When film producer Don Simpson died of heart failure in 1996 at the age of 52, no one was particularly surprised. As one of Hollywood’s most successful filmmakers as well as its most notorious bad boy, Simpson lived a life that begged an early death. Stories of his exploits were told all over town, tales of hookers and drugs, of plastic surgery and fast cars. In the months leading up to his death, Simpson was using a pharmacy of prescription drugs, including Valium, Vicodin, Lithium, Xanax, Desyrel and Phenobarbitol. What follows is an excerpt from High Concept, a new book by Weekly columnist Charles Fleming that exposes the excesses of Simpson and the culture in which he thrived.
Late one evening in January 1990, Don Simpson called a friend from Paradise Raceway in Daytona Beach, Florida. He and his partner Jerry Bruckheimer were halfway through filming Days of Thunder, a roaring tale of race cars and redemption that starred Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Robert Duvall. Days of Thunder was meant to be Paramount Pictures’ biggest summer movie. Going in, it looked to have all the elements of a huge hit. Midway through production, though, bad news from the set was filtering back to Hollywood: Cost overruns were pushing the budget through the roof; the dailies looked terrible; Cruise wasn’t happy with the script, which was being rewritten nightly; the production, and the producers, were out of control. To the friend in Los Angeles, who asked if the rumors were true, Simpson laughed and said, “Are you kidding? I’m having the time of my fucking life.”
In fact, Days of Thunder would ruin his life and derail his professional career as a moviemaker for a full five years. Simpson had taken the notion of the high-concept movie and run with it, producing an unprecedented string of hit films. But success had gone to his head. His hit movies had made him a celebrity in behind-the-scenes Hollywood. Around the studios he was a demigod — insane and unpredictable but with an instinct for success that gave him a reputation as a Midas with an unfailing touch. By 1990, though, he had confused his celebrity with stardom. He didn’t simply want to employ Tom Cruise; he wanted to be Tom Cruise, or to be bigger than Tom Cruise. In attempting to become that, he lost sight and lost his grasp of the very things that created his success. He forgot about character and story and script and made a mess of his movie. In the process he would destroy his relationship with the studio that had been his home for more than 10 years.
Going into Thunder, after 15 years in the movie business and seven as a movie producer, Simpson was at a career high. With Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop 2 behind him, he and Bruckheimer had achieved unparalleled Hollywood power. In 1985 Paramount executives had won the wooing of Simpson and Bruckheimer, signing them to a lucrative four-year deal at the studio, beating out competing offers from ex-Paramount executives Barry Diller, now at Fox, and Michael Eisner, now at Disney. Now, in late 1989, the two had signed a deal with Paramount so unusually lucrative that they were able to force the studio to purchase full-page advertisements in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Hollywood’s two trade papers to announce a “visionary alliance.”
It had not been an easy deal to reach, partially because Simpson was demanding contract details and language that no right-thinking studio head would ever deliver. According to Lance Young, who was at that time a senior production executive at Paramount, Simpson and Bruckheimer were seeking an overhead deal of “unprecedented” size. They wanted two secretaries each, new offices, new cars and funds for constructing home screening rooms; and they wanted Paramount to grant them unfettered license to draw cash against their producing fees — all at a cost Young estimated at over $3 million a year. Worse, Simpson wanted it stated in the contract that he would also direct and star in future movies. Even worse, he wanted these future movies to be “artistic” movies. “This was a huge roadblock,” Young recalls. “Don was burned out on making these big movies. He didn’t want to make Top Gun again. He wanted artistic projects, and he wanted to be a director and he wanted to be an actor — and he wanted all that to be in the deal.” Says a former Simpson employee, producer Michael London, “He wanted to make Driving Miss Daisy,” the movie that, while Simpson toiled in Florida, had just received nine Oscar nominations and was number one at the box office.
Another studio, or Paramount at another time, would have ended the negotiations there, and told Simpson and Bruckheimer to leave the lot. Paramount couldn’t, though. Days of Thunder was under way, and the studio was desperate to have it for the summer release schedule.
