NEW YORK — Every publicist’s nightmare came true on Friday as top Walt Disney flak Xenia Mucha’s name was dragged into the messy Disney shareholder trial.
Surprise twist came when plaintiff’s attorney Steven Schulman peppered Michael Eisner with questions about whether former Disney prexy Michael Ovitz violated company policy in giving Tim Allen a Roy Lichtentesin print of Mickey Mouse.
Eisner — actually coming to Ovitz’s defense — said Ovitz did right by the conglom in doing what was needed to keep Allen on the set of “Home Improvement,” then ABC’s No. 1 show.
“I know I approved gifts. I vaguely remember that I approved a gift to Tim Allen. I can’t remember why Allen was talking about walking off the set, if he even was. He was probably the most important talent to ABC, so if Michael Ovitz was paying attention to him, he was doing his job,” Eisner testified.
“He [Ovitz] didn’t violate company policy as it related to specific gifts for talent. We just didn’t do it like CAA,” Eisner said.
Schulman then asked if Disney had a public relations officer.
“Sitting behind you, Xenia Mucha,” Eisner said. “She’s the beautiful blonde in the back.”
“Does she try to tell the truth to the public and the shareholders?” Schulman asked.
“Yes,” Eisner said.
But Schulman pointed to a May 2004 Los Angeles Times article about a dinner party Ovitz threw for Allen and the Lichtenstein gift. Newspaper piece also discussed a $7,000 Breguet Aeronavale watch Ovtiz said he had given to Bob Iger, the ABC exec who eventually inherited Ovitz’s job as Disney prexy. (Ovitz testified in his deposition that he got the watch at a bargain price of $3,500).
“This is completely ridiculous. These events did not occur,” Mucha said in the article.
Schulman asked Eisner whether he remembered Mucha’s comment.
Eisner, seeming to backtrack, said Ovitz probably had dinner with Allen just in the course of normal “talent relations.” He said the Lichtenstein present wasn’t that big of a deal, and that he learned about the watch later on.
“I have testified that that Michael was quite secretive…so it was quite possible he did some things I didn’t know about,” Eisner testified.
Ovitz testified earlier that former Disney general counsel Sandy Litvak scolded him for giving the $1,200 print to Allen.
Friday, Schulman was trying to make the point that Ovitz operated outside the normal channels in making such gifts, proof of his troubled run as Eisner’s No. 2. Shareholders say the Disney board never vetted Ovitz’ hire and that it was wrong to give him a $140 million severance package.
Eisner said Ovitz just didn’t understand that studios did business differently from an agency.
“You come to learn that you can’t over-flatter talent. He dealt only in talent,” Eisner. “On occasion, he was right about a lot of it. This is not an issue. I promise, it wasn’t an issue.”
Finally, Eisner denied that he ordered an investigation of gifts Ovitz had given when Ovitz left Disney.
Eisner did concede that while Ovitz may not have violated Disney’s gift-giving policy, he didn’t always get it.
“I actually got one of those lithographs. I had to then go and pay for it. He didn’t get it. He was the expensive friend I had. I once had to pay for a treadmill he gave me after my heart surgery,” Eisner said. “I give fruit. I’m cheap.”