David Begelman, who was forced out as president of Columbia Pictures Corp. in 1977 because of check-forging charges, is currently involved in "serious discussions" with MGM about taking over the operation of that studio.
"If this works out," Begelman said last night, "I will head up the film division there as its chief operating officer."
MGM senior vice president for marketing Richard Kahn confirmed last night that MGM President Frank Rosenfelt has been negotiating with Begelman, now an independent producer associated with Columbia. Asked why the company would hire an admitted thief, Kahn said, "I have no information on that. You'll have to check with Mr. Rosenfelt," who was on a TWA jet flying to Paris last night.
Begelman, who is known for his loquaciousness, lavish parties and Rolls-Royce, resigned as the head of Columbia Pictures two years ago after actor Cliff Robertson disclosed that Begelman had forged Robertson's signature to obtain $10,000 from Columbia. Begelman later pleaded no contest to a theft charge stemming from the forgery of three checks -- Robertson's and two other checks totaling $30,000.
At the time, Begelman was earning a salary of $500,000.He said that he was in an "emotional crisis" when the forgeries occurred and said in court that he was undergoing psychiatric care.
After Begelman's resignation, Columbia announced that it considered "the amounts involved in these transactions not material to the company." Begelman returned to work at the studio in two months in his former capacity. The charges against Begelman were reduced to misdemeanors, and he was placed on three year's probation. The charges were ultimately dismissed after Begelman produced a film on the dangers of the drug PCP.
But this reinstatement generated so much negative publicity for the studio that Begelman resigned again. He was, however, immediately retained by Columbia as an independent producer with an income about equal to his former compensation.
"We are merely discussing compensation, options and the like right now," Begelman said last night of his negotiations with MGM. "I would not yet consider this a fait accompli."
MGM -- which created "Gone With the Wind" in the '30s -- has been less conspicuous on the silver screen in recent years. Its last film came out one year ago, with the Christmas release of "The Brass Target," which faded quickly into cinematic history. The studio co-produced "The Goodbye Girl" with Warner Bros. Its last major release was "That's Entertainment, Part II." The company's major income now comes from its casinos and hotel operations.
"I won't be involved with the hotel division at all," Begelman said last night. "And as to the company's film output, I think it's too early to talk about that."