Under the terms of the deal, as announced on February 1, 1990, Simpson and Bruckheimer were promised a production fund of $300 million, over five years, to make five pictures. Any five pictures. They were not required to submit scripts or budgets to Paramount for approval, or to ask for director approval or cast approval. They just had to make the movies.
Advertisements that ran in leading papers said:
From the premise to the premiere. From the first draft to the last detail. From the first shot to the millionth cassette. Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer are total filmmakers. It began with the landmark blockbuster FLASHDANCE. Then came three of the best hits of all time: BEVERLY HILLS COP, TOP GUN and BEVERLY HILLS COP 2. And from these: 2 Academy Awards. 10 Academy Award Nominations. 14 Top Ten Songs. 4 #1 Soundtrack Albums. 4 #1 Songs. 4 Multi-Platinum Albums. 4 #1 Videos. Paramount Pictures is pleased and proud to announce a new five-year alliance with Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer as they enter a new era of producing and directing at the studio they call home.
Asked to amplify, Simpson boasted, “It’s simple. They
put up the money, we put up the talent, and we meet at the theater.”
That, anyway, was Simpson’s version. It wasn’t the truth, and the lie, so publicly spoken, caused immediate damage.
In New York, at Paramount’s headquarters, Para mount CEO Martin S. Davis burned with rage at Simpson’s cockiness. In Hollywood, at the Melrose Avenue studio, Paramount executives fretted. But in Florida, on the Thunder set, Simpson glowed. In the wake of his “visionary alliance” deal, Thunder had begun production at a budget of $40 million — $7 million of it, according to former Paramount production executive Lance Young, paid in salary to Cruise. By now the budget had ballooned to $70 million. But Simpson, who had turned Cruise into a bona fide movie star with Top Gun, which had also made his Thunder director, Tony Scott, a Hollywood power, seemed unperturbed. The Thunder location was a permanent party. By day, from his suites at the Daytona Beach Marriott, Simpson would dispatch two assistants, Dave (known as Dave the Rave) Robertson and Dave (known as Baby Dave) Thorne, to area beaches, to ask attractive young women if they wanted to attend a party for Tom Cruise. By night, the women would join Simpson, Bruckheimer, Cruise, screenwriter Robert Towne and Scott for dinner and after-hours discotheque dancing. One night the crew rented an entire bowling alley and threw a party. Another night a local Daytona Beach discotheque called the Palace was closed down for a party, where rapper Tone Loc performed. The booze and the cocaine — kept in steady supply by the two Daves — were plentiful. “One morning I found three bags of cocaine stuck behind a cushion on the sofa,” one assistant remembers. “Simpson had been pounding on my door at 4 a.m., yelling at me to come and party.”
The girls came and were rewarded. Simpson kept a production-office closet at the Marriott full of Donna Karan dresses, wrapped in plastic and organized by size, to give to the ones he liked. He had another entire room redesigned to hold his own vast wardrobe. He’d spent $400,000 of Paramount’s money turning two hotel suites into a private gym and installing an enormous music system. After rising late — “basically, he would sleep all day,” a source on the set remembers — while Bruckheimer oversaw the actual production of the movie, Simpson would work out every day on equipment specially ordered from a list supplied by muscular movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger. If work went on too late or there was work left to be done at the end of the day, says a Thunder source, Don would laugh and say, “‘Jerry, I can’t do that. It’s 6:30. I have to clean up and get dressed and I have a date at 7:30. I can’t be there. You do it.’ And Jerry would always do it.” (“Jerry is a workaholic,” says a friend of the two men. “Don hated to work. He’d be the first to tell you. I remember sitting in his office one night, and it was 7 o’clock, and the TV was on. Magnum, P.I. came on, and you could see Don’s whole body relax. He said, ‘I love this.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Magnum, P.I. is on. That means it’s 7 o’clock. That means no more phone calls.’”) Thunder star Cruise later said, “Don attended script meetings, but he wasn’t on the set a lot. Jerry was always there when you needed to get it done.”
