Here, for the first time, is the true story of the circumstances surrounding Lynn Redgrave’s “breast feeding” firing from her very successful series “House Calls”, in which she starred opposite Wayne Rogers back in 1979, 1980 and 1981. The series was based on the film of the same name, which starred Glenda Jackson and Walter Matthau.
It’s a story of what can go badly wrong in Hollywood; it’s a story of corruption and intimidation, in my opinion, a can of worms which you are about to meet, and I think it is peculiar to the entertainment industry. And it stems from “conflict of interest” issues. Read this, you will see how it started, and how it ended. And you’ll also see how nobody won.
We were living in New York when we got a call from Jerry Davis (well-known producer of “The Odd Couple”) whose project it was – he’d seen Lynn as “Sister Mary Ignatius” on stage in New York, and wanted to cast her. After many years of stage work in the East, it sounded like a good career move, and a chance to make some money, so we said ok, and then got a call from Universal to negotiate. I was told that Alex Rocco was set for the male lead.
I was then handling Lynn’s business affairs in New York, but I had no stomach for West Coast shenanigans, New York and Broadway is much simpler. Besides, we had no associates or contacts to feel comfortable with in Los Angeles, so we decided to bring in an agency, settling on William Morris. They informed me that Alex wasn’t going to happen and the project was going to be doomed, but that one of their clients was going to save it, name of Wayne Rogers. They said they expected that UTV would come up with $15,000 as entry level for a star. I insisted she should get $25,000, and they laughed, and gave the assurance that, if successful, renegotiation was automatic.
It’s important to remember that successful series come along only once in a while. They are very rare and can make you very rich, even though there is the possibility that you may become “typed”, and have difficulty securing more work later. But rich is nice, and meanwhile you belong to the producers, are not free to accept other work, and have to wait for the agonizing annual date of the fate of the show for the following year, which comes around in May, and you have to be available. And you’ll be contractually tied up for 5 maybe even 7 years. The deal was made, and off we went to Los Angeles by train, carrying a bucket of pet fish as a homey touch for our 2 children. We already had a rental, and schools in mind.
The chemistry between Lynn and Wayne worked just fine, the rest of the cast were excellent, and the series took off, becoming at one point number two in the ratings in its third year. And I got to direct a show, which I hoped would set me on the pathway to go the other side of the camera, and let somebody else take care of Lynn’s Hollywood career. But then there was a threatened writer’s strike, and it became necessary to get some fourth season shows in the can. But it was all “family”, or so I thought.
The time had come to renegotiate her contract. By then, she had taken on a personal manager with better connections than I had, Wayne’s manager Arthur Gregory. He’d been very friendly, and it certainly kept it in the family! Conflict #1, as you’ll see.
Jumping ahead in this tale, our third child, Annabel, was on the way, and Lynn, being in her sixth month prior to the summer break, had to do some of her blocking moves behind the furniture. But now it really was negotiating time.
Lynn was now being “handled” I think is the word, by Freddie Westheimer, one of the top agents at the Morris office. Now that 3 years were up, the show was a hit, and Lynn had been raised incrementally by $1,000 each year, she was now getting $18,000 per show. I told Fred that he should go for a favored nations with Wayne (that means stay on the same level). His response was sorry, he was going to fight only in the interest of Wayne, whom he also represented, and she would have to take the services of a different agent at the Morris office (conflict #2). And so a new green young agent was assigned to her.
Wayne, through his firm Rogers & Rousseau, was known to be the investment advisor to all-powerful MCA/Universal chief Lew Wasserman (conflict #3). Wayne was the show’s “muscle” (there’s always a muscle, no matter what the show, and who it is is not always immediately apparent). He had already been able to have Arthur Gregory take over as Executive Producer, giving him control of the show’s budget, ousting Jerry Davis who had hired Lynn (which broke Jerry’s heart.) Then Arthur ominously said he didn’t want to represent Lynn any more.
