20.8.05

Brando's former assistant files $1 million suit over oral agreement

KRT Wire

BY JEFF COLLINS
The Orange County Register
Thu, Aug. 18, 2005

SANTA ANA, Calif. - (KRT) - Alice Marchak's secretarial job had some unusual duties.

The Newport Beach, Calif., woman helped manage her boss's household as well as his "numerous financial, personal and career crises." She helped raise his son, becoming the boy's legal guardian. And, according to a recent magazine article, she even cared for her employer's suicidal girlfriends.

Her boss was the late actor Marlon Brando, and Marchak says Brando rewarded those efforts by giving her an Orange County house overlooking Upper Newport Bay and a beachside bungalow on the Tahitian island of Bora Bora.

But Marchak is now suing Brando's estate. She seeks $1.07 million for the real estate plus personal papers and documents she left at Brando's Mulholland Drive home before he died last summer.

An attorney for Brando's $21.6 million estate declined to comment on the litigation. Calls to three executors - film producer Mike Medavoy, business manager Larry Dressler and friend Avra Douglas - were not returned.

The curious hook in the litigation is that Marchak has nothing in writing backing up her claims. The lawsuit, filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, states that Brando failed to repay $485,000 that he got from selling the Newport Beach home. And, the suit states, Brando gave the Bora Bora property to Marchak - only with his word, not in writing.

He kept the title to the property in his name as a tax write-off, the suit claims. Marchak declined to be interviewed, citing the pending lawsuit. Although her attorney Joel Pipes declined to detail how he plans to prove that those oral contacts are binding, he said, "There is evidence to support our claims."

The case is just the latest in a series of squabbles and lawsuits erupting in the wake of Brando's death at 80 on July 1, 2004. In April, Brando's former business manager - Jo An Corrales of Kalama, Wash. - sued his estate for sexual harassment and wrongful termination, alleging that she was subjected to a hostile work environment and that Brando exposed himself, touched her inappropriately and insisted she watch pornographic films with him.

Corrales also claimed that she and Marchak were wrongfully removed as co-executors of Brando's will 12 days before he died. Brando biographer Peter Manso wrote in "Playboy" magazine last month that "his estate was hit with a flood of lawsuits" in the past year, including demands for payment of unpaid business costs and commissions, as well as property claims by other associates to whom he supposedly promised buildings.

"Brando had lived - personally and professionally - what could charitably be called a messy life," Manso wrote.

In Marchak's lawsuit, the 85-year-old woman described her nearly 50-year personal and business relationship with the actor, starting when she began working as Brando's secretary in 1956. Her duties changed when she later became legal guardian to Christian Brando, the actor's eldest of 11 children, but the suit says she continued working as Brando's personal manager and assistant. Her official employment ended in the 1980s, Marchak claimed, but she continued serving as a consultant until his death.

The lawsuit said she still had a home office at his Mulholland Drive residence when he died. The suit says Brando "orally conveyed" the two properties to Marchak in 1977 "as part consideration for her services." He kept the deed to the Bora Bora property in his name and shared title with Marchak to the three-bedroom Newport Beach home so he could claim tax deductions.

Brando and Marchak each paid $10,000 down on the Newport Beach home, the suit said. "(But) he never lived there, nor did he ever step foot on the property," said Marchak's lawyer, Pipes of the firm Peter Linden and Associates. "She was always the intended true owner of the house, 100 percent."

In 1998, however, Marchak agreed to let Brando sell the home to help him through a cash-flow crunch, the suit said. Brando ended up with the $485,000 that the buyers paid for the house, promising repeatedly until his death to either return the money or buy her another home. Marchak is using a lawsuit to try to gain control of the documents and personal papers, the Bora Bora bungalow and the proceeds from the Newport Beach sale.

There's also a separate legal claim against Brando's estate seeking cash reimbursement for those items. Although Marchak has nothing in writing, the suit says, she "was in possession of the property," and that's enough to support her claim. Brando, the suit said, "had a reputation for making such oral promises."

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© 2005, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).

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