For a while, Simpson was even enjoying a relationship that bordered on the ordinary. While casting Thunder in Los Angeles, he’d met a North Carolina–born actress named Donna Wilson. He’d liked her and begun dating her, and, with Towne, had written into the script a part for her. It wasn’t a large part — that of a “pit girl” at the racetrack — but it was sufficient to get her to North Carolina for the first five weeks of shooting and then move her to Florida. This raised eyebrows among the crew: “She’s a pit babe and she has one line, and she’s on the set for 54 days?” wondered one. According to that source, though, the relationship soured. “The drug use freaked her out, and it affected Don’s ability to, you know, perform.” Wilson eventually began dating Thunder director Tony Scott, whom she subsequently married.
Even better than the sex and romance, maybe even better than the drugs and money, Simpson was with Thunder achieving a lifelong dream. Leaving his native Alaska for college at Eugene’s University of Oregon years before, Simpson had told his high school buddy Carl Brady Jr., “I’m going to Hollywood to be a movie star.” Now, in Florida, he was about to do just that. He and Towne had written into the Thunder script a part for “Aldo Bennedetti,” a veteran race-car driver, and Simpson was to make his motion-picture debut playing the role. He’d worked hard to look the part. He was down to a lean, muscled 170 pounds. (“We were in Charlotte, North Carolina,” where production began, recalls an editor on the movie. “It was the coldest winter in 100 years. I’d be walking back to the hotel from the editing room at 10 at night. It was 18 degrees. Don would be outside, working out.”) He’d had collagen implants in his chin and cheeks, giving his previously broad, flat face a new, angular definition. He was deeply tanned, and he fit handsomely into the two pairs of tailor-made racing leathers he wore on his infrequent visits to the set — one blindingly white, one pitch black, both emblazoned with a bright-red stitched panel advertising Goody’s headache powders, a red that matched the stripped-down, NASCAR-style number 34 Chevrolet Lumina he’d drive in the racing scenes.
Simpson did not especially admire actors — indeed, during this period he sneeringly referred to his star Cruise as “the Audie Murphy of the 1990s” to a journalist — but he envied them, and he wanted to be one himself. In 1988 he’d auditioned for a part in the melodrama Beaches, according to its producer, Bonnie Bruckheimer, the ex-wife of Simpson’s partner. “We were casting male parts, and Jerry called me and said, ‘Don really wants to read for you,’” Bruckheimer says. “I brought him into a casting session with [director] Garry Marshall. He was surprisingly good.” But he didn’t get the part. He told people he’d appeared in an uncredited sequence, as a tough hombre, in the 1988 film Young Guns. But he had not. According to Guns producer Paul Schiff, it was actually Cruise who made the uncredited appearance. (Cruise had come to the set to visit his friend Emilio Estevez, was herded into makeup and wardrobe, and then was filmed in a scene in which
he gets shot.) Simpson would later tell people that he’d appeared in almost every movie he and Bruckheimer made together — although there is no record of any onscreen appearance in any of them except Days of Thunder. This was his big break, and he was taking it seriously.
Simpson was sitting on top of a guaranteed box- office monster, and he wasn’t very shy about letting his competitors know. Memorial Day marked Thunder’s release date. It would open against Disney’s big-budget Dick Tracy, a vanity project directed by and starring Warren Beatty. Beatty was a friend, and a nearby Bel Air neighbor, and Disney’s film division was run by Jeffrey Katzenberg, formerly Simpson’s assistant at Paramount. Taunting Katzenberg, Simpson sent a fax: “You can’t escape the thunder!” Katzenberg faxed back: “You won’t believe how big my Dick is!” Simpson had T-shirts made for the cast and crew that read, “Don’t fuck with the Thunder.”
