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Alain Bernheim dies at 86; agent sued Paramount over 'Coming to America'

Bernheim and Art Buchwald sued the studio in 1988, alleging that the Eddie Murphy film was based on a treatment Buchwald wrote and sold to the studio in 1983. They received an $825,000 settlement.

October 05, 2009|Corina Knoll

Alain Bernheim, a producer and literary agent who with humorist Art Buchwald sued Paramount Pictures for using their concept for the 1988 film "Coming to America," has died. He was 86.

Bernheim, a Hollywood Hills resident, died Friday of complications during dialysis treatment at a hospital in Paris, said his wife, Marjorie. The couple, who were married for 54 years, own a vacation home near the Bois de Boulogne to which they return for several months each year. Bernheim had asked to make the annual trip despite undergoing dialysis for recent kidney failure.

Buchwald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist, and his producing partner Bernheim filed a $5-million lawsuit against Paramount in 1988, alleging that the Eddie Murphy box office hit "Coming to America" was based on a treatment that Buchwald wrote and sold to the studio in 1983. The treatment was about an African prince who leaves his homeland to find a wife.

A Los Angeles judge awarded them $900,000 in 1992, but the studio appealed. After a seven-year legal battle, Buchwald and Bernheim received a settlement of $825,000. Buchwald died in 2007.

Bernheim "felt that the studio had taken advantage of him," producer Peter Katz said. "The lawsuit wasn't a wonderful thing, but he felt it had to be done."

Born in Paris on Oct. 5, 1922, Bernheim worked in Los Angeles for talent agent Charles Feldman before moving to London, where his clients included authors Irwin Shaw and James Jones and filmmaker Jules Dassin.

After he returned to Los Angeles, Bernheim decided to become a producer and worked on several films in the 1980s. He was an executive producer on the dark comedy "Buddy Buddy" directed by Billy Wilder and starring Jack Lemmon. He was a producer on "Racing With the Moon" with Sean Penn and Nicolas Cage.

Katz said that until the lawsuit, Bernheim had maintained great relationships with the major studios and was known for throwing dinner parties at which he would help friends make various Hollywood introductions.

"A lot of people felt that he was their best friend, he was that kind of person," Katz said. "It wasn't so much that he was outgoing -- he was a great listener. He had great stories, but he wouldn't tell them until after you had told yours."

In addition to his wife, Bernheim is survived by his son, Nick. Another son, Daniel, died of a heart attack in June.

According to a family member, Bernheim will be buried in France along with his parents and two brothers. A memorial service will be held in Los Angeles.


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