Things were beginning to look mighty suspicious. A rumor spread that Wayne wanted to recast the show with himself as the central figure, surrounded by sexy girls.
Since we were stymied at the Morris office, we fired them for cause. I took things into my own hands, and became Lynn’s official manager.
I called Universal’s negotiator, and for openers asked for favored nations with Wayne, transportation to and from work, and because our baby was due to arrive before shooting the new season, a nanny, or the cost of a nanny, at the set. Our children had all been breastfed, and certainly she wanted to be able to continue the practice. Lynn could breastfeed our new baby in her dressing-room during her work day, which could be as long as 12 or 14 hours. And, of course, I taped the call.
Next day I got their reply. Increase in pay of a thousand dollars, no transportation, and the cost of a nanny didn’t arise, because Lynn would not be allowed to bring the baby to work with her. Final.
Appalled, we went to CBS, because they had the original casting approval before accepting the show for the network. Bob Daly was in charge then. We played the tape to the assembled heads of CBS. They were believably appalled too, and told us to wait a week while they worked on it.
A week went by, then another, so I called them. Daly said no dice, we won’t help you. I was staggered. (Conflict #4, unknown where, but I suspect they’d given away too much power, and had no say).
So we sent a message to Universal to inform them that Lynn would appear at their gate to start work under the original contract which was still in force, but with baby Annabel in her arms, and a nanny. They said don’t bother, the part is re-cast.
Her role went to Sharon Gless. As I understood it to be, she was the last of the contract players at Universal, and they were looking to put her into one of their in-house shows since they were paying her anyway (conflict #5).
And that led to our lawsuit against MCA/Universal, handled by up-and-coming Gloria Allred looking for media fame, one of her first showbiz cases. I now know that she didn’t ask for a jury trial, and I wonder why, this was a cause that screamed for it. The Universal publicity department went into action, saying that Lynn left due to her huge unacceptable salary demands, and her insistence on “Breastfeeding her baby on the set”, leading to a somewhat startling visual.
It’s true that Lynn did get another series quite quickly, “Teachers Only” for NBC, who went out of their way to give her anything she wanted. It was a flop. But it did lead to something called mitigation of damages, whereby anything you earn after you’ve lost your job has to be deducted from any claimed damages.
Then Gloria lost her appetite for fighting the media giant and Lew Wasserman, and wanted out of the case. Was it her intention to limit herself to on-camera-only appearances as a media personality back then? I think she saw her destiny was to speak up for the poor and afflicted, and I do not know of any instance where she argued a case in front of a judge or jury. In a word, Lynn got dumped by Gloria, I believe resulting in Conflict #6. So we went over to the highly recommended and powerful FINLEY, KUMBLE, WAGNER, HEINE, UNDERBERG, MANLEY, MYERSON & CASEY, fourth largest law firm in the country, internationally renowned, and with a strong Hollywood entertainment division, headed by Mel Brooks’s longtime attorney Alan U. Schwartz. (“Let the Schwartz be with you” he’d joke in his films, a poor one for us…)
We went to their tower office on Wilshire at Doheny, and Alan introduced us to their litigation specialist, Robert Kendrick Wrede. You could almost see his green beret. A deep menacing voice couched in a poker-faced picture of kindness. “Don’t ever question our decisions with respect to your case”, we were told. And we were comforted and left with a feeling of renewed confidence.
We then waited an awfully long five years (no fast-track back then.) There was work, of course, mainly theatre in New York. Her mostly popular stand hung in the air all that time, and at last the day came when we got the call to prepare for trial. We went to the courthouse with Alan, Wrede, and his assistant Paul, they filed something I believe, conferred some, and then we were invited to have lunch with them and a senior partner who joined us at an outside cafeteria. I especially remember Wrede telling the table that he had a daughter who wanted to be an artist, and said he wanted to make as much money as possible, so she wouldn’t have to work or suffer. They picked up the small check. When we got our next bill, I found that they had charged us their hourly rate for the lunchtime chat too, over $700 bucks in all.