Thunder at the script stage was almost mind-numbingly simple. Robert Duvall is Harry Hogge, a veteran race-car builder who, the season before, has lost his best friend in a Daytona car crash for which he himself may have been responsible. Cruise is Cole Trickle, a cocky young driver whose previous racing career ended when his no-good father defrauded Cruise and his car’s investors. Trickle — whose name may have been suggested by veteran NASCAR driver Dick Trickle — is an immediate racing sensation and immediately locked into mortal on-track combat with Rowdy Burns, played by Michael Rooker. Their racing rivalry ends in a fiery crash. Rowdy and Cole are badly injured; they are treated for head injuries by fetching brain surgeon Dr. Claire Lewicki, played by Nicole Kidman. Cole recovers, but loses his driving privileges and begins an uneasy romance with Claire. Rowdy does not recover and so turns his car over to Cole for one last try at Daytona. Cole is traumatized by his accident, though, and has lost his competitive edge. He must overcome his inner demons — and assuage Harry’s certain belief that he will lose another beloved driver in another fiery crash — to win. And, of course, he does. Cole beats his terror, drives bravely, takes the checkered flag, gets the girl and finds a new father in Harry. Lacing through the thundering racing action was music from Jeff Beck, Joan Jett and the team of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. There were excellent character parts for Randy Quaid, as the unscrupulous but ultimately loyal used-car dealer who invests in Cole’s career, and Cary Elwes, as the cocky younger driver who replaces Rowdy Burns as Cole’s racing nemesis. There was the tall, luminous, red-maned Kidman, brand-new to American audiences (or those who missed Australian thriller Dead Calm the year before) and on her way to becoming Tom Cruise’s wife. There was the putative excitement of stock-car racing and the Daytona 500, described in the film several times as “the Super Bowl of motor-racing events.” And there was Simpson’s own role as Aldo Bennedetti, “the perennial contender from Reading, Pennsylvania.”
And then there was the script, by all accounts incomplete when shooting started. Former executive Lance Young remembers that the studio was “desperate for a summer movie. We knew the script wasn’t ready, but we needed a movie for Memorial Day. We needed to work off this tremendous overhead we were paying Don and Jerry. We had a window [of availability] on Tom Cruise. Suddenly we all felt more fondly about the script.”
When production and editing ended, the script was still painfully pedestrian and full of howlingly unlikely moments. Duvall’s Harry actually has two separate scenes in which he speaks aloud, in prayerlike reverence, to the car he is building. There is a scene in which Cruise is given a “surprise” victory gift — a costumed “state trooper” who is actually a prostitute procured for his pleasure — meant to support Cruise’s post-accident belief that Dr. Lewicki is not a surgeon but just another floozy the boys have hired for him. Quaid is called upon to utter the line, in disgust over Cruise’s on-track antics, “We end up looking like a monkey fucking a football out there!” Significant lines — “I won’t make a fool of you, Harry,” and, to describe intentional on-track collisions, “We’re just rubbing. Rubbing is racing!” — are repeated tiresomely, as are portentous declarations of personal ethic: “I can tell you what I don’t want to be — and that’s a fraud,” Cole tells Claire, and says, “I’m more afraid of being nothing than I am of being hurt.”
Outwardly, however, Thunder was Top Gun 2. Simpson and Bruckheimer had assembled Cruise and Scott, added pal Towne and were once again making a big noisy boys’ movie with their favorite boys around them. (According to production executive Young, bringing Towne aboard had sealed the Simpson-Bruckheimer deal to produce. “Don told us, ‘I will only do this movie if I can get Towne.’ His deal was triggered on that.”) There were key differences, though. Top Gun had been filmed for a frugal $19 million, when the average studio film cost only $17 million. Thunder, even if it had held its original budget of $40 million, cost double the studio average; at $70 million it cost more than quadruple.
