Big news yesterday in a small world: Woody Allen is suing his former partner and friend of 30 years, Jean Doumanian. The allegation: that she didn't share the profits of his movies with him.
Ah, Woody, if only there were profits.
This comes on the heels of the news that I reported on Thursday: trouble on the set of the currently filming Allen movie. He fired famed cinematographer Haskell Wexler after a week. Sources told me Woody refused to communicate with Wexler, the award winning cinematographer. Woody replaced him with a little known German, but it wasn't so fast. While they waited — and filming continued — I am told the lead cameraman was composing the shots.
Urggh! I'm a little worried about Woody.
Let me tell you a story about Jean Doumanian. I doubt, by the way, that the allegations are true. This is why.
In my dealings with Doumanian over the years since she took over producing Allen's films, she's fought with great cunning to bring in as much money as possible for our favorite auteur. In 1994, after he'd had his first hit in eight years with Bullets Over Broadway, Jean played a little game with me. To get more money out of Miramax (which had released Bullets) upfront for Mighty Aphrodite — the next Allen release — she planted an item in my then column in New York magazine implying that the film would go to the highest bidder, and not necessarily Miramax. After the item ran, Miramax's Harvey Weinstein said to me, with a rueful laugh: "Thanks. You just cost me another half a million dollars."
Luckily, Mighty Aphrodite was a hit. But most of Woody's films since Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) have not been. Some — like the very funny musical Everyone Says I Love You — were out and out disasters. The last film Doumanian produced, Small Time Crooks, was the biggest hit of their time together. But even so, it was a modest success.
Sweet and Lowdown, the one that preceded it, got two big Oscar nominations for Sean Penn and Samantha Morton. It was a miracle, frankly, but didn't help at the box office. "But why," Doumanian asked me one night over dinner, "didn't anyone go to see it?" She was desperately trying to figure it out. She fought hard for Woody's movies and tried to generate cash, but frankly his audience is limited to very big U.S. cities and to Paris.
Before Doumanian went into business with him, Woody had a very long satisfactory deal with Orion Pictures' Arthur Krim. According to legend, he took home a very modest (for a major moviemaker) million dollars a year for himself. He was then allowed to make a movie that broke even at worst. He paid his cast scale wages. Almost no ads ever appeared. There were no publicity costs. (His publicist, Leslee Dart, has always worked her own miracles for him.) From Annie Hall through about Crimes and Misdemeanors, Woody lived on the good will of his fans.
But then two things happened: Arthur Krim died, and Orion went belly up. Woody was stuck. His first post Orion deal was at Tri-Star/Columbia, but then Tri-Star dissolved. By the time of 1994's Bullets, he was in bad shape — somewhat because the fans' goodwill had been dissipated during the summer of '92 with the Mia/Soon Yi scandal. People who'd long wanted him to fail now crowed that he'd molested his daughter Dylan (he hadn't) and was now sleeping with daughter Soon Yi (she was his girlfriend's adopted daughter, to be precise).
Bullets got seven Oscar nominations and brought Allen back a little to form. Doumanian, through the largesse of her companion, Jacqui Safra, nephew of banking mogul Edmund Safra, had righted the ship.
Last year, the New York Times ran a long and detailed story about how Allen was busy firing many of his veteran crew members, talented people who were too expensive to keep on retainer anymore. This dovetailed with the death of Edmund Safra, and the news that Woody would no longer be produced by Doumanian. Is it possible she cheated Woody out of a few million dollars (because it can only be a few, and much more)? I suppose anything's possible. But I hope not and don't think so. I do hope whoever's giving these two old friends advice will get them out of this public debacle quickly and with little bloodshed.
One interesting footnote: I noticed for the first time yesterday that Woody's new production company is called Moses Productions. This is obviously a tribute to the son Allen adopted with Mia Farrow but has been unable to see since 1992 — along with adopted Dylan and biological son Seamus. How heartbreaking that this bizarre situation has been allowed to continue and flourish.
Seinfeld Back to Series TV? There’s Nothing Wrong With That
FX — which is part of the Fox family — may have scored a coup. A new comedy pilot being developed for the network comes with an added bonus: the unseen hand of Jerry Seinfeld. Through a savvy deal made by entertainment chief Kevin Riley, it seems Seinfeld has taken an interest in a new show called Lunatic Theatre. He was seen hanging around the FX studios on West 46th St. and Broadway this past April while it was being hatched. "How lucky can you get to have the great Seinfeld lending a hand in a new show?" said a source rhetorically. I agree.
FX is indeed part of the Fox family, but do they tell me anything? No. I had to find out for myself.
I hear that Seinfeld, the reigning king of comedy — whose own show has been off the air since 1998 — is itching to get back to work. I'm told he was very enthusiastic about the making of Lunatic Theatre, shot last month under tight security and secrecy. Apparently, he was at the production offices quite a bit lending support and not just a few good lines in the process.
When they were shooting some of the show on location in New Jersey, Seinfeld managed to attract the attention of locals, but no one in New York or Hollywood knew he was involved.
Lunatic Theatre is described as a half-hour original show that's "off the wall, totally fresh and new kind of sketch comedy" but not exactly, with actors playing roles in short bits.
Apparently, Seinfeld's involvement in the show comes from his friendship with Barry Marder, the Lunatic Theatre creator and a past writing partner. Marder — whose dry sense of humor is said to complement Seinfeld's — is a co-creator of the show with Alan Marder, who, I discovered, is Barry's brother. Barry Marder was Seinfeld's companion last summer when they took a road trip across the country that gained notoriety.
Others involved in the show, from a staff list I've seen, are Rob Lee — who also happens to be Britney Spears' manager — and Jim Cohane. Marder did not return calls.
Steven Webster, a spokesman for FX, said: "This project is one of about 40 presentations we're considering. Nothing's been decided. We only found after the fact that Seinfeld was friends with one of the producers. I know he hung out on the set when they were shooting it."
Seinfeld had been keeping his hand in comedy by working on a documentary for HBO about stand-up comedy and putting in appearances here and there at clubs to develop new material. Two of his former cast-mates, Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, will also try TV series this fall with new shows. Michael Richards, who played Kramer, tried and failed to put across a new sitcom this past season. Meanwhile, the real Kramer, Kenny, is running for mayor of New York.
FX is owned by News Corp., the parent company of the Fox News Channel, which operates FOXNews.com.