A few days later, revving up in expectation for the fight, out of the blue Alan called me to report that Mr. Wasserman’s personal lawyer had called to say we should settle the case, and it was his advice that we should go along with it. I wondered why it had taken them so long, and he said it was a good sign, they obviously thought they had a weak case. I asked if it was an order from on high. (was this conflict #7?) Why was he advising us to go along with a call from Lew Wasserman’s personal lawyer, instead of Universal’s lawyer, Gail Title? O.K. so no harm in finding out. Lynn had to fly in from New York where she was working, and it was interesting that FK didn’t secure her First Class fare reimbursement, which they told us to pay for.
Wrede arranged that Lynn and I would meet with Lew Wasserman and his lieutenant, Sidney Sheinberg, at Robert Evans’s house in Beverly Hills, right by Wasserman’s home. We were to be alone, and their condition was that no lawyers or others were to be present. We’d never met them before, for Mr. Wasserman had a standard rule, the occupants of the black tower should never talk to actors.
It was a strange meeting. Sheinberg, with an actress wife (Lorraine Gary of “Jaws”), suggested to Lynn that he was familiar with actress anxieties, and suggested she was merely behaving like one who is afraid of being out of work. This comment immediately caused Lynn to get up and start to walk out. I got her back in her chair, and we stayed out the meeting. Lynn didn’t want to play, she was still angry, and was impatient to get on with it. I asked Wrede what they came up with, and according to him the offer on the table was $750,000 – to be worked off over time so they’d get their money’s worth. Sort of like a re-invention of a contract player. (7 year service contracts were supposed to be a thing of the past). We said no thank you, we’re going to trial. (Interesting aside here. I’ve noticed that money offers of settlement don’t come out of a general fund, but usually appear in somebody else’s future show budget.)
Some time later Wrede took us again down to the court house to meet with the opposing attorneys, a whole gang was there. They went inside a conference room and we were told to wait outside. After a while they emerged, and right there, standing in front of everybody, with no prior consultation, Wrede announced the terms of a settlement and recommended us to take it. It didn’t involve any damages. Just an apology, along the lines of a standard “regret it happened” announcement in the trades, our attorney fees and an unspecified job of some kind.
She did not like his proposed terms, said so, and demanded that the trial should immediately take place. He said in front of everybody again that the case could go to trial if we insisted, but it would be many more months down the line, he had a vacation and other cases to try first (conflict #8). Lynn burst into tears, and said it looked like she’d never work again. To me it looked like a setup.
On leaving, it happened that we bumped into Raquel Welch and her then husband Andre Weinfeld in the corridor. Raquel was just concluding her case against MGM, for she had been kicked off the movie “Cannery Row” for being late to work as she insisted on doing her make-up at home. That film had David Begelman behind it, he of the forged check scandal that hurt Cliff Robertson’s career. They seemed a bit crestfallen, and we sympathized. Seemed to me that she had a poor case, she’d lose and we’d lose.
Lynn’s fear of not working became a true conflict #9, this time for me to resolve. At home, she voiced her fears, and maybe she, and Sheinberg, were right. I had a marriage to keep happy too. And we were bone weary.
Next day, unbeknownst to her, I placed a call to Universal’s negotiator who brought on their inhouse lawyer, and I said “Look, if you print a real apology in the trades, and pay all of our attorney fees, and it’s put in writing in a form we can agree on, and you give Lynn an acceptable job to show no hard feelings so we can move forward, we’ll end this matter once and for all. Lynn’s career is at stake, and this can’t go on any longer.” I then buzzed Lynn and put her on the line to listen and join in, and of course, I taped that call too. They said they’d think about it.
Imagine my surprise 2 or 3 days later when I heard on the radio that Raquel had just won her case, a cool ten million dollars.
[Read here about Raquel Welch vs. MGM, which was appealed.
I immediately called Universal, and told them that there was no deal, we were going to trial.
