Columnist Wins Lawsuit Over ‘Coming to America’
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Art Buchwald won his lawsuit against Paramount Pictures on Monday when a judge ruled the humorist’s original script idea was the basis for Eddie Murphy’s box office bonanza ″Coming to America.″
Superior Court Judge Harvey Schneider’s decision means Paramount will have to pay Buchwald a share of profits from the film, which has grossed more than $300 million since its 1988 release.
Buchwald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, filed a $5 million suit against Paramount a year ago, claiming the studio breached a 1983 contract to purchase his script idea.
A second accounting phase of the trial will examine profits on ″Coming to America″ and determine the plaintiffs’ share.
″The court concludes that ‘Coming to America’ is a movie that was based upon Buchwald’s treatment ’King for a Day,‴ Schneider said in a 34-page written ruling.
Buchwald called the decision a victory for writers everywhere.
″I am very, very happy. This thing is not only an important thing for me. I think it’s really important for writers,″ he said in a telephone interview from Washington.
″I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started because those guys play rough, and we beat them. And that makes me very happy,″ Buchwald said. ″I doubt if I want to get involved with Hollywood for some time.″
Paramount issued a statement saying it would appeal Monday’s ruling.
″We don’t think there’s any similarity between these two works - it’s like ‘Godzilla’ and ’Cinderella,‴ said Paramount attorney Robert Draper. ″The only similarity is that both (of the characters in the Buchwald and Murphy scripts) are black.
″We think that the law is clear on it, and we think that the evidence that came in on it was clear and we intend to present that to the appellate court.″
Buchwald attorney Pierce O’Donnell suggested the accounting phase of the trial would ″take the lid off Hollywood creative financing.″ Paramount claims ″Coming to America,″ with its gross profits over $300 million, has shown no net profits.
″If you believe that,″ quipped Buchwald, ″then there’s a wonderful S&L I’d like to sell you.″
O’Donnell said Buchwald and Buchwald’s partner, producer Alain Bernheim, could collect between $5 million to $10 million as their share of the film’s net profits and called the decision a victory for Hollywood’s creative community.
″I’ve never seen such a decisive victory for a writer,″ he said. ″It’s a landmark decision.″
″I am delighted that the little man kicked the big guy,″ added Billy Wilder, a Buchwald ally, the director and co-writer of Paramount’s 1950 classic ″Sunset Boulevard″ and a frequent visitor to the courtroom during the trial.
Schneider emphasized that his decision was not intended to disparage the creative talent of Eddie Murphy, who said he wrote the script.
″The court desires to indicate what this case is and is not about,″ the judge said. ″It is not about whether Art Buchwald or Eddie Murphy is more creative. It is clear to the court that each of these men is a creative genius in his own field and each is a uniquely American institution.″
Schneider stressed that Buchwald’s contract dispute was with Paramount, not Murphy.
Murphy co-star Arsenio Hall testified at the trial that he and Murphy independently conceived the idea for ″Coming to America.″
Schneider found that Buchwald’s idea and Murphy movie were substantially similar.
Buchwald’s 1982 script synopsis optioned by Paramount involved a young member of royalty from a mythical African kingdom who comes to the United States and is deposed in his absence. He winds up in a Washington ghetto working in a fast food restaurant where he meets and marries a young black woman.
In Murphy’s movie, a prince from a mythical African kingdom comes to New York in search of a bride, winds up in a ghetto working in a fast food restaurant, meets a young black woman and marries her.