Baldwin takes stand in Cussler case

Actress-turned-producer asked to testify

Actress-turned-producer Karen Baldwin took the stand Tuesday in Clive Cussler’s breach-of-contract suit against Philip Anschutz’s Crusader Entertainment for an afternoon of adverse questioning about the genesis of the ill-fated “Sahara” film.

Baldwin, who with her husband, Howard Baldwin, an entrepreneur who developed several hockey franchises before turning to producing, first brought Cussler’s Dirk Pitt action adventure novels to Anshutz’s attention in 2000.

Anschutz thereupon bought the rights to Cussler’s “Sahara” for $10 million, with an eye to developing a franchise, and gave Cussler wide script approval rights. While the Baldwins championed Cussler throughout the writing process, they acrimoniously parted ways by the time filming began in 2003.

Called as an adverse witness Tuesday by Bert Fields, who represents Cussler, Baldwin was shown several memos addressing key issues in the case. After a lengthy process during which Baldwin declined to acknowledge that it was her signature on the documents, the jury was shown a memo in which she called $10 million a bargain for a Clive Cussler novel.

Fields also showed her memo in which she had written that all of his novels were New York Times bestsellers and that there were more than 90 million Cussler novels in print. Shortly before trial, Crusader’s lawyers claimed they were misled by sales figures of Cussler’s novels, which, they claim, are closer to 30 million copies.

Fields pointed out that none of the memos mentions a sales figure. On the stand, Baldwin said until that moment she thought sales and the number in print were the same, but Fields showed her a series of emails involving unsuccessful attempts to determine the number of copies sold, in which Baldwin said the number in print alone was important.

Fields began to delve into the long and tortured scriptwriting process, which involved numerous writers and numerous revisions, including drafts by Cussler. In opening statements, Fields said Baldwin kept telling Cussler that Paramount, which distributed the film, loved each script, as well as Cussler’s revisions, leaving him angry and baffled when yet more changes were called for.

On the stand, Baldwin was shown a memo she sent saying that Paramount loved a script written by Jim Hart and revised by Cussler. The script proved to be one of many. On Tuesday, making quotation marks with her hands, Baldwin said she realized in hindsight that when Paramount said they “loved” a script, it meant they wanted more changes.

Trial resumes today with further examination of Baldwin.

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