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A glamorous drug, an illness, a very public battle

In the strange trial of Irena Medavoy versus Botox, nobody is left looking perfect.

September 22, 2004|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

Even before "Mr. Botox" returned from Europe to take the stand and Vanna White showed up, the judge braced the jury for something special. "You'll remember this for a long time," he said.

Indeed, history is being made this month in Los Angeles County Superior Court, as Botox goes on trial for the first time in its brief but glamorous life as America's favorite antiwrinkle treatment.

Hollywood socialite Irena Medavoy, wife of film producer Mike Medavoy, is suing celebrity dermatologist Arnold Klein and Botox's manufacturer, Allergan Inc., claiming the drug caused myriad illnesses, including a four-month migraine so severe it left her bedridden, barely able to lift her head from the pillow.

The medical malpractice lawsuit, which began Sept. 3 and is expected to last through next month, threatens more than $560 million in annual Botox sales and the reputation of one the drug's leading experts. And perhaps that's why defense attorneys kept the first two weeks of testimony focused on the lifestyles of the rich and famous -- instead of the troubling questions about Botox raised by Medavoy's ordeal.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 23, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 64 words Type of Material: Correction
Botox doctor -- An article in Wednesday's Calendar section about a trial involving alleged injuries from the use of Botox indicated that dermatologist Arnold Klein is paid in his position as a clinical professor of medicine and dermatology at UCLA. Klein is an unpaid member of the UCLA clinical voluntary faculty. Also, the article misspelled the surname of Klein attorney Stephen Fraser as Frasier.

Not that the audience (and yes, there is one) is complaining. It has already heard witnesses either married to celebrities or employed by them testify on in-home eyebrow dyeing, John Travolta's birthday party, summers in St. Tropez, winters in Aspen and, naturally, Bill Clinton. And then there's the melodrama inherent in the bitter breakup between an ex-model and her longtime dermatologist. For 25 years -- through all the swimsuit photo shoots, the recurring role on "Dallas," the infomercials, the charity galas and four marriages -- Klein helped keep Medavoy looking young and beautiful. "I trusted him with my life," she said.

But then Botox came between them, and everything changed.

The two leads

Irena Medavoy is a striking woman, tall, blond and tan. But in court, she has looked so unlike herself, wearing flat shoes, plain suits, virtually no makeup and a ponytail, that defense attorneys felt compelled to show the jury photos of her bare-shouldered and laughing in France, beaming in a silver gown and posing at a charity luncheon in a lemon-yellow suit.

Today, she sees herself as a sort of Erin Brockovich for the Botox set, a champion of women everywhere who have suffered similar, debilitating side effects but are silenced by disbelieving doctors. She says her lawsuit has "raised the flag," showing that the drug isn't safe for everyone and that Allergan is conspiring with doctors to keep this from the public. "I'm going to be the voice," she says. "If I have to be stripped for it, I will."

Beverly Hills dermatologist Arnold Klein, who shuffles into the courtroom using a cane (a gift from good friend Michael Jackson), arrived a week and a half into the trial wearing a black silk suit and a half-smile. He was late, he said, because he'd been lecturing on Botox and other "injectibles" in Portugal, Spain and England.

As Klein watched testimony from the gallery, he was chatty and charming. Out in the hall, he said the whole scene reminded him of a Shakespearean tragedy. "I hope I never have to do this again," he said. "But it's actually very amusing."

A little later, one of his attorneys introduced him to the jury, and Klein stumbled and nearly fell. It seemed the dermatologist to the stars, whom Elizabeth Taylor calls "a saint" and South Korea knows as "Mr. Botox," who has built his career on Hollywood's vanity, was a very humble, very fragile man.

When he took the stand, however, a different Klein emerged. He was petulant and condescending, often arguing with the attorneys and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Victor Chavez. At one point he provoked even the amiable Chavez to shout him down. At another he refused to take his seat, saying, "I prefer to stand when I lecture."

High life

It's hard to imagine this jury of working folks -- a janitor, a bank clerk, several county employees -- empathizing with anyone in this case.

The Medavoys live in a 14,000-square-foot Mediterranean manse in Beverly Park. Their son goes to Disneyland with Sylvester Stallone's kids. And Irena's girlfriends are married to movie stars and the powerful executives who helped make them.

Klein, meanwhile, earns a considerable fortune as an Allergan consultant and media spokesman -- $25,000 each quarter for consulting, as much as $10,000 a day for meetings, plus travel expenses and as much as $4,000 per appearance. That's on top of his lucrative Roxbury Drive practice and his position as a UCLA professor.

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