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‘Coming to America’ Case Opens With Buchwald Alleging Plagiarism

December 16, 1989

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Art Buchwald’s attorney said Paramount Pictures stole a story proposal by the humorist and turned it into a hit Eddie Murphy movie that grossed $150 million, without making Buchwald a dime.

In opening statements Friday at the trial of Buchwald’s lawsuit, Paramount’s attorney denied the allegations and accused Buchwald’s lawyer of ″leading Mr. Buchwald and other creative people down a primrose path to destroy this industry.″

Attorney Pierce O’Donnell, who represents the columnist, said Buchwald was victimized by the making of ″Coming to America″ and deserves substantial punitive damages. He is asking for $5 million.

O’Donnell told Superior Court Judge Harvey Schneider he would prove that Paramount took Buchwald’s 1983 script idea entitled ″King For A Day″ and transformed it into the 1988 comedy, which grossed more than $150 million.

Murphy, the attorney said, has already netted $22 million from the film and Paramount collected more than $50 million in distribution fees. But the studio refused to pay Buchwald and producer Alain Bernheim $250,000 plus a small share of profits under their original contract.

An attorney for Paramount, Robert Draper, ridiculed the idea that Buchwald’s script idea was plagiarized.

He said it was so different that it never occurred to Ned Tanen, then head of the studio, that there was any similarity between the two ideas, both of which dealt with an African prince coming to the United States.

Draper said Murphy - who is not a party in the suit - has admitted that he saw Buchwald’s proposal. But Murphy said he couldn’t tell whether it influenced him subconsciously in writing his own script for ″Coming to America.″

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