With her Farrah Flip and her cool air of Hollywood know-how, Jennifer Martin, 32, might easily be mistaken for one of Charlie’s Angels. But to the producers of ABC’s long-running jiggle show, attorney Martin is causing an ungodly amount of trouble. The problems began last fall, when she decided to question some irregularities she had observed in her job as an ABC contract lawyer. In so doing, she may have drawn the veil from one of the most potentially explosive TV scandals since the quiz show tampering of the ’50s. What aroused her suspicions turned out to be an alleged scheme by Charlie’s Angels’ producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg to defraud Robert Wagner and his wife, Natalie Wood, of more than $500,000 in profits due them as co-owners of the series.
Martin first became concerned after she noticed that the bill submitted to ABC for each episode of Charlie’s Angels listed $30,000 for “exclusivity”—the network’s right to have first crack at any program produced by Spelling-Goldberg. Martin was puzzled because she knew that ABC had already paid for exclusivity. Then she discovered that the same mysterious amount had been paid—under various guises—every week for two years. She learned that Wagner and Wood were entitled to 45 percent of the profits from Charlie’s Angels, but had received not a penny of the unexplained payments.
Martin’s superiors at ABC quickly became impatient with her persistence in the matter. “You know what that money is for?” Martin claims ABC Vice-President Ronald B. Sunderland told her. “They’re [doing] the Wagners out of their money.” When she threatened to take her case to higher authorities at ABC, Martin says Sunderland replied: “Everyone’s been told that needs to be told. They’ve been told to pay the money, and they will.” Shortly afterward, Martin was fired.
Spelling and Goldberg, meanwhile, dismiss Martin’s accusations as the unfair testimony of an angry ex-employee. Their Beverly Hills lawyer, J. William Hayes, says, “Insofar as the question of cheating Bob Wagner is concerned, there’s no truth in it at all.” Hollywood skeptics wonder. “If it’s true,” said veteran movie accountant Sid Finger, “I’m not surprised. I find the level of morality in television similar to that of movies.”
Some insiders insinuate, unfairly, that Jennifer Martin’s indignation may be merely a product of her own naiveté. Born in Los Angeles, she grew up in the little desert town of Quartz Hill, Calif., where her parents owned a market. She graduated from USC in 1969 and spent several years working with mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed children. Later she enrolled at Loyola University Law School in L.A., passed the bar exams in New York and California and worked for two years with a firm in Manhattan before moving to ABC in 1978. “She’s a very nice, very straight woman,” says a onetime associate. “I doubt if many young lawyers would have had the courage to do what she has, because there is no question that this could backfire on her. One terrible thing about whistle blowers: People tend to be afraid of them.”
Undaunted, Martin has moved into the office of her husband, show business lawyer Barry Rose, and is establishing her own private practice. Her charges are being investigated by the Los Angeles DA’s Entertainment Task Force, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into the relationship between ABC and Spelling-Goldberg. “It’s not a question of Jennifer going out on a limb,” says husband Barry of her attack on possible white-collar film-flammery. “It’s doing what has to be done. Watergate really gave lawyers a fresh insight into the principles of law and what happens when you don’t adhere to them.”