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‘America’ tries on another suit

Art Buchwald, clear outta the way.

Two East Coast scribes have filed yet another lawsuit against the judicially exhausted “Coming to America,” claiming that Eddie Murphy and Paramount Pictures stole the idea from their WGA-registered screenplay.

Attorney Carl Person, representing Theodore Folke and Elisabeth Atnafu, filed a $ 100 million suit Monday against Murphy and Par, alleging a slew of charges, including copyright infringement and breach of contract.

The suit is just the latest in a long line of legal complaints against the pic, which to date has grossed about $ 128 million domestically and more than $ 350 million worldwide but the studio maintains has lost money.

Humor columnist Buchwald was awarded a $ 900,000 settlement (that has grown to $ 1.1 mil) in March 1992 after his much celebrated trial against Par and Murphy based on his 2 1/2 page treatment called “King for A Day.” Buchwald has yet to be paid, because the case is on appeal by Par.

In a 23-page complaint, Person outlined specific details from his clients’ script, “The Ambassador” (and later called “Ambassador-at-Large”) that he says identically match “Coming to America.”

He also claims the script received coverage from Par’s creative staff long before any deal was struck on the movie.

“All the similarities are there from both,” said Person. “It’s the same thing. Our submission was a story about a prince who was rebelling from an arranged marriage and went to Queens to find a bride to take home. That’s ‘Coming to America.’ That’s pretty specific.”

Paramount officials did not return phone calls regarding the lawsuit.

But Pierce O’Donnell, Buchwald’s attorney, said this was the fourth or fifth such suit. He confirmed that “Ambassador-at-Large” received Par coverage that noted the similarity to Buchwald’s treatment.

Person said his clients refrained from filing until this week because they were afraid it was too costly and difficult to prove since Buchwald won his case. He said his clients only filed the suit after reading of the Par coverage in O’Donnell’s book, “Fatal Subtraction.”

Person said Folke and Atnafu, a well-known Ethiopian artist, verbally pitched the script it to an East Coast Par exec in the spring of 1984 as a project for Richard Pryor. The studio told them to rewrite it for Murphy. Person claims they re-submitted it in summer of 1985 as “Ambassador-at-Large.”

Person said that Buchwald’s piece provided the basis for only the idea, while his clients’ script was extremely specific.

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