By showbiz standards, the marriage of Lesley-Anne Down, 31, and William Friedkin, 46, was a quiet one. When the star of Upstairs/Downstairs and Sphinx wed the director of The French Connection and The Exorcist in 1982, the ceremony received little press. The couple’s divorce, however, is something else. Between them are allegations of adultery, drug use and violence in the vociferous battle for full custody of son Jack. And with attorney Marvin Mitchelson handling the Down side, a deafening decibel level is virtually guaranteed.
The summer’s hot split began in late June. While Friedkin remained in his Bel Air home to work on his new film, To Live and Die in L.A., Down visited her native England with Jack. During her five-week stay, Down (who had an if-you-blinked-you-missed-it marriage in 1980 to Argentinian film technician Henri Gabriel) told Friedkin that she wasn’t coming back.
Why? Down’s lawyer says Down considers Friedkin a “tyrannical, jealous, possessive” browbeater. “She told me he had her followed all over London by a private detective,” says Mitchelson. “He threatened to kill her if she hired a lawyer and filed for divorce.” Whereupon Friedkin—whose 18-month marriage to actress Jeanne Moreau ended in 1979—hired a lawyer, Harry Fain, and filed for divorce on August 5. (Neither Friedkin nor Fain will now comment on the allegations.)
Down returned to California on August 11 and stayed at the Bel Air home of Elizabeth Taylor, her co-star in ABC’s upcoming TV miniseries North and South. Down and Friedkin then met at emergency temporary custody and conciliation sessions on August 13 and 14. Highlights of their appearance, according to Mitchelson, included Friedkin telling the conciliator to shut up, Down running into the hall crying and Friedkin and Mitchelson challenging each other to a fight.
Somehow, the hearing ended amicably with a temporary custody ruling. Jack splits his time between his parents. But this quiet pause probably won’t last past August 30, when the preliminary hearing for a permanent custody decision begins. The date, ironically, is also Jack’s third birthday.
The proceedings are likely to be particularly messy because each parent is questioning the other’s fitness. Down has accused Friedkin of being a neglectful father. On one occasion, she charges, Friedkin was so preoccupied while swimming that he failed to see little Jack jump in the family pool; the boy was underwater at least 15 seconds before Friedkin spotted him. A few weeks ago Friedkin told a London paper that he’s seeking full custody “because of a series of incidents in and out of the baby’s presence that reflect poor parental judgment on her part, such as alcohol, cocaine and other drug abuse.” He also claimed to have photographic and eyewitness proof that she committed adultery “in the presence of the child.”
Although Down is planning to file a defamation of character suit, Friedkin has maintained that his allegations weren’t meant as “a vendetta. I don’t want to see Lesley-Anne punished. She needs help for these problems. I feel very concerned because she’s forgotten how to be a parent.”
In true lotusland fashion, Friedkin insists, “none of this means I don’t love Lesley-Anne, because I do.”