Singer/actress Ronee Sue Blakley implored a judge today to let a jury decide her defamation suit alleging a former lover based the character of an abusive mother on her when penning the screenplay for the film “What Maisie Knew,” but the screenwriter’s lawyer urged dismissal of the case.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rafael Ongkeko recently issued a tentative ruling in favor of writer Carroll Cartwright, whose relationship with Blakley produced a daughter.
But after a lengthy hearing in which the entertainer acted as her own attorney and repeatedly said there were obvious similarities between her and the film’s character played by Julianne Moore, the judge said he was taking the case under submission.
Ongkeko denied a motion by Blakley to postpone the hearing for a week. The singer said she believed an attorney to whom she had spoken was ready to take her case.
Blakley and Cartwright were a couple from 1982-87, and they had a daughter, Sarah, who was born in 1988, according to the suit filed last April. Blakley alleges Cartwright developed a “deep hatred” for her during a long child custody battle.
The lawsuit alleges the mother character in the 2012 film is a “thinly disguised portrait” of Blakley, now 69.
Blakley said she was about 50 when she was involved in the custody battle for her daughter that she eventually won.
“I looked very much like Julianne Moore; I wish I looked more like her,” Blakley said of the 54-year-old actress.
Blakley told the judge she weighs considerably more today than she did during the custody fight, but at the time was slim like Moore. Blakley said she is often called Ronee Sue and that the Moore character in the film is Susanna.
According to the lawsuit, Cartwright penned the plot for the movie out of spite for Blakley.
“Cartwright wrote the screenplay to further his own feelings of hatred for Blakley by maliciously and falsely portraying her as a selfish, uncaring mother, when in fact she was a devoted and loving parent,” the suit states.
But Cartwright’s attorney, Kelli Sager, said the movie was based on an 1897 novel of the same name by Henry James. She said there are numerous dissimilarities between the lives of Blakley and Cartwright and those of the characters in the book, in which James condemns parents for abandoning their responsibilities to their children.
Sager criticized Blakley for her allegations against Cartwright, who sat in the audience while his attorney and Blakley pitched their arguments to the judge.
“All Ms. Blakley wants to do is malign Mr. Cartwright in open court,” Sager said.
She also said Blakley has been granted many delays in the case and that it was long ago ripe for a final decision. She said the postponements have come at considerable financial expense to Cartwright.
“Simply, your honor, enough is enough,” Sager said. Blakley countered that her actress friend Sally Kirkland, who attended the hearing, was willing to testify that she, too, thought the movie was about the singer and Cartwright.
“Sally Kirkland believed this was about me and that I did those monstrous things,” Blakley said.
She said other friends who saw the movie also thought it was about her relationship with Cartwright.
“The movie was taken scene by scene from our lives,” Blakley said. “When I saw the movie, I was devastated.”
Blakley turned and looked directly at Cartwright during portions of her arguments, prompting the judge to advise her not to address anyone in the audience.
Blakley said after the hearing that she was optimistic the judge will rule in her favor, but she declined further comment.
In his 10-page tentative ruling, Ongkeko said that a typical viewer would not see any similarities between the Susanna character and Blakley.
“Thus, plaintiff has not shown that a reasonable viewer would understand Susanna to be plaintiff,” Ongkeko wrote.
The judge said he was “shocked” that attorneys who previously represented Blakley in the defamation suit attached confidential documents about her child custody fight to their court papers.
Blakley, who told the judge she once toured with Bob Dylan, was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in the 1975 film “Nashville.”
— City News Service
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