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Brando Estate Settlement Drawing Claimants

September 23, 2004|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

Friends and business associates are already lining up for a piece of the late actor Marlon Brando's $21.6-million estate, potentially setting the stage for the kind of media spotlight that the movie legend spent much of his life trying to avoid.

A Tahitian businessman who runs a small airline that carted tourists to and from Brando's private Polynesian island, Tetiaroa, says his company is owed at least $460,000 in business costs that he claims the late actor refused to pay.

And a longtime friend of the two-time Oscar winning actor said she is making a $3,000 claim against the estate for a diamond ring she said she lost down the garbage disposal while making a salad at Brando's Mulholland Drive home.

Brando's attorney, David Seeley, said Wednesday he has received "at least five or six" letters notifying the estate of plans to file a claim against it. He declined to discuss the specific claims.

It's not unusual for claims to be filed against an estate, particularly one of this size. But such claims can pave the way for nasty court battles as the estate makes it way through the probate process.

Brando, 80, died July 1 in Los Angeles from lung failure. Executors are now trying to carry out the terms of his will, which was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court. With nine children named as beneficiaries and the arduous task of cataloging Brando's assets and debts, the process is not going to be easy.

The largest potential creditor identified so far is Air Moorea, which stopped flying its twin-engine, 19-seat turboprops to Brando's atoll earlier this year. Civil aviation authorities had determined that the island's only runway was shorter than regulations called for, leading to weight restrictions that did not allow Air Moorea flights to continue.

"We told Marlon he really needed to add 50 to 100 meters more of runway," said Freddy Chanseau, chief executive of Air Moorea. "That is why we couldn't go over there. We could carry only two passengers. It was ridiculous."

The airline has hired Santa Monica attorney Barry Leigh Weissman to investigate the debts and file a claim. He said he believes the actual total debt accrued by Air Moorea will exceed $460,000.

Seeley, the estate's attorney, said, "We're in the process of evaluating the number. I think we agree that we owe them something but [are] not sure what the final figure will be."

Joan "Toni" Petrone, meanwhile, said she is seeking payment for her Art Deco platinum and diamond ring that she lost down the drain years ago. Petrone was a longtime friend of Brando and also worked as his assistant for 12 years.

"I was mixing raw vegetables, and you serve it with a dip, and I was chopping and dicing it, and all of a sudden I saw it missing off my finger," she said of the ring.

She said she told Brando and "he didn't respond at all. He just turned away." Years later, she said, Brando mentioned that they should have filed an insurance claim, although he never did.

Hollywood producer Mike Medavoy, Brando's close friend and the co-executor of the late actor's estate, said he didn't think the total claims would top $1 million.

As for Petrone's claim, he joked, "If she wants to go fish it out of the sink before we sell the house, let her put in a claim."

On other matters, he said the estate was seeking trademark protection for Brando's name and likeness so the heirs could control the marketing and to prevent counterfeit Brando memorabilia from finding its way onto the market.

Medavoy said the Brando family realized it was in its best interest to stay united as the estate winds its way through probate and not split into warring factions.

"I foresee everybody will pull together because it's to their best interest," he said. "Otherwise, they are missing out on opportunities."

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