|Motion Picture News, 18-September-1920|
Larry Semon was a big comedy star for Vitagraph, but the studio felt that he was spending too much time and money on his short comedies.
Vitagraph Sues Semon for Heavy Damages
ONE of the largest cases in the history of the United States District Court of Southern California has just been filed by President Albert E. Smith, of the Vitagraph Company of America, who has sued Larry Semon, the famous screen comedian, for a total of $407,338,22. It is alleged the defendant deliberately increased the costs of his productions through delays, carelessness and waste to an unreasonable figure, with the aim of forcing the Vitagraph Company to release him from his contract. Semon, it is said, had a Vitagraph contract for $2,500 weekly when a competing company offered him $5,000.
The suit is unique in that Vitagraph does not ask that it be released from its contract, but insists the star make good the damages and continue his employment.
According to the terms of the contract, filed with the suit, Larry Semon was to make twelve two-reel comedies a year for three years, it is stated. Five pictures have been released, another has just been completed, and Vitagraph declares it is practically impossible for Semon to deliver more than a total of seven pictures during the first year. Semon's latest picture, "The Suitor," figures prominently in the suit inasmuch as it is charged that, aside from the usual studio expenses, more than $80,000 was spent, or approximately $42,000 in excess of what would constitute a reasonable outlay, it is reported. The suit was filed by Attorneys William M. Seabury of New York, General Counsel for Vitagraph, and George W. Fenimore of Los Angeles, resident counsel for the California Company. The legal point involved is said by the attorneys to be whether or not motion picture stars and directors can deliberately and willfully increase the cost of their productions to a prohibitive figure in the hope that the producers will cancel their contracts.
President Smith of Vitagraph, whose arrival from New York was simultaneous with his filing the suit, declares that Larry Semon has been placed in the position he holds as a motion picture star through the opportunities, advantages, and exploitation given him at an approximate expense of $500,000 by the company. It is charged that Semon, when refused his demands for a new contract at more than double the salary of his existing contract, notified his employer that he would do his utmost to avoid further performance of his obligations under the current agreement, and would strive to procure its termination and cancellation prior to the agreed date.
Semon's latest comedy, "The Suitor," not yet on the market, is mentioned frequently. It is alleged Larry Semon employed a company of stock and extra players and caused them to remain idle for a long period. It is further stated that for the short flashes of the dancing girls in the pictures, twenty of them were kept on the payroll for 33 days. Many other alleged wasteful instances are cited and the loss given as $12,338.22. The plaintiff holds that the picture, with reasonable diligence and care on the part of Semon, the director, could have been completed in thirty days, and Semon is said to have occupied eighty-three days.
Mr. Smith bases his greatest demand for damages, $365,000, on the alleged loss sustained because he will receive five less pictures the first year than called for by the contract.