The real sensation of the Pellicano trial.

Inside the big picture show.
March 21 2008 12:03 PM

The Real Pellicano Story

Did the private eye intimidate alleged rape victims on behalf of a client?

1_123125_2155893_2157584_2158758_070213_hwl_sig
Anthony Pellicano. Click image to expand.
Anthony Pellicano

Sordid details: As expected, Paramount chief Brad Grey's testimony at the Pellicano trial was not too sexy. Garry Shandling may have gotten people's hopes up with his complaints about Grey's behavior as his manager, but no one in this case has a stake in pursuing that angle. The question was whether Grey knew of Pellicano's alleged wrongdoing, and Grey, naturally, said he did not.

So it's hardly surprising that Shandling—a professional, after all—turned out to be more entertaining than Grey. For those looking for a big takedown of Hollywood power, it's long been clear that the trial seems unlikely to pay off. But the fact that Pellicano's big-name clients appear to have skated doesn't mean that the allegations in this case aren't sensational. They could hardly be more so.

If the government's got its facts right (and Pellicano, acting as his own counsel, isn't mounting a serious defense so far), then the worst is true: Justice in this country can be bought pretty easily, if not cheaply.

The case has elicited testimony that Pellicano convinced cops and phone company employees to snoop through data that should have had vigilant protection. He perverted the system, and not just to benefit rich clients who wanted to shake off unwanted spouses or thwart opponents in business deals. He is accused of having successfully intimidated a number of alleged rape victims to prevent their testifying against a client. Got that? It would mean that he helped an alleged serial rapist get off the hook.

And he got away with it all for years.

For a long time, Pellicano's tough-guy talk seemed to put him on the verge of self-parody: the hard-boiled gumshoe playing the private-dick role in the manner that people in Hollywood would expect. And in many cases, his alleged victims were hard to pity—like producer Bo Zenga, who had to take the Fifth more than 100 times when he was deposed in a lawsuit that he had initiated. (Zenga has also declared himself an award-winning screenwriter when all he had "won" was a contest that he'd made up himself.)

Then there was Lisa Bonder, who tried to shake down Kirk Kerkorian for $320,000 a month after gaming a DNA test to trick him into supporting a child who wasn't his. It was hard to feel bad when Pellicano exposed that type of behavior.

But even if all of Pellicano's victims had put themselves in harm's way, what he appears to have done goes far beyond their concerns. Every day of testimony sharpens the focus on allegations that should scare everyone—even folks who have never gotten closer to Hollywood than the multiplex. (link)

March 17, 2008

Oink: The trial of private detective to the stars Anthony Pellicano perked up a bit last Thursday with Garry Shandling swearing under oath that his former manager Brad Grey was, in essence, a pig.

Shandling already said that in a lawsuit filed in 1998, in which he complained that Grey overdid it by cutting himself in as a producer of Shandling's television show, taking ownership of half the show, and giving himself commissions on Shandling's work as a writer and actor. Whether this meets the legal definition of piggishness is unclear since the suit was settled. So Shandling never testified about his grievances until now. And, of course, Grey at this point is running Paramount, so Shandling's grievances have a fresh resonance.

Grey felt moved to issue a statement that he was "extremely saddened" by Shandling's allegations and said that he remembered the facts differently, though he offered no specifics. Once Shandling sued, he said, he was forced to hire Bert Fields. So his (very profitable) "friendship" with Shandling was "overtaken by a legal process that was directed by lawyers." Translation: Bert Fields hired Pellicano—not me—and who knew about any wiretapping?

All the big-name players who were Pellicano fans—Brad Grey, Michael Ovitz—have declared themselves to be shocked at allegations that Pellicano had a ring of on-the-take cops and phone-company employees to assist him in eavesdropping and perpetrating other schemes on their behalf. The Los Angeles Times has quoted Ovitz's attorney as stating that "neither Mr. Ovitz nor [his company] authorized or had any knowledge" of snooping or other activities performed with Ovitz's interests in mind.

