Trial begins over U’s ‘Problem’ child

Is Michael Oliver a real-life problem child? Universal Pictures thinks so, and is suing the tiny 11-year-old “Problem Child” actor for $ 190,000.

In opening arguments Wednesday, Universal attorney Shinaan Krakowsky said the red-haired moppet and his mother broke a promise to make “Problem Child 2” for $ 80,000.

Days before the film’s 1991 production, Krakowsky said, Oliver’s mother demanded $ 500,000 for her son — or the tyke would hike.

The studio agreed to the huge raise only because without him the entire movie would fold, costing Universal $ 4 million, Krakowsky told the Superior Court jury.

The actor, who was nine at the time of the dispute, watched the trial’s start impassively.

Robert DeMarco, the lawyer for Oliver and his mother, Dianne Ponce, said in his opening statement that U still owes the actor $ 350,000. When Ponce renegotiated the contract, he said, she was following standard Hollywood practice because the first “Problem Child” was a $ 51.7 million hit.

Krakowsky derisively described Ponce as “a professional stage mother” and said her last-minute demands were “extortionist” and that she held the film “hostage.”

“She used her son as a weapon by refusing to let him perform in ‘Problem Child 2’ unless Universal Pictures agreed to raise his compensation,” he said.

Universal maintains that Oliver was contractually bound by an earlier signed agreement to earn $ 80,000 for reprising his role. But Ponce believes the actor should have received the same pay as John Ritter –$ 1 million.

She accepted $ 500,000, DeMarco said, after being promised her son would receive $ 250,000 up front and $ 250,000 later in net profits, but she changed her demand to $ 500,000 in guaranteed compensation, which Universal agreed to in a signed contract.

According to court documents, the child also was to enjoy a large motor home during filming, first-class air fare and receive his own television series if the sequel made more than $ 35 million. It did not.

DeMarco said his young client, as part of a cross-complaint, plans to ask for punitive damages because the conduct of Universal toward Oliver was “despicable.”

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