The Hollywood reaction was guarded, but actress Raquel Welch exulted today after her $10.8 million verdict against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, hailing it as "an end to people condoning dishonest and arrogant behavior in Hollywood."
Welch, who spent much of the day making appearances on TV talk shows, insisted she had merely been trying to "clear my name" when she sued for $20 million over her firing from the 1980 film "Cannery Row." She was replaced by Debra Winger in the film, which was not a success. "I think my judgment amounted to more sk,1 sw,-1 money than the movie actually grossed," Welch said.
The judgment also included damages from former MGM executive David Begelman and "Cannery Row" producer Michael Phillips.
Welch said she attempted to settle the suit out of court at one point, offering her services to the studio for another film. "I had a great deal of faith in my case, but I didn't want to go through with a lawsuit. When I approached the studio about a settlement, Begelman had already been fired. The legal department still wouldn't give me any quarter. It was always a simple issue. I had a pay-or-play contract; when they fired me they should have paid me off. They ended up spending more money for their lawyers than my original settlement would have been. The reason I followed through on this is that they smeared my name. I had a great deal of faith in the case. However, I was amazed I won on every single count. I would have settled on a win just so I wouldn't have had to explain to people at cocktail parties for the next few years why I'd gotten fired from the film."
*Of "Cannery Row," she said, "All I shot during the movie was long shots and walk-bys. The main reason they fired me was to shift me out to pasture and cover up for their mistakes. They had a first-time director who had gone over budget very early in the movie. They had wanted a name for my part and had approached Debra Winger, who was not as big a star as she is now. When she became available after allegedly turning down the role, I became expendable."
*"In their opening testimony the MGM executives really made me angry by claiming the reason I was doing this following through with the trial was because I was an actress over 40 and generally actresses in that age bracket can't get roles anymore. Burt Lancaster said a nice thing today. He said if this had happened to Dustin Hoffman or an actor of his stature, they would have paid him off and never gone to trial."
Welch has not worked in Hollywood in the past five years. "I don't want to use the term blackball," she said, "but it was obvious I wasn't getting offers that someone with my credits in the business would be receiving. I only got two firm offers during this time. One was to play in a vampire movie and the other was the role of a Nazi anti-Semite. It was obvious that I was not on anyone's prime list for work."
*Welch maintained a low profile in Hollywood during the month-long trial. She went with then-MGM president Ted Turner to a June 4 party in Los Angeles celebrating his CNN network's fifth anniversary. Asked if this may have raised eyebrows in Hollywood, Welch replied that she and Turner were good friends and only discussed the case perfunctorily. "Ted said to me, 'Raquel, am I going to be stuck for this bill? If you win am I going to have to pay for this out of my own pocket?' "
Welch intends to spend the next two weeks answering congratulatory letters and returning phone calls from such supporters as Elizabeth Taylor, who sent her flowers. She expects to revive "some of my film projects that nobody would talk to me about the past few years," and hopes to make an announcement about a specific project in the next month.
*The film community's reaction to the verdict was muted. MGM attorney Christina Snyder said the studio would appeal and expected to be vindicated. David Gerber, chairman of MGM-UA TV Broadcasting, said through his secretary: "The Welch decision doesn't affect any way we do business in this division, so we won't comment on it."
A spokesman for Universal said the studio would have no comment. "I doubt that any studio executive will go on record with a comment. I think they're waiting to see how the town and the media will react."
Rona Barrett, now a correspondent for Mutual Radio Network, said she believes the Welch judgment's primary impact will be as a boon to women in Hollywood. "Raquel stuck up for her rights," Barrett said. "The message she sent is that you can't fire a woman just because she's a woman and just because you think you can get away with it."
Producer David Foster, whose film "Running Scared" is being released by MGM this summer, said he believes there was a deeper reason behind the studio's action. "I think they have a tendency to think that all so-called stars are interchangeable when they cast roles in features. The decision is going to result in a lot of producers, directors and studios becoming more conscientious in their dealings with actors or actresses. They're going to have to think twice about firing somebody once they've started filming. Or else they should pay the person off under the terms of their contract , which is what should have happened with Welch."
Asked whether there will be a backlash against Welch in the wake of the lawsuit, he said, "I hope not. If there's any negative repercussions towards her it would be a shame. She's very good at what she does."
Publicist Michael Levine, who heads his own firm in Hollywood, believes the case will draw attention to Welch and make her an even bigger star. "This proved to a lot of people that she has a lot of courage. I think it will increase media attention or interest in her. The immediate result is that a lot of people will stop and think about what happened and understand that unless you're a star of the stature of a Clint Eastwood, it could happen to anyone."