The Pellicano trial prompted a producer we know to reminisce about the days when Ovitz was the most powerful man in Hollywood. "Remember how Ovitz always used to ask if you were on a hard line when you talked to him on the phone?" he asked. "And we all thought he was being paranoid!"

But now, it seems just possible that Ovitz suspected something. For us, the trial brings back a memory from the days in the mid-'90s when Hollywoodland was toiling on a book (Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood, with partner Nancy Griffin). We knew about Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss and her links to various film executives in our book. But none of this was public yet—no one had ever heard of Heidi Fleiss—and we were trying to figure out how to get these interesting facts on the record.

At one point, Hollywoodland asked one of the major players whose named has arisen in the Pellicano case if he knew of Fleiss, watching carefully what his face revealed. (If the conversation had been on the record, we'd tell you who it was.) He said he'd never heard of her, but he gave us some advice: If we wanted to learn more, he said, look at the phone records.

We were confused. We did not have subpoena power. How could we get phone records? "There are ways," he assured us with a knowing smile.

This makes it hard to believe that all the Pellicano clients were as ignorant of his activities as they claim. But apparently evidence is lacking. Eliot Spitzer may have been nailed with lightning speed thanks to wiretapped conversations. But Ovitz, Grey, and Fields were apparently innocent dupes—and are presumably extremely saddened to learn of any acts of thuggery perpetrated on their behalf. (link)

March 14, 2008

Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears A Who! Click image to expand.
Morton the Mouse in Horton Hears a Who!

It's Fun To Have Fun: Your Hollywoodland correspondent attended the glamorous premiere of Horton Hears a Who! last Saturday and was present when protesters started yelling shortly after Horton uttered his famous motto: "A person's a person, no matter how small."

We could not understand what was being shouted and thought perhaps that Seth Rogen or one of the other many vocal talents in the film was expressing love for Dr. Seuss' elephant and his signature line. But as you may have read elsewhere, anti-abortion activists had infiltrated the theater. Afterward, they handed out fliers designed to look like tickets.

None of this sat well with Audrey Geisel, widow of Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), who attended the screening. So did Karl ZoBell, the lawyer who represents her and who has represented the interests of Dr. Seuss for some 40 years. In an interview with NPR, he said he couldn't make out the yelling and thought maybe "some nut" was in the theater. Later, he asked the protesters what group they represented, and none would answer. Their silence didn't seem like an accident to him, which makes sense, because ZoBell has not been bashful about sending cease-and-desist letters to those who appropriate Dr. Seuss' material for their own purposes. And many do. (According to ZoBell, politicians love to sling the term Grinch at their rivals.)

ZoBell says it would be nice if these people came up with their own material. But if they don't go too far—by copping the illustrations, for example—they can use a line like "A person's a person, no matter how small," even if it wouldn't have pleased Dr. Seuss. And it wouldn't have. The Geisels were opposed to using the Dr. Seuss books for any political agenda.

Some anti-abortion Web sites claim that Audrey is a supporter of Planned Parenthood. ZoBell says he's never discussed the issue of abortion with her and can't confirm that.

It seems that Horton will inspire more anti-abortion activity in cities around the country. A Colorado group gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would define life as beginning at conception will show up at theaters in Denver when the movie opens. Its members will wear T-shirts emblazoned with Horton's immortal words and try to get more signatures for their petition. They don't plan to disrupt the movie (which seems reasonable, since Colorado probably won't accept signatures from 6-year-olds).

Executives at Fox say the studio is ignoring these plans. As for Audrey Geisel, it's not that we lack sympathy. But perhaps this wrath on behalf of the unborn is ironic punishment for having allowed Hollywood to inflict the previous movie versions of her husband's work on the born. (link)

Correction, March 19, 2008: The item on the Pellicano trial originally included a photo of John Connolly, who's actually a reporter who investigated Pellicano. The image has been removed.