Next thing, Universal went to court to enforce an “oral settlement agreement” made by me on the telephone. We were back in New York by now. I went through the yellow pages, and found a lawyer who was prepared to take on Finley Kumble for malpractice. There was no time to proceed with that angle however, and not knowing that FK were about to implode and needed the fees, I decided to proceed with the litigation specialist Mr. Wrede, who could put my back out in a second.
So he represented us – I thought we had no choice as he was up to speed – and on the stand under questioning, I waved the tape of the conversation, and said “here’s the deal, some things were not decided, and anyway, it’s dependent on a writing”. Judge Jack Ryburn, close to retirement, denied the use of the tape, since I had recorded it “secretly”. I said who cares, they claim there’s an oral contract on it, let’s hear it, I’m on it, they’re on it, Lynn’s on it, we’re all here, we have a written transcript with us, it will be found that the conversation was conditioned upon a writing, and we’re not talking about any third party.
I had used the term “without prejudice” in the recording. It was claimed that the term had no meaning in the U.S. it’s only used in court proceedings where a suit is dismissed “with” or “without” prejudice. In England, Canada, and other English speaking parts of the world, it is a term used in the course of negotiations to indicate that a particular conversation or letter cannot be used as evidence in court, and the term only has application in a communication when attempting to settle disputes. Check it on Wikipedia. And they knew how I had used it. And their inhouse guy was English and certainly knew what I meant.
But the Judge refused to listen, as did Mr. Wrede. I said that makes about as much sense as being denied access to a written contract, and he said no matter, it’s an oral contract, and you can’t play the tape, we will rely on sworn testimony. This was an abuse of discretion right there under what I now know to be the “best evidence” rule, a card that should have been played, and an appealable issue.
After hearing more from me, and from Lynn, he heard from Wrede, who put himself on the stand. To do this, he hissed at me that we were going to lose, and made me sign a waiver immediately, before he got up and asked to go in the box. And he began to plead that I didn’t know what I was doing, and should be forgiven if I had made a mistake!
Of course, now I know that by doing this, he had not only made sure that the settlement would hold, but he lost our attorney/client privilege with him for ever more. After the experience of his intimidating pressure on Lynn in the courtroom at the settlement conference, he had become less than a trusted attorney, and what followed had put us in this courtroom.
Judge Ryburn had no interest in what really happed, turned a blind eye, and ruled that he was satisfied that there was a “meeting of the minds”, and my telephonic proposal which I’d initiated was an enforceable contract, and should be executed leaving out the job aspect, and we had to come up first with the invoices charged by Finley Kumble before they would have to reimburse us for our fees. And the apology was to be one of those “We regret” types.
We fired Finley Kumble for cause, and hired this other lawyer to initiate a malpractice suit against them, and took an appeal.
The true nature of that disgraceful law firm came to light soon after, when Finley Kumble was sued for malpractice by scores of other unhappy clients, and some of their own junior partners too.
Several books have been written on the subject, among them “Shark Tank: Greed, Politics, And The Collapse Of Finley Kumble, One Of America’s Largest Law Firms” by Kim Isaac Eisler (Paperback – Oct 2004)” and “Conduct Unbecoming: The Rise and Ruin of Finley, Kumble” by one of its founders, Steven Kumble.
The firm’s senior partners’ pocket books were threatened, so the partnership filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York State court, and their insurance companies got involved.
We could not get the invoices together without the cooperation of their trustee, and what happened next was a true shock.
Lynn and I were performing “Love Letters” up in San Francisco when Universal’s lawyers faxed over notice of an expedited hearing to our locked office at home informing us that their motion was that they should be “forgiven” the settlement deal, as we had not produced the invoices in a timely fashion. We didn’t know about the hearing, I guess they knew we were away, so they went back before Judge Ryburn, and won a victory by default, because we weren’t there. There was no court reporter present, and no record of the proceedings was made. Their attorney was Gail Title, Esq.
We never got our settlement, nor the apology, and Universal never paid us a nickel. They also never employed her again.
But unbelievably, it wasn’t over.
