You Don’t Want To Do This

How Anthony Pellicano talked Dominick Dunne out of getting revenge.

Dominick Dunne 

Old Wounds: Veteran crime reporter Dominick Dunne has the misfortune to know about murder firsthand: His daughter, Dominique, was strangled by her former boyfriend in 1982. Her killer, John Thomas Sweeney, was released from prison after serving only two and a half years. It goes without saying that her father was enraged when Sweeney got off so lightly. Dunne has disclosed previously that, at the time, he hired now-imprisoned private investigator Anthony Pellicano to keep track of Sweeney, who changed his name to John Maura and resumed his career as a chef. But now Dunne has shared something new with your Hollywoodland correspondent: He didn’t initially intend simply to keep tabs on Sweeney. He reached out to Pellicano—who was then not at all the famous character that he became—to help him put a contract out on Sweeney’s life.”I was nuts at that time with rage and hate that the guy who strangled my daughter for five minutes until she was dead got out in two and a half years,” Dunne says. “I truly went through a period of wanting to hire somebody. I know, it seems absurd now. … But I worshipped my daughter. I just became obsessed with this guy getting out of prison. I wanted harm to come to him.”Dunne, now covering the Phil Spector trial, didn’t expect Pellicano to do the deed but to arrange it. But whatever Pellicano may have done in later years with respect to alleged wiretapping, racketeering, and so on, in this instance he did a good deed. Dunne—who says visiting Pellicano’s office was like being in a B movie—found the private eye to have a sympathetic ear. He had followed his daughter’s case. “He understood my feelings,” Dunne says. “He said something to the effect of, ‘Dominick, you don’t want to do this.’ He was so kind to me. … I was willing to be talked out of it.”In retrospect, Dunne thinks he simply had a fantasy common to parents who have lost a child to violent crime. He feels sure he would not have pulled the trigger, so to speak, had Pellicano agreed to help him. And at this point, of course, he’s well-satisfied that he turned to chronicling crime instead of perpetrating it. For a time, Pellicano kept track of Sweeney at Dunne’s behest. Dunne says his intent was to warn Sweeney’s girlfriends about his violent past. But Dunne was having career problems then and Pellicano finally said, “Dominick, you can’t afford me. But I’ll keep my eye on him for you.”Dunne has had a few encounters with Pellicano over the years since: during the murder trial of the Menendez brothers and at a candlelight vigil for apparent O.J. Simpson victim Ron Goldman. On the night before Pellicano went to prison, Dunne got an unexpected but not unwelcome call from him to say goodbye. (Pellicano’s lawyer didn’t repond to a query about his dealings with Dunne.) As for Sweeney, Dunne lost track of him some time back. “I don’t know where he is,” he says. “I don’t want to know where he is. … It’s much healthier. I just hope something terrible happens to him before he dies.”

Aug. 16, 2007

J.K. Rowling

Muggles:  For journalists condemned to write about Hollywood, August may be the cruelest month. Sure, there have been news explosions in Augusts past—Sumner Redstone fired Tom Cruise in August, God bless him. Years back, Michael Eisner fired Jeffrey Katzenberg in August. Elvis died in August. But so far, this August hasn’t moved us.

What do we have to work with here? It may be a sign of trouble ahead that Goldman Sachs has withdrawn its commitment to raise $1 billion for a batch of MGM movies, so we’ll keep an eye on that. But we can’t get excited about the drama of Ed Limato leaving ICM. There’s a molecule of entertainment value in agents doing each other dirty, but why do we care which agency made Ed’s deal? (William Morris, if you do care.) OK, Limato’s got Denzel Washington, which has to be a decent business. But is Mel Gibson paying some kind of big commission these days? He hires himself to make his movies and supposedly coughs up 5 percent if and when he’s hired to act. It’s been a long time since What Women Want, friends, and we’re not so sure that many women want him any more. As for Limato’s other clients, is Richard Gere paying big dividends? And we’re interested in what happens to ICM and William Morris because … ?

So we turn for amusement to amusement parks. The details that follow here are not entirely news if you follow Disney obsessively, as does blogger Jim Hill. But it slipped past us at the time and most everyone else as well.

In June it was finally made official that Universal will create a Harry Potter attraction in Florida. The Los Angeles Times reported  that this will enable Universal at last to challenge Disney’s dominance there. It was mentioned that Disney had tried to make the deal. But Hill had the real dish. His under-the-radar report gave some details on Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling’s ideas on how this attraction would work. And it said that Disney concluded the project would be an expensive nightmare.

Rowling’s vision supposedly was that each person would enter through the Leaky Cauldron, tap on a brick, gain access to Diagon Alley, then proceed to a platform in a version of King’s Cross station and take a train to Hogwarts. Disney figured it would have had to build multiple Leaky Cauldron entrances to cycle in small groups every two minutes. Admission to the attraction envisioned by Rowling would have run north of $800 per person. Disney’s thought it might be able to drive the cost down a bit to make it comparable to Anheuser-Busch’s Discovery Cove, where folks pay a few hundred bucks to swim with dolphins. But in the end, Disney and Rowling could not come to terms.

The fact that Disney was also shelling out big bucks for Pixar at the time might well have colored the company’s thinking. As we look back, the situation reminds us of Disney’s attempt to lure another persnickety British writer of children’s books into a deal. Some time in the ‘80s, the company negotiated with Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers into approving a sequel. At the time, an internal memo leaked (to us, we’re glad to say) in which Marty Kaplan—then a Disney executive and now at the USC Annenberg School for Communication—described Travers as an impossible tippler who couldn’t stand Dick Van Dyke as Bert. No Mary Poppins 2 materialized.

It’s unclear whether Universal’s Harry Potter plan includes the elements that scared Disney off the deal. But Universal seems to have worked things out with Rowling in part through the fabulous diplomacy of Ron Meyer and in part by hiring Stuart Craig, the Oscar-winning production designer who worked on the Potter films and has Rowling’s confidence. (Disney was said to be reluctant to link itself too closely with the movies, which are made by Warner Bros.)

Universal is mum on how much its attraction will cost. The last book is out, and by the time Universal gets ready to open, the last movie will be in sight. But the movies are still going great guns. Is there any doubt that the passion of Potter fans will suffice to repay Universal’s investment, whatever it may be?