Privately, midway through production, Simpson’s enthusiasm was waning. Thunder was a mess. It wasn’t just the soaring budget, though that was a growing problem. The producers were using a fleet of 30 “stock cars,” most of them modified Chevrolets, to film the racing sequences. They cost $100,000 each to outfit, but they weren’t NASCAR quality and they didn’t come with teams of qualified stock-car mechanics. “They broke down constantly,” Gary Lucchesi, head of production at the time, recalls. “That meant delays, and that meant money.” Half the fleet, at any given time, was in the shop. When they were on the track, too, there were problems. One afternoon a car spun out of control and ran into a bank of cameras, an accident that cost a long delay and $40,000 in camera equipment. There were also weather problems, as rain caused days of delay. Having begun production without a fully completed script, Cruise and the others were being fed new pages every morning and new lines even as they worked. For a while, Cruise read new lines off the dashboard of his speeding stock car, until keeping his eyes off the road caused him to crash. After that, Cruise listened to new lines as Towne dictated through a headset. All of this, of course, meant further expensive delays. “The movie was a disaster while we were shooting,” says a source from the set. “It was taking so long, and we weren’t getting it. We didn’t finish shooting principal [photography] until May, and we were supposed to release the movie in May, and we still weren’t finished. We had shot up to the end of the race, but we didn’t have the end of the race. We actually didn’t have a scene of a car crossing the finish line!”
Alarmed at the rising cost of production, Paramount sent executive Young to the Charlotte, North Carolina set to visit with the producers and force the production accountants to open the books. “I was sent down to exercise control,” Young says, “but there was nothing to be done. The studio was committed to the release date, and that meant we had no leverage. We couldn’t tell them to stop, because we were locked onto the release date. The key to this entire business is knowing when you do and when you do not have leverage — and your only leverage, ever, is to say, ‘No. We are not making this movie.’ We had no leverage.” As for the soaring budget, Young says, “The cost of flying in hookers was the least of it. We’re talking about millions of dollars being spent. Don and Jerry didn’t even try to hide it. They said, ‘Look, we got three crews shooting simultaneously. We have four teams of editors working. What do you want from us?’”
More personally, though, Simpson was worried about his acting scenes. According to film editor Billy Weber, who’d begun his relationship with Simpson and Bruckheimer on Beverly Hills Cop and was on-set for the duration of the Thunder production, Simpson simply couldn’t act. The dailies, Weber says, “were painful. It was clear to Tony [Scott] and to Towne and to Don that his scenes just weren’t working. It was just bad. The way Tony shot it was bad — and that may have been intentional. It was unusable.”
According to another source on the set, it was star Cruise who eventually objected to Simpson’s scenes — although Cruise would later say that the idea of Simpson acting in the film was his, not Simpson’s. One morning midway through production, already well behind schedule, Cruise was delivered new script pages, rewritten the night before by Towne, for a scene that a character named Aldo was supposed to perform opposite Robert Duvall. (Aldo’s dialogue was meant to bring some comic relief to an otherwise heavy scene, in which a humbled Cole Trickle must admit to veteran Harry that he does not understand racing cars and cannot win races without Harry’s help — for which, in his pride, he is loath to ask.) Cruise wasn’t familiar with Aldo and asked director Scott who it was. “It’s Don,” he was told. Cruise read the scene — four pages of dialogue and action between Aldo and Duvall — and objected. “We’re so far behind, and we’re going to waste an entire day for nothing,” he said. Scott felt he could not tell Simpson the scene had to be cut, so Cruise volunteered. He walked to Simpson’s trailer, where the wannabe actor had been in makeup for two hours, preparing for his big debut. According to the source, Simpson immediately sensed Cruise’s discomfort with the scene —without asking where the discomfort lay. He said, “Is it a shitty scene? It is a shitty scene! It sucks. I hate this fucking scene! Get rid of it!” “He made a big display of this,” said the source, “running from his trailer and collaring some second assistant director or something and shouting at him, ‘Get rid of this shitty fucking scene! Now!’ “
Ultimately, Simpson’s role as Aldo Bennedetti would be cut down to fleeting seconds onscreen, with only a single spoken line. (As Cole prepares his comeback, a leather-suited Aldo says to an ESPN “interviewer,” “I’m glad he’s well enough to come back, and I hope I beat him, at the same time.”) And it was Weber who had to deliver the bad news. “I was the one who had to go to his office, and close the door, and say, ‘You’re only going to be in this movie this much,’” recalls Weber. “He said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘You come to the cutting room with me. I will close the door and lock it. You look at the footage. You come downstairs, and look at it, and just tell me: Anything you want in, I’ll put in.’ Because I knew he would never put anything in the movie that was bad. And he looked and said, ‘I’m fucked.’ So he was in the movie this tiny bit. The best stuff he had, Cruise wouldn’t allow to be in the movie. He said it took away from the focus of the bar scene.”
