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Grumpy Old Heirs

7 May, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

Actor Walter Matthau's heirs claim Columbia shorted him 80 percent on home video.

The heirs of actor Walter Matthau have sued Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures, alleging the studios shorted the late actor and his estate 80 percent of their due on home video and some cable distribution of Cactus Flower and California Suite.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the estate in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeks $1 million in compensatory damages, an accounting of receipts from the movies and triple damages, as well as a court order enforcing their position on Matthau's contracts for the movies.

Representatives for the estate allege Columbia underreported revenue from home video by 80 percent and shorted amounts for basic cable screenings in the U.S., foreign cable retransmissions, blank tape royalties and music revenue.

The heirs discovered the discrepancies when they hired an outside auditor in 1999, court papers state.

A Columbia spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.

Along with breach of contract, fraud and negligent representation claims, the lawsuit invokes the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, a conspiracy statute designed to help prosecute mobsters.

Attorneys for the Matthau estate contend the statute applies because the studio "used interstate wires and the United States mails to collect on unaccountable gross receipts related to the films…from [their] offices in California and New York suppliers, providers and distributors located throughout the United States and foreign countries."

Sony is named as successor to Matthau's contracts with Columbia.

Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment recently announced the DVD debut of Cactus Flower.

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