Finley Kumble’s bankruptcy estate trustee in New York sued us for an unpaid fee balance in Federal Bankruptcy Court in New York, together with interest. We’d already parted with several hundred thousand dollars in fees paid to them, and refused to pay their final balance, and besides, we had a mal against them. We felt that they should refund to us what we’d already paid them!
Bankruptcy judges play a very biased and one-sided role (Yes, conflict #10). They are there to help bankrupt estates maximize receivables, and minimize payables. They are also there to dismiss motions such as our malpractice, if at all possible, usually by summary judgment. Presumably, the goal is to assist them to emerge from bankruptcy, and indeed FK’s Ch. 7 was converted to a Ch. 11. (There didn’t used to be bankruptcy judges at all not so long ago. Recognizing a built-in conflict, administration was handled by some other kind of referee, but not any more. As judges, they are all powerful, and can do anything they want, as we found out.)
I won’t easily forget attending the hearing at the old downtown Customs House in Manhattan, where the court was in session far into the night before a traveling judge from Vermont, one Judge Francis Conrad. It was approaching midnight and the Finley Kumble case had been working its way through the hours, and the Pan American Airways Chapter 7 dissolution lawyers were knocking on the door
We’d discovered that our California malpractice attorney was on suspension for some reason, and there was no time to find another (they used to be very hard to find back then), and we were on our own. Just one of dozens of malpractice claimants, all of whom were experienced lawyers!
Lynn’s name was called at last. The judge refused to allow me to speak. I protested that I was a part of it, and was familiar with the facts, and he said if I didn’t sit down he’d have me removed, but I was permitted to whisper reminders in her ear, but not give advice!
Wrede in a surprise move appeared for the trustee and testified against us. I felt sick to my stomach, revealed to be the adversary I always knew him to be. Lynn was completely confused and non-plussed, but made a speech anyway.
Of course, the judge dismissed our malpractice by summary judgment. He also granted their claim for their unpaid final bill, plus interest.
We were very angry and frustrated, and Lynn did not cooperate at her later deposition to reveal information on her assets so they could attach them. Our teenage daughter Kelly attended the meeting to show her support for Mum, and brought a camera, to take pictures of our adversaries and express her feelings for what they were doing.
After we flew home, Conrad ruled that if Lynn did not produce this information immediately so they could be levied against, she would be charged a penalty of $1000 per day for contempt of court until she did.
Two years went by (yes, we Brits are stubborn, and our contempt of just about everybody knew no bounds!), and the judge was about to order her to be fined three quarters of a million dollars, on motion of the trustee, when she, at the urging of her newly hired bankruptcy lawyers in Los Angeles, filed for bankruptcy in California, which caused Judge Conrad to lose jurisdiction, pen in the air ready to sign. Must have been a dramatic moment, must have pissed him off. It cost us another couple of hundred thousand dollars in legal fees for the pleasure.
In preparation for the L.A. hearing, we had subpoenaed their collections lawyer to come to Los Angeles for a deposition, because our bankruptcy lawyers needed to shape a defense to Finley Kumble’s claims, and find out exactly how much they would push for, now that Judge Francis Conrad had been shown the finger, because there was no final order and no exact amount.
We paid his fare from New York, a night or two in Hollywood, and he was quite forthcoming. He stated that we should pay HIM around $750,000, being part of the court’s gentle pressure to reveal our assets. He thus showed how the system works, and I guess he would have discounted it a bit. I was there to learn and listen, and the memory of how it works revolts me even more now, because I understand it a little better.
Since the Vermont traveling judge hadn’t signed a final order, it was all our guys needed to convince the L.A. bankruptcy judge to find in our favor. The judge did, however, suggest that we should pay Finley Kumble their final balance plus interest. In the interest of justice, no, but of closure and moving on, they got paid, and Mr. Wrede, I’m sure, got his due due. He’s still around, and I see he lists our case among his credits.