Simpson was demoralized. One afternoon, Weber found him sitting with his head in his hands. “We’re fucked,” he moaned. “We’re fucked. There’s no story here. We barely have a first act, and then we don’t have anything after that.”
Days of Thunder proved conclusively that Simpson did not have the chops to become a movie star. So he did the next best thing: He began acting like one. This, again, backfired and left him humiliated by the press.
On July 11, 1989, Los Angeles Times entertainment-industry reporter Michael Cieply broke a story about a sexual-harassment lawsuit filed against Simpson by a Paramount secretary named Monica Harmon. Harmon had worked under Simpson and Bruckheimer for 21 months in 1986 and 1987. In her civil lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Court on October 12, 1988, and asking $5 million in damages, Harmon alleged that Simpson had forced her to witness illegal drug use in his Paramount offices, forced her to schedule rendezvous with prostitutes, exposed her to pornographic films played on videocassette in his office and subjected her to several other kinds of physical and mental abuse.
Harmon had originally come to work at Paramount in early 1986 and soon found herself assigned to the Simpson-Bruckheimer production offices, and the target of Simpson’s special tirades, which she outlined in her legal complaint. Simpson had shouted at her for putting regular milk, not nonfat milk, in his coffee — “trying to get him fat,” he had screamed. He “used cocaine in his office,” in the company of partner Bruckheimer and with Richard Tienken, Eddie Murphy’s manager and an executive producer of Beverly Hills Cop 2. He “left a pile of cocaine in his office and in his office bathroom and ordered [Harmon] to clean it up before it was discovered by others.” Simpson had “maintained lists of girls he used as prostitutes and required [Harmon] to keep and update these lists.” He “required [Harmon] to schedule his appointments with some of the prostitutes.” Simpson “played pornographic videocassettes in the office.” And, “As a condition of [Harmon’s] employment, [she] was required to read lurid and pornographic material.” Simpson on a regular basis had called Harmon things like “dumb shit,” “garbage brain” and “stupid bitch,” as in, “You fucked up again, you stupid bitch. You cannot do anything right.” Simpson had further reduced her to a state in which she could not sleep and suffered headaches, muscular tension and stress.
Other Simpson-Bruckheimer employees would later confirm most of Harmon’s charges. Abuse was commonplace. “There was always one girl in the bathroom crying,” says a former assistant. “The abuse was constant, and Monica got her share of it.” Simpson’s tirades were inspired by surprisingly small details. If he was on holiday in Hawaii and woke up hungry in the middle of the night, according to one assistant, he would not call room service; he would wake up an assistant in Los Angeles or New York and make her place the order. If his food didn’t come fast enough, he’d throw it on the hallway floor when it arrived. Assistants were fired for bringing Simpson his coffee with cream in it when he was dieting, or for bringing coffee without nonfat cream in it when he was not. Assistants were fired for overtoasting the ba-
gels Simpson ate with mustard spread on them, or for buying the bagels anywhere but the chain I ’n’ Joy, or for buying any kind of mustard but the preferred French’s brand. “If his bagel was toasted too much, he’d have a heart attack,” a former assistant recalls. “If you got the wrong kind of mustard, you were dead. It had to be a whole-wheat bagel toasted with mustard — and it had to be French’s. If someone ate one of his bagels, there was panic.”
