I don't do gossip. Usually. But when a screenwriter gets sued for $3 million by his former lover claiming she was falsely and maliciously portrayed in Carroll Cartwright’s screenplay for the 2012 screen adaptation What Maisie Knew starring Julianne Moore and Alexander Skarsgard, I can't help but pay attention. The film came out across the country last year - I told you how I absolutely loved it - but Carroll Cartwright's former lover, Ronee Sue Blakley, a composer, musician and actor who may be best known for playing Barbara Jean, the music queen on the way down in Robert Altman's Nashville was less than a fan. Apparently Blakley, nominated for a Golden Globe, BAFTA and an Academy Award for her performance in Nashville, saw a bit too much of herself in What Maisie Knew and she's mad as hell about it.
So mad she doesn't mind trotting out her own resemblance to the less than fit mother, Moore presented in the film. Can you imagine going to court to prove what a slacker mom you are? “The primary thrust of the lawsuit is simple,” Deadline reports, along with the details of the 15-page suit, requesting a jury trial. “Cartwright wrote the screenplay to further his own feelings of hatred for Blakley by maliciously and falsely portraying her as a selfish and uncaring mother, when in fact she was a devoted and loving parent. This false depiction of Blakley has damaged her reputation and caused her to suffer severe emotional distress.”
In her lawsuit, Blakley claims that there are many real life parallels in her life and the character portrayed in the film by Moore. In real life, the suit states “Blakley is a musician, singer, songwriter and producer whose career was on the wane,” while the character played by Moore “is also depicted in the film as a musician, singer, songwriter and producer whose career is on the wane.” OUCH!
Writers everywhere will be paying attention to this case; how many authors do you know who pulverize their real life exes and enemies in their fiction? Usually any resemblance to the person, place or thing is properly muddied so no one gets their panties in a twist, and the writer has the cathartic satisfaction of killing off his psychic enemy.
But let's be honest. The friends, family and lovers of any writer know the process, and understand that veiled or not, parts of them may appear in the writer's work. That's what happened back when Carl Bernstein threatened to sue over Nora Ephron's Heartburn, her thinly veiled novel based on their rocky marriage.
Like Bernstein, Ronee Sue saw herself all over Cartwright's work, her suit notes many “striking similarities” between the plot of the film - based on Henry Jame's What Maisie Knew and the real events in Blakley’s life.
Maisie and her reel-life nanny Margo“Blakley and Cartwright had an acrimonious custody battle over Sarah and were not married,” the suit states. “The film is also about an acrimonious custody battle between the parents of a little girl who are not married; Maisie and Sarah both had attractive young foreign nannies – Maisie’s is called Margo, and Sarah’s was called Marisela; in the sleep-over scene, Maisie’s friend starts crying and has to be picked up by her parents. On one occasion when Blakley gave a party for Sarah, one of Sarah’s friends started crying and had to be picked up by her parents; in the film, Maisie burned herself while staying with Beale. In real life, Sarah suffered a burn while she was staying with her father; Sarah had a canopy bed at Cartwright’s residence that is similar to Maisie’s bedroom in Beale’s apartment; in Susanna’s apartment, there is a distinctive statue of a South East Asian goddess, Kwan Minh; Blakley owns a very similar statue; also they both had leather furniture; Susanna sent Maisie flowers while she was staying with Beale. Blakley sent Sarah flowers while she was staying with Cartwright.
Deadline notes that actually winning a 'libel in fiction' case isn't that common, with most being settled one way or another before ever coming to trial. BUT in 2009, a jury in Georgia awarded $100,000 to plaintiff Vickie Stewart after finding she'd been defamed by author and former friend Haywood Smith in the best selling “Red Hat Club.” The suit pointed out more than 30 real life similarities between Stewart and the fictional character portrayed in the book – including the jobs she held and how her husband died and – the jury ruled that the author had also falsely portrayed Stewart as a promiscuous alcoholic.
Ouch! That does sound like a writer doing a real hatchet job on someone they used to call friend. And a warning bell for writers - if you want to portray your former bestie as a 'promiscuous alcoholic' or your ex as a 'selfish and uncaring mother' you're going to have to do a whole lot more to protect yourself than change the character's hair color. What do you all think?
Let's finish off with a look at Julianne Moore playing the rock star in What Maisie Knew, followed by a little Blakley playing the waning country star in Nashville. Enjoy:
Check out the entire Deadline article here.