Published November 02, 2006
Sacha Baron Cohen’s "Borat" may be the funniest movie made in a long, long time. But one person is definitely not laughing: TV news producer Dharma Arthur.
Arthur, 50, is claiming that Cohen’s antics during the shooting of his crazy movie cost her her job — and maybe worse.
Audiences who’ve seen the movie have noted an episode where Borat visits a live noon news show on WAPT in Jackson, Miss. While on the air, Cohen, posing as the Kazakh news correspondent, wreaks havoc with anchor Brad McMullan and weather guy Ken Johnson.
He makes sexual and scatological references, kisses Brad and stands up during the interview so that he’s out of frame. Once red-faced McMullan cuts the segment short, Borat then wanders into and disrupts Johnson’s live weather report.
Arthur, the producer who unwittingly booked Borat onto the show, is now living in Panama City, Fla., with her father. She recently wrote to Newsweek calling herself one of Cohen’s many “victims.”
“Because of him, my boss lost faith in my abilities and second-guessed everything I did thereafter,” she writes in Newsweek’s most recent issue. “I spiraled into depression, and before I could recover, I was released from my contract early. It took me three months to find another job, and now I'm thousands of dollars in debt and struggling to keep my house out of foreclosure.”
Calls to WAPT and an e-mail to McMullan, who’s still with the station, were not returned, but a person who answered the phone verified that Arthur once worked there. In Florida, Arthur’s father answered her phone and said that someone would get back to me.
“How upsetting that a man who leaves so much harm in his path is lauded as a comedic genius.” Arthur concludes in her letter. “Think of all the other people who've probably been fired because of his antics.”
So far, however, there have been no other reports of people losing their jobs over Borat. And some of Cohen’s “victims” have even turned into semi-celebrities.
Is Andrew Stevens, the C-list actor and son of actress Stella Stevens, the guy who could crack open the Anthony Pellicano case?
More importantly: Could Stevens, famous for Cinemax late-night movies and his role as a villain on “Dallas,” also be the guy who does in Hollywood superstar attorney Bert Fields?
The answers to both questions is "yes" since this column had a chance to look at e-mail queries about Stevens sent by Fields’ attorney to another private investigator last March, right after Pellicano’s indictment.
John Keker, who represents Fields, met with former Pellicano associate and now whistle-blowing investigator Paul Barresi.
Shortly after, Barresi received an e-mail from Keker on March 28, 2006. “Subj: Andrew Stevens. Ever heard of him? Former soft porn guy, used AP in 2001 in connection with big litigation against German company.”
When Barresi replied that he did know who Stevens was, Keker sent another e-mail on March 29: “I need everything that indicate[s] he is less than honest, a schemer, someone who will say anything, etc. I am out of town. Can I have my partner Jan Little call you?”
Neither Keker nor Stevens returned calls I made to them yesterday. But it’s been widely reported that Stevens was a client, even for a short time, of Fields, in a highly volatile matter that included accusations of illegal wiretapping.
The case arose from a legal dispute involving Stevens and his then-movie producer partner Elie Samaha, and their company, Franchise Pictures.
As documented in the New York Times and elsewhere, Franchise was sued in 2000 by a German company called Intertainment which claimed that Franchise was inflating its budgets to get kickbacks.
In 2003, Intertainment president Stephen Brown was told by the FBI that Pellicano had been wiretapping his calls starting around 2001.
Earlier, Stevens — who fell out with Samaha — hired Fields to defend him. The case, and all its bloody history, is well documented by a Los Angeles freelance journalist at his crusading Web site, www.laindie.com.
What’s clear, and what has been conceded, is that at some point after he and Fields parted company, Stevens became a government witness.
What’s ironic is that Fields would have Keker turn to Barresi for help last March. Fields represents Tom Cruise and has threatened to sue Barresi on several occasions over alleged anecdotes and accusations about his client.
That Keker did go to Barresi shows how strangely interwoven all the participants are in the Pellicano investigation. But it also shows that despite Fields’ team’s attempts to discredit Barresi in other matters, his new attorney knew enough to turn to him in an hour of need.
