In October of last year, John Connolly attended the Los Angeles premiere party for New Line Cinema’s film about the 1970′s porn industry, Boogie Nights , at a restaurant across the street from Mann’s Chinese Theater. There, according to sources familiar with the situation, Mr. Connolly walked up to New Line chairman Robert Shaye and introduced himself. The film mogul responded, said the sources, by running away.
Mr. Shaye’s reaction may not seem like such an extreme move come the week of June 8, when the July issue of Premiere magazine hits the stands. Contained in the issue is the result of Mr. Connolly’s eight-month investigation of what he terms in his piece New Line’s “fast-and-loose corporate culture,” specifically the actions of Mr. Shaye, New Line president Michael Lynne and production chief Michael De Luca.
Recriminations from the New Line camp are already airborne, though, in the wake of a June 1 article in the New York Post (“Movie Moguls Cross the Line”) that contained excerpts from the Premiere piece.
“Pure garbage” is how New Line vice president of corporate publicity Steve Elzer termed the Premiere story. He then told The Transom that “In response, we are considering all of our options to protect New Line against this kind of malicious and irresponsible journalism.”
To the contrary, Premiere editor James Meigs and other sources at the magazine said that the publication made every effort to deal fairly and responsibly with New Line and with the high-powered public relations and law firms that have come to the film company’s defense. He said that since Mr. Connolly began reporting his piece in September 1997, he and editors and researchers at Premiere have made numerous entreaties to New Line officials (including Mr. Connolly’s attempt to introduce himself to Mr. Shaye at the Boogie Nights premiere) to keep them up to speed and to seek their comments. “We went the extra mile both to keep them posted on the kind of material that we were uncovering and to request their participation,” said Mr. Meigs. “In the end, they chose not to [cooperate].”
Asked why New Line ultimately did not cooperate with Premiere , Mr. Elzer said, “From the moment we had our first contact with John, his questions about our company were trash. Full of trash.”
Mr. Connolly denied this. “That’s an absolute lie,” he said, adding, “Steve Elzer was rude and abusive from the very first time I spoke with him.” The writer, who has done numerous investigative pieces, notably for Spy and New York magazines, said, “It’s a case of powerful men trying to cover their misdeeds by using high-power flacks and guerrilla lawyers to either kill the story or water it down.”
By most accounts, the hired flacks and lawyers did not get involved in the process until April, nearly seven months after Mr. Connolly began work on his piece. In January, Ken Lerer, a partner in the public relations firm of Robinson, Lerer & Montgomery, had been retained by New Line. In April, according to a source familiar with the situation, Mr. Lerer turned his attention to the Premiere story.
Sources at Premiere said that Messrs. Lerer and Elzer met with editors on April 15. Among Mr. Lerer’s suggestions was that Premiere ‘s editors and legal counsel meet with Stu Baskin, an attorney at the law firm of Sherman & Sterling. For some reason, this never occurred. Meanwhile, Mr. Connolly’s piece was in the late stages of the editing process. In early May, however, the magazine’s research department drafted a letter outlining allegations that were made in Mr. Connolly’s piece. These were submitted to Mr. Lerer in hopes of getting a response. A law firm replied to the letter, but it was not Sherman & Sterling. Instead, Premiere received a response from Leslie Gordon Fagen, an attorney the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. Sources familiar with the letter said that what’s interesting about it is that Mr. Fagen identified himself as an attorney for Messrs. Shaye, Lynne and De Luca, rather than as counsel for New Line.
Mr. Connolly alleges in his piece that “New Line’s top executives can, at times, cross the line between dubious personal behavior and professional liability.” He then goes on to back up his premise with numerous quotes and incidents cited by anonymous sources. One producer calls Mr. Shaye “an angry, mean-spirited man who drinks too much.” An incident is also recounted that depicts the New Line chairman “passed out on a couch outside the dining room” of a 1992 New Line conference dinner.
As for Mr. Lynne, who is married, Mr. Connolly reports allegations of sexual misconduct. The writer recounts one incident at the Cannes Film Festival when Mr. Lynne allegedly arrived at the hotel room of one now-former New Line executive. “Once there, Lynne threw himself on top of her, kissed her on the mouth and breathlessly told her, ‘You know we’re meant for each other.’” When the executive pointed out that Mr. Lynne was married, he allegedly said that “she wasn’t married, so what was the problem?”
Mr. De Luca, who earlier this year was embarrassed by media accounts of him being caught in flagrante delicto at a pre-Oscars party given by William Morris Agency president Arnold Rifkin, gets his share of scrutiny from Mr. Connolly. He writes that at a 1996 corporate retreat, Mr. De Luca “passed out hallucinogenic mushrooms to his guests, who partied till the next morning.”
