By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Though the Willis Building, which has been billed as a retail mall, opened with much fanfare (including Willis cutting a red ribbon for TV cameras), there were few actual occupants; within several months, Paris saw the spaces next to his rented out as offices, something he found extremely distressing.
"No one with two grams of brain will open a retail space surrounded by offices," he says. After being promised a different space at street level (". . . where all the Japanese tourists are stopping to take pictures"), only to be told later that the move had been "overruled by Bruce," Paris sued to recoup his original investment of $30,000.
"I decide to serve Bruce with papers while he was shooting a movie in Twin Falls [Breakfast of Champions]. They try to say that he couldn't miss a day of work, because it cost him $128,000 a day to do that. Which was quite insulting to myself and the court system, that his time is worth more than anybody else's."
Through his Ketchum attorney, Ned Williamson, Willis denied having anything to do with E.G. Willis leases in general, or with the Parises specifically. He countersued for the remaining amount of the lease, asserting that should Paris lose the case, he would be responsible for all of Willis' legal expenses, as well as the actor's transportation costs, including the fuel in his private jet.
"They didn't pay anything for my time, and I never made a big secret that, if I didn't win that case, I was gonna have to file for bankruptcy. So the fact that he was gonna add another $100,000 for his private jet, mostly I don't care."
Paris did care deeply, however, about the browbeating he says Williamson and colleagues gave his wife in court. "They went totally after her, tell her that she is just lazy, just after the deep pocket of Bruce, and implied that she should get a job instead of try to get free money. I was looking for my money back that I invest down there, I never ask for one dime more! To go after my wife because she doesn't work and stay at home is a total disgrace."
Though the jury rejected Paris' claim, it also rejected Willis' counterclaim, meaning that Paris was responsible only for his own legal costs.
"These people will go to any lengths, not even to win, but to diminish the person they're dealing with . . . If I was at any time asked, 'How can we work this out?' I would have. But it was never the situation. It was more 'I dare you to speak out. I have unlimited amount of money and I can drag this out for as long as I want.'"
Which Willis' lawyers are in fact doing: Despite the jury's finding for neither side, Williamson recently filed a motion to recoup Willis' legal fees. (Williamson did not return the Weekly's calls or fax, and Willis' publicist said the actor had no interest in being interviewed for this article.) Paris has since filed for bankruptcy.
HURRAH FOR ME, SCREW YOU
MAYBE HAILEY SIMPLY NEEDED A REALITY CHECK. THAT Willis' born-in-L.A. methodology -- his "hurrah-for-me, screw-you attitude," as one local put it -- should take anyone by surprise is the real mystery. Hadn't they seen his movies? Hadn't they ever marveled at the balls of his alter ego, Bruno the harmonica player, feeling entitled to share the stage with realmusicians? Could they honestly expect a man who, on Access Hollywood, expressed the opinion that "There are, I think, three countries left in the world where I can go and I'm not as well-known as I am here. I'm a pretty big star, folks -- I don't have to tell you. Superstar, I guess you could say" to roll up his sleeves and work in earnest with the little guy? To actually become "one of them"?
Maybe he simply tired of trying. Or maybe he was sick of dealing with French antique dealers. Or maybe it had something to do with his apparently troubled marriage. Or all of the above. Whatever it was, on New Year's Day, 1998, Willis walked into the Mint's restaurant and fired everyone. Five months later, the Mint nightclub and Shorty's were closed, abruptly and without explanation. Though it's impossible to find any employees to speak of this on the record, as all were required to sign a confidentiality agreement pledging that they would never discuss their personal or professional dealings with Willis or Moore, several reports have Willis dropping the ax himself, screaming at people, "Get out!" But Shorty's general manager, Tina Quarles, says that Willis "was not even around that night" and that she and a Willis associate named Ken Hendrickson sat the employees down and explained that the businesses were closing due to slack -- the local term for seasonal drought.
In retrospect, the signs seem fairly obvious. In early 1997, according to newspaper reports, Joe McAllister, on Willis' behalf, introduced development plans for what was to be a $50 million entertainment-and-retail complex in Willis' hometown of Penns Grove, New Jersey, a place Willis did not want to see die and which inspired his redevelopment of Hailey. But in May, McAllister reported that Willis "had lost interest" in Penns Grove, and pulled out all development moneys. Then Willis yanked all his advertising -- $15,000 worth -- from the Wood River Journalover an uncaptioned photograph the paper ran of a house Willis owned on Forest Service land.
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