But what was the need, and why was Keker trying to dig up dirt on Stevens? Keker’s e-mails would suggest that Fields feared Stevens for some reason and that perhaps Stevens would be a credible threat to the 78-year-old Hollywood power broker if he ever took the stand.
If it can be proved that Stevens hired Fields, who hired Pellicano, who in turn spied on Brown, a case would have gelled with Stevens at the center of it.
Samaha and Franchise are now pretty much out of the movie business, and Stevens has a small independent company that carries his name.
But the whole Franchise-Intertainment saga included two men who are in the business more than ever now: David Bergstein and Ron Tutor. The pair just bought ThinkFilms, an indie company with a lot of integrity thanks to releases such as “Murderball” and the current indie hit “Half Nelson.”
According to published reports, however, it was Bergstein and Tutor who funded Franchise’s court fight with Intertainment. They now own the Franchise library, with such splendid titles as “Alex and Emma,” the remake of “The In-Laws” and John Travolta’s Scientology spectacle, “Battlefield Earth.”
William Styron, author of “Sophie’s Choice” and one of the great literary lions of the post-World War II generation, died yesterday at age 81. He’d suffered from chronic depression, which he wrote about so brilliantly. Cause of death is listed as pneumonia.
The last time I saw Styron was at George Plimpton’s big Paris Review dinner/memorial. But he wasn’t the same.
At Richard Yates’s 1992 memorial, he talked to me a lot about the Woody Allen-Mia Farrow scandal. Styron and wife, Rose, I believe, had been named godparents of Soon-Yi when she was small. On that day, Styron was clear and strong, and I remember our conversation vividly.
Of course, “Sophie’s Choice” is just one of his many achievements. “Lie Down in Darkness” and “The Confessions of Nat Turner” were his other classics.
Styron, the late Joseph Heller, Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow and James Jones, as well as the still thriving Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer, comprised a championship generation of writers that will never be equaled. He, like all those others, will never be forgotten.
It’s only rock 'n' roll: Monday night is shaping up a wild one.
Sting and Trudie Styler are hosting a reception at their splendiferous Central Park West home to celebrate “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” the movie they produced, and its stars Robert Downey Jr. and Chazz Palminteri.
A screening precedes the reception, and already insiders have been fighting to get on the controlled 100-seat list. …
At the very same time, rocker Rob Thomas is going to perform at the sixth annual Music Has Power awards at the Frederick P. Rose Hall at Lincoln Center. Dustin Hoffman will present an award to this year's honoree, Dr. Oliver Sacks, the man who mistook Robert De Niro for Cliff Robertson.
For more info contact Cheryl Burgos at (718) 519-5880. All tickets include admittance to a special VIP reception. ...
Shhhh … Robert Redford is in town to celebrate the Sundance Film Festival’s 25th anniversary. I’m told they don’t want press, so I won’t say where it is. But Sundance is responsible for most of the indie films playing in theaters right now, including "Saints," "Half Nelson" and “Sherrybaby.” …
Harry Shearer, his singer/wife, Judith Owen and the marvelous singer-songwriter Julia Fordham are doing a night of comedy and song Dec. 15 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Fordham, by the way, is making her “Baby Love” CD available for purchase online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s also available on iTunes and contains her stunning ballad, “You Make It All Worth It.” It’s the song Whitney Houston should sing for her comeback hit. …
Budding star Seth Adam recorded a live album last night at the Bitter End with his hot group. The New Haven, Conn., rocker should be signed already: His songs and performance are polished and ready to go with catchy hooks, great melodies and a rockin’ beat. Their next date is playing with Alexa Joel on Nov. 8 in New Haven at Toad’s Place. …
And our talented pal, Jessica Domain, opens for “Sex and the City” star John Corbett tonight at The Cutting Room. The last time Corbett played, Chris Noth’s club was wall-to-wall with “Sex” fans who loved Jessica, too. Doors open at 7 p.m. …