Mr. Fagen’s letter responded to these allegations and Premiere ‘s editors included the responses in the piece. “An attorney for De Luca denies that he has ever taken drugs on New Line retreats,” Mr. Connolly writes. “‘[Mr. Shaye] engages only in recreational drinking in the ordinary course,’” read one letter.
“Our reporting turned up massive amounts of information and details,” said Mr. Meigs. “We were careful to sift through all of it and use only those examples that clearly took place in a professional context. We really weren’t interested in what people do in the privacy of their own homes.”
Although Mr. Connolly dug up plenty of dirt on the three executives, the piece is balanced with positive information. For instance, writer-director Hugh Wilson calls Mr. De Luca “the best movie executive I’ve ever met,” and the piece notes that, in contrast to some of the embarrassing antics that have plagued the company, New Line is having a good year financially–unlike one its sister companies. New Line’s “market share now exceeds that of another motion-picture concern under the Time Warner umbrella, a little studio called Warner Brothers.”
“One of the things that we wanted to examine was how the corporate culture of [New Line], which had been formed during the wild days of the 70′s, could have survived in the much more buttoned-down, Perrier-sipping ethos of the 90′s,” said Mr. Meigs, “particularly once the company became folded into Time Warner,” a place known for its tight-assed corporate culture.
Added Mr. Meigs: “The question of whether Time Warner will reassess New Line’s style or ways of doing business remains to be answered.”
“I think that the fundamental misconception on their part is that they have a right to a view, that this is somehow a village green,” said David Eagan of his neighbors in the East Hampton hamlet of Wainscott. But the right to a view, he noted, “is not recognized by law.”
Mr. Eagan, a politically connected partner at the Park Avenue firm of Battle, Fowler L.L.P., wants to build a horse-farm complex on land he owns in Wainscott. Mr. Eagan’s neighbors, among them the eco-horror novelist Arthur ( The Swarm ) Herzog, want to block him from blocking their million-dollar vacation-home views.
“We’re the only little place left that has open spaces,” said Leslie Mandel, a dealer in aerospace equipment who lives with Mr. Herzog and raises cockatiels that fly free in parts of their house, lending a rain-forest-like quality to phone conversations with her. “From the second story, you can see the ocean,” Ms. Mandel said.
Mr. Eagan, who heads up the Citizen’s Advisory Committee, Wainscott’s equivalent to Manhattan’s community boards, has led crusades against airport expansion and against a Hess gas station that wanted to open up a convenience store. His plan, which would involve building a 7,200-square-foot indoor riding barn, a turnaround for horse trailers and several other buildings on the 14-acre tract, is supposed to fall within the zoning category of agricultural use. The neighbors heard about it in February and have been fighting it since. “This is not farming,” Francine Lembo, an attorney who is a neighbor of Mr. Herzog and Ms. Mandel, wrote in a letter to the East Hampton Star in March. “It may be animal husbandry, since there are animals involved, and the husband is paying for it, but it’s not farming.”
Ms. Lembo was alluding to the fact that Mr. Eagan is the husband of Mary Ann McCaffrey. The McCaffreys go back 13 generations on the East End and control various town government positions. Mr. Eagan’s father-in-law is a town trustee, and his mother-in-law is a former town council member who appointed him to the local community board. The Citizen’s Advisory Committee, headed by Mr. Eagan, in turn appointed his mother-in-law to sit on its board when the horse farm proposal came before the group last fall. (Mr. Eagan did recuse himself from the debate.) In the end, the committee declined to take a position on the proposal, and now the farm’s fate is up to the town’s Planning Board.
On June 1, Mr. Eagan told The Observer that he’d just submitted a revised proposal that would rearrange the buildings in order to minimize the view-blocking. He waved aside his neighbors’ concerns as “self-serving and disingenuous.” Whichever way the Planning Board rules, many people expect that the issue will end up in court.
“I have 18 birds,” said Ms. Mandel. “One of them had a stroke because a German shepherd came by. He banged into the window, and it took me a year to get him to fly again. What’s going to happen if a horse goes by?”
The Transom Also Hears
… Loyal viewers of The Larry Sanders Show may have noticed in the series finale on May 31 that the episode contained more than one celebrity member. It was a scene involving David Duchovny, who portrays the squinty-eyed conspiracy theorist F.B.I. agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files . Mr. Duchovny, who in an earlier appearance on the show seemed to want to get to know Larry a little better (he invited Larry to his beach house; Larry freaked), appears in the finale to have forgotten to wear any underwear beneath his bathrobe. At press time, Mr. Duchovny could not be reached for comment, but a source familiar with the production of the episode said that the actor was indeed in skivvies.
Follow Frank DiGiacomo via RSS.