alleges that Newmar has aimed "continuous and intentional harassment" at him and his family.

"Newmar has engaged in a malicious and premeditated campaign to prevent and destroy Belushi's quiet peace and enjoyment of his home and to force Belushi out of the neighborhood," states the lawsuit, filed last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The complaint asserts that Newmar vandalized Belushi's home and told friends and neighbors "that Belushi is a 'peeping Tom,' a 'voyeur' " and is "sick."

The vandalism consisted of the destruction of a fence and of "costly landscaping," according to the lawsuit. It alleges that Newmar created "a nuisance by playing exceedingly loud music directed at the back of the Belushi residence."

Newmar denies the allegations. She contends that it is Belushi who has created the nuisance, such as painting the curb in front his house red to prevent neighbors from parking there.

"It's amusing to me. I think he's looking in the wrong mirror," she said this week from her home.

She said modifications have reshaped Belushi's house -- a onetime 1928 bungalow the actor purchased in 1987. It is now a two-story, five-bedroom, 3,508-square-foot Mediterranean-style villa that she says cuts off her home's natural light.

The dispute escalated, Newmar said, when Belushi sought "to build a second house in the back" and she protested. "We live in an R-1 neighborhood. That means one house per lot."

She acknowledges the egg-throwing incident. When the yolk spattered Belushi's house instead of the air conditioner, he filed a criminal complaint. Newmar said the incident cost her $10,000 in damages and legal fees.

But she disputes that she destroyed Belushi's fence. According to Newmar, she removed "an illegal" blue plastic construction tarp that was erected for months along the property line when Belushi installed a hot tub in his backyard.

Newmar said the hot tub is directly outside her bedroom's 6-foot-wide window.

"When he is in his Jacuzzi, his voice is an indisputable boombox. I put pillows around my ears. I went out and bought hearing protectors -- they are called 'Thunder 29' and cost $120. They're the kind that airport crews use. I've still been forced to sleep in my son's room."

Newmar said she had to install glass openings in the roof of her kitchen to compensate for the loss of natural light caused by Belushi's second story. Her two-bedroom, 1,964-square-foot ranch-style house was built in 1949. She has lived there 25 years.

She denied she has ever spied through a vine-covered trellis or over the shrub-lined fence at Belushi or has ever accused him of being a voyeur. Belushi does have a view of her property from his second-floor balcony, however, Newmar said.

"Ask Jesse about that."

Jesse Kuh is a handyman who occasionally does odd jobs for Newmar. One day, he said, he was washing windows when he glanced up at Belushi's house.

"I saw a man totally naked on the balcony. He was middle-aged, an overweight white guy. It was about 11 o'clock on a Saturday morning. I was shocked. I thought to myself, 'Come on, you should have clothes on,' " Kuh recalled Monday.

Next door, a knock on Belushi's gate went unanswered. On Tuesday, his lawyer said the actor "is not interested in fueling" the dispute further at this point.

But attorney Brian Wolf said Belushi "absolutely denies ever being nude on his balcony." And he said that the fencing that Newmar allegedly tore down was wood latticework.

Wolf further denied that Belushi applied red paint to the curb outside his home. The city's Department of Water and Power painted it red and Newmar painted it gray again, he said.

Newmar counters that she commissioned the gray paint job only after the city painted out Belushi's red one and he turned it into a red zone a second time.

Belushi's case is scheduled to be heard on Valentine's Day.

Newmar said she had no plans to file a countersuit. "We don't need more grief in the world," she said.

"I'm not catty, even though I'm Catwoman."

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