So, to sum up, we can see how a very successful television series ended through abuse of power, and who exercised that abuse I leave to the reader. To nickel and dime the artists up front and not give them a piece of the pie is poor planning. Universal lost out and so did CBS, because they weren’t watching out for their own back end. Which is where the action is, in syndication. You need something like 40 episodes to be able to syndicate, and they had 57 in the can. One can only speculate why they did not go ahead. Lynn would have got minimum scale residuals, which is next to nothing.
The series left us a lot poorer than when we went in, but we felt proud for taking a stand, and for years after, actors and actresses who were fathers and mothers would come up to Lynn and thank her profusely, because all the networks and movie companies were providing special spaces where actress mothers could bring their babies to work and breastfeed them during breaks. Me, I still get angry thinking about those days, like it happened just yesterday.
Addendum: March, 2007
I just came across this under date February 1, 2005 printed in TV Guide, a fair and accurate depiction of life under the rule of Wayne Rogers. Readers can draw their own conclusions about the dispute.
(by Michael Peck for TV Guide)
“”Wayne Rogers wants to dominate the show,” a studio insider told TV Guide at the time of the dust-up. “The breast-feeding business was just an excuse to get rid of Redgrave.”
Whether that’s true or not, Rogers made no secret of wanting to call the shots — and he called a lot of them. When CBS approached him about doing the show, saying it would definitely make it on the air if he joined the cast, he hesitated. Finally, he agreed after driving a hard bargain. Details were never officially released, but it was said the actor got script and producer approval, plus the right to veto casting changes. He sat in on all the show’s production meetings and story conferences, which, as you might imagine, didn’t always sit well with the scribes. “Sometimes the writers get rather sensitive and I have to discuss things with them,” was how producer Arthur Gregory put it.
Rogers didn’t downplay the friction he created. “Insecure people can be enormously protective and proprietary about their work,” he said. “But when you’re doing a show week after week, you can’t afford that. I say to people, ‘I’m not interested in more exposure for myself. I’m interested in the quality. We’re all trees, and the forest is the important thing.’ ”
And when the trees weren’t to his liking, Rogers had no problem chopping them down. Gregory, who also happened to be Rogers’ personal manager and business partner, came on board after what executive producer Jerome Davis conceded “could be called a palace coup.” Rogers oversaw the whole process and a rule of the show, Gregory said, was that “the first draft of a script is shown to Wayne first and to no one else.” All of which added up to the star being the man at the top. Or, as Davis put it: “I wouldn’t want to get into one of those questions of ‘He goes or I go.’ ”
None of which made being a part of the team an easy experience. “He has this militant, got-to-be-right streak in him, and he can be absolutely dogged about saying, ‘This scene doesn’t work for me,’ ” Gregory admitted. “Wayne can be a tough guy to work with. He really demands perfection, and he sometimes forgets that none of us is perfect.”
All of which made for a tough landing for Sharon Gless (Cagney and Lacey), who stepped in for Redgrave — but only after Rogers approved her hiring, and he didn’t exactly give his approval quickly (“I happen to know that he looked at film of 16 other girls,” she said in 1982.) And her first meeting with her co-star, in a bar near Universal, didn’t go all that smoothly, either.
“He asked how old I was and I told him that’s rude,” Gless recalled. “He said, ‘I think you’re 38,’ and I let him know I don’t tell my age. He just ignored that and told me his manager thinks I’m younger but he figures I’m at least 38. All I could say was: This isn’t going very well…. We sparred some more and I was pretty depressed. Then some guy came barging over and said, ‘Mr. Rogers, we’d like to invite you to our film festival. Wayne never looked up, just snapped, ‘I never attend festivals.’ I turned to the guy, gave him a smile, and told him, ‘But thanks, anyway.’ For some reason Wayne thought that was funny and we began to thaw.”
Perhaps, but not that much, apparently. After moving on and accepting her Cagney role, Gless didn’t pull her punches. [I]f I could get through House Calls,” she said, “this should be a piece of cake.”
After reading this, I’m even more proud that we took a stand. I think it led to changes within the industry.