LAST SUNDAY NIGHT SHOULD HAVE BEEN a triumph for Paramount studio boss Brad Grey. After all, The Sopranos was making its long-awaited return and he’s the show’s executive producer. But the bad news for Brad was that his own Tony Soprano, in this case Anthony Pellicano, was haunting him. By the next morning, Pellicano, at least in the form of a New York Times Page One exclusive, would show up on his doorstep — to remind Grey that there’s always a price to pay for dealing with any devil. The story, which I tipped off Sunday afternoon on Deadline Hollywood Daily (www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com), is the third in a series of big New York Times news breaks — first about Mike Ovitz, then about Bert Fields — and gets into Grey’s alleged ties to Pellicano. (The Los Angeles Times, in contrast to the NYT, to date has taken a typically general look at the case.)
In the article, Grey issued a statement through a spokesperson that he was only “casually acquainted” with thug-for-hire Anthony Pellicano and had “no relationship” with him until the private detective was signed up by Grey’s attorney, super-lawyer Fields, to help in the Garry Shandling lawsuit against Grey. Really, amnesia in this town is becoming an epidemic now that the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles has heated up its wiretapping, blackmail and intimidation investigation of Pellicano by handing out the first indictments, which have so far spared the Hollywood hoi polloi (that is, until billionaire Kirk Kerkorian’s lawyer Terry N. Christensen was charged). Representatives for Ovitz, too, previously said that the ex-Hollywood powermeister’s only dealings with Pellicano were through the law firm, Gorry Meyer & Rudd, that represented Ovitz and his now defunct Artists Management, and it was they who elected to hire Pellicano, not Ovitz. (According to that account, Mike had declined to choose from among a list of investigators the firm recommended to him.)
Yeah, sure, nobody knew anybody.
But I’ve learned that, a few years ago, when Grey was still the head of Brillstein-Grey, his successful talent management and production company, he and the William Morris Agency pitched HBO about doing an original series with the working title Hollywood Dick based on Pellicano’s life and work. Sources tell me that the show included Pellicano as a consultant.
Oh, and then there’s the fact that Bernie Brillstein, Grey’s longtime partner, confirmed to me that the location of the old Brillstein Co., the forerunner to Grey’s firm (and where Grey was mentored from 1986 until 1991, when he became a 50-50 name partner) was just two doors down the hallway from Pellicano’s office in the same 9200 Sunset Boulevard building. Brillstein later took over Pellicano’s space in an expansion.
As for Ovitz, one mogul recalled to me that back in the 1990s Pellicano approached him and said, “Mike Ovitz has asked me to do some work for him.” The mogul said to Pellicano, “Be careful, Ovitz is a scumbag.” Later, the mogul ran into Pellicano, who remembered that conversation and said, “You were right. Ovitz is a scumbag.” Nothing like the pot calling the kettle black.
Maybe Grey’s and Ovitz’s reps should revise their disclaimers.
IT ALMOST DOESN’T MATTER what the NYT’s article said; just the fact that the sitting chairman and chief executive of the Paramount Motion Picture Group has now been dramatically linked by name to Pellicano was a huge shock to the Industry’s system. “With one being everything’s fine, and 10 being Katrina, then this was an 11,” one agency topper explained to me.
Brillstein noted that the NYT’s piece was damaging, not so much for its content — which hewed closely to former Shandling paramour Linda Doucett’s point of view — but simply for its existence and prominence. “There was no reason for the article,” he said. “There was no conclusion. I can’t figure out why they even did it. There’s nothing new that hasn’t been said for the last two years.” Brillstein said he was shut down when he tried to contact one of the reporters, Allison Hope Weiner. “When I called her and said, ‘Is there anything I can do to help you?’ she said, ‘No.’ I could have given her some facts she didn’t have.”
Forget BlackBerrys: Cell phones were burning up on both coasts as major players gabbed with pals, first at the news of the article’s existence, then about the story’s prominent placement. In Tinseltown, as in the movies themselves, perception has always been more important than reality. (A U.K. company began hawking T-shirts imitating the Paramount logo, except instead of the studio name, there was one word: Paranoia.) As one Pelican-flap insider told me: “The missing piece right now is not Ovitz or Fields. Ovitz is yesterday’s news, and Bert is a 78-year-old lawyer. It’s Brad, especially since he’s a recently appointed studio boss.”
The Industry chatter focused on how this is going to play with Grey’s bosses, Tom Freston and Sumner Redstone, whether Brad can do his job if he becomes the focus of the feds, and who at DreamWorks (newly acquired by Grey for Paramount) will step into his place. Worse, the NYT’s article rehashed just what an alleged sleaze ball Brad had been to his client Shandling and to Doucett. That’s to be expected since the story was almost entirely written from her perspective, which itself is troubling. As Brillstein told me: “I have my own opinion of Garry Shandling. I’ve always said not good things about him. And now Linda Doucett is involved, it’s getting crazier and crazier. They were allegedly not the most rational people.”
Fans of the old HBO series The Larry Sanders Show will remember Doucett as the former model who played busty blond secretary Darlene Chapinni. She was fired when she and Shandling broke up, and she subsequently filed lawsuits against him, Grey and the show. Shandling was a very close pal and an important client of Grey’s, whose company put together and ran the Sanders series. Then, the two men fell out in a nasty legal wrangle over Shandling’s charges of conflict of interest.
Fast-forward to a few weeks ago: Suddenly, Doucett finds herself The New York Times object of desire. The reason is that the paper turned again to Frontline correspondent Lowell Bergman to pump up the Pellicano volume. Bergman had been the bigfoot brought in by the NYT back in 2003 when the Pellicano story first broke. But the probe dragged on without indictments, and Bergman eventually returned to more pressing matters. Now back on the case, he recalled a two-year-old tip from a prominent show biz player that Doucett would be a font of information if she would cooperate. Big if. Especially because the FBI was trying to keep quiet everyone who’d been told that Pellicano had targeted them. She, Shandling and some of their friends and associates were said to have been victims of The Pelican’s wiretapping, unauthorized police background checks, the works.
Bergman, using a go-between, I’m told, tries to corral Doucett. She keeps her distance. Life’s been hard for her. The comedienne’s show-biz career was DOA after her lawsuits. Finally, two weeks ago, after much soothing and schmoozing, the reporting duo of Allison Weiner and David Halbfinger sit down with Doucett for an interview. The reporters come very prepared: They have court transcripts and legal depositions from the previous lawsuits involving Doucett (both were settled) and also the battle between Shandling and Grey over The Larry Sanders Show, etc. By now, though, Shandling and Doucett have made up and become friends again, so Doucett was privy to inside information about Shandling’s side of the case.
What’d she give them? Not much more than a by-now all-too-familiar soap opera of Hollywood greed and power plays. But the story contains hardly anything new about The Pelican.
Yes, the FBI has interviewed Grey; yes, he’s testified before the grand jury investigating Pellicano. But so have other Hollywood figures. Is there or is there not Pellicano tape of him? Did he or did he not sign something before he could get the Paramount job saying he had no knowledge of Pellicano’s wiretapping? The Times story doesn’t begin to answer these questions. Either Brad is squeaky clean and it’s just unfortunate his name is being bandied about, or else he’s up to his eyeballs in it, or else the truth lies somewhere in between. No matter which, he’s compromised at least in The Industry’s eyes.