- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

LOS ANGELES

Studio bosses Brad Grey and Ron Meyer have scaled Hollywood’s ruthless ranks to become two of the most powerful men in the entertainment industry.

On their way to the top, both enlisted the help of private eye Anthony Pellicano, who is accused in a federal indictment of wiretapping celebrities and others to dig up dirt to help clients in legal disputes. Federal authorities have looked into Mr. Pellicano’s links to the two executives as part of their ongoing investigation. Neither has been charged, but the unwanted attention has come at a critical time.

Mr. Grey, chairman and chief executive of Paramount Pictures, is trying to revive the studio, which struggled under previous leadership. Mr. Meyer, president of Universal, has been working to steer his company through a succession of corporate owners.

“It is a major distraction for them at a time when they have lots of other important business issues to deal with,” media analyst Harold Vogel said. “No one can be happy in being associated with this.”

Both executives have been questioned by the FBI and testified before a federal grand jury. They denied wrongdoing.

Mr. Grey, 48, declined further comment through studio spokeswoman Janet Hill. In April, he received a vote of confidence from executives of Viacom Inc., Paramount’s parent company. Mr. Meyer’s camp said his relationship with Mr. Pellicano was more personal than professional.

The two men have been friends for more than a decade. Mr. Meyer once offered to pay for the schooling of Mr. Pellicano’s autistic son and visited the private eye in prison while he served a 2-year sentence for possession of explosives.

Fourteen people have been charged so far in the case, with six pleading guilty to a variety of charges, including conspiracy and wire fraud. Federal prosecutors have said more charges would be filed before the start of trial in October.

Among other things, Mr. Pellicano is accused of wiretapping Hollywood stars such as Sylvester Stallone and paying two police officers to run names, including those of comedians Garry Shandling and Kevin Nealon, through a government database. Prosecutors have been interested in two lawsuits filed against Mr. Grey in which his attorney, Bertram Fields, used the services of Mr. Pellicano. Mr. Fields, one of the most feared litigators in Hollywood, has acknowledged being a subject of the wiretapping investigation and denied being involved in any illegal activity.

The first lawsuit was filed in 1998 by Mr. Shandling, who accused Mr. Grey, his former manager, of taking excess commissions and fees from the HBO hit “The Larry Sanders Show.” The federal indictment said a Los Angeles police officer took bribes from Mr. Pellicano to run Mr. Shandling’s name through a government database. Six months later, Mr. Shandling settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount.

Mr. Grey and Mr. Meyer both built their reputations by spotting and grooming talent. Mr. Grey scouted comedians in New York before heading to Los Angeles and teaming with agent Bernie Brillstein to form a production company. Mr. Grey also was behind the “The Larry Sanders Show” and “The Sopranos.” He produced such films as “The Wedding Singer” and “Scary Movie” and helped broker “Mission: Impossible III” — only to see the Tom Cruise high-octane thriller sputter at the U.S. box office with a little more than $130 million.

Mr. Meyer co-founded Creative Artists Agency with several other talent agents in the mid-1970s. The talent agency became one of the most powerful in the nation, signing such A-list stars as Mr. Cruise, Al Pacino and Warren Beatty. Since Mr. Meyer took over at Universal, the studio has gone through three owners — Canadian liquor distributor Seagram Co., the French media company Vivendi and now NBC parent General Electric Co.

Once one of the most profitable studios, Universal has had several hits this year, including “The Break-Up,” with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, which is approaching the $100 million mark. Last year, its remake of “King Kong” grossed about $550 million in theaters worldwide.

No matter how their studios perform, some observers believe the reputations of Mr. Grey and Mr. Meyer will suffer because of their associations with Mr. Pellicano.

“They will have a cloud over their heads,” said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School and a former federal prosecutor. “It’s a long-term stain.”

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