At the Regency Hotel in New York, Simpson once lambasted an entire housekeeping staff after they had returned a pair of black jeans to his room — pressed and starched, not fluffed and folded. “I asked for fluff and fold! How dare you! Fluff and fold!” he screamed. On another occasion, when he had chartered a jet to take several friends on a fishing expedition, he chewed out the secretary who had booked the flight — because, on the return trip, the plane had encountered so much cloud cover that it could not immediately land. “He called and screamed at me about cloud cover,” the secretary recalls. “Like I could do anything about that!” On yet another business trip, he screamed at a secretary because the limousine she’d ordered for a New York outing had a less than pristine interior. “He said, ‘You should have checked it out,’” the recipient of his abuse says. During that same visit to New York, an assistant remembers, Simpson got upset because the window in his hotel room didn’t open. “So he just threw a chair through it,” she says. “He could not open the window, so he just threw a chair through it. We’d have to check out of his hotels for him, because he was too impatient, so we’d just pay for this stuff.” He required his assistants’ clairvoyance to be international: He once screamed at a secretary who’d had the foresight to book Simpson an appointment at a Hong Kong health club when he was there for a film opening, but not the foresight to know that towels are not provided in Hong Kong health clubs. And sometimes there were extravagant demands for services ordered on a whim — such as the time Simpson, after attending a Giorgio Armani showing in Italy, suddenly felt the need for his own Armani sweater. He had an assistant drive to his home, pick up and pack his sweater and have it rushed to him in Rome, at a cost far exceeding the price of a new sweater at the Armani showroom, a sweater he could have owned instantly.
Simpson fired his longtime personal publicist, New York’s Peggy Siegal, over a similar incident. He was planning to attend the Deauville Film Festival in France, and he gave Siegal instructions: “He wanted to be rushed, upon arriving at customs, by a mob of screaming fans,” Siegal says. “Well, I didn’t know how to do that.” Days later, laughing on the telephone with a mutual friend, the producer Larry Gordon, Siegal retold the story. It got back to Simpson, and he fired the publicist for badmouthing him.
Simpson-Bruckheimer and Paramount brought heavy muscle down on Monica Harmon. Rather than, for fear of public humiliation, simply buy Harmon’s silence, they began an investigation to undermine her character, if not her accusations. Simpson hired the legendarily rough litigator Bertram Fields, of Greenberg, Glusker, Fields, Claman & Machtinger, to prepare a counter-suit against Harmon, eventually filing a
$5 million libel suit against her. Simpson then hired Anthony Pellicano — the private investigator who had originally come to Los Angeles to help get accused cocaine trafficker and famed automobile manufacturer John DeLorean off the hook — to investigate Harmon.
Pellicano flew to Minnesota and located a former Paramount employee named Patrick Winberg. Winberg would later tell Fields, in depositions, that Harmon was a regular cocaine user to whom Winberg had delivered half a gram of the powdered drug on an almost daily basis; that Harmon had snorted cocaine more than 100 times in his presence, at Simpson-Bruckheimer and elsewhere; that Harmon had given him stolen merchandise from Simpson-Bruckheimer films — leather jackets, caps, T-shirts; and that Harmon had routinely hired limousines and used a messenger service on Simpson-Bruckheimer’s bill for her personal use. It was later revealed that Pellicano had loaned Winberg $4,000 and overpaid substantially for meals and expenses Winberg incurred for the three days he supplied information to Pellicano and Fields.
Most of Harmon’s accusations — and ultimately her entire suit — were dismissed in court. But even Harmon co-workers who found her difficult don’t dispute the truth of her accusations against Simpson. “The charges were all true,” says an assistant who worked alongside Harmon. “They just turned the victim into the criminal.” Harmon was offered settlements of various sizes, but, wanting justice, refused them. In the end, Simpson-Bruckheimer agreed to drop their countersuit if Harmon would go away and remain silent. To this day, she has never spoken publicly about her humiliation. Simpson and Bruckheimer were vindicated.
Copyright © 1998 by Charles Fleming.
From the book High Concept , published by Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc. All rights reserved.