March 13, 2000 12:00 PM

Twist, Shout…and Sue

With Michael Bolton and the Isley Brothers, the courtroom hits just keep on coming


In 1992 the Isley Brothers concluded that Michael Bolton had used parts of their 1966 song “Love Is a Wonderful Thing” in his 1991 hit of the same name. So, no surprise, they sued.

Thus began a grudge match that thrives to this day. A Los Angeles jury awarded the Isleys $5.4 million in 1994. Bolton, 47, appealed, claiming he had never heard their tune before he wrote his own. Furthermore, he added, “there are 129 songs with the title ‘Love Is a Wonderful Thing’ registered in the Copyright Office, many of which predate the Isley song and many of which have musical elements common to both songs.”

That appeal is still pending. But then came word that the group’s leader, Ronald Isley, 58, was selling publishing rights to his Isley Brothers melodies in bankruptcy court. Though royalties from the group’s 40 Billboard hits—including “Shout,” “Twist and Shout” and “Fight the Power”—have netted him an average of $600,000 per year since 1995, Isley is deeply in debt to his ex-wife, his Rolls-Royce dealer, the IRS (seeking $5 million in back taxes) and other creditors.

Selling the songs seemed like a painful but necessary step. The surprise came when, in February, an L.A. court received a $5.3 million bid from…Michael Bolton. “What intrigued me was the motivation,” says L.A. Times music writer Geoff Boucher. “Was it a pure stab at revenge or in his mind poetic justice?” Bolton wouldn’t answer questions about his motive, but others have defended him. “Michael is a good guy, a decent guy, a business guy,” says fellow songwriter David Foster, who has penned tunes for Chicago and Whitney Houston. “This deal is about good business.”

Good business or not, in the end it didn’t happen. Financier David Pullman, a self-described “knight in shining armor,” bid $500,000 less than Bolton but won the rights after the judge questioned Bolton’s financing plan. Pullman, with Isley’s support, plans to sell bonds based on future song royalties, as he has with David Bowie’s music.

Lawsuits? Music bonds? It’s enough to make you want to shout—for an aspirin.

Wrong Turn?

Halle Berry may have steered into trouble Feb. 23 when she allegedly left the scene of a serious traffic accident in West Hollywood. “Miss Berry is being considered a suspect in the felony hit-and-run,” says Deputy Steve Flamm of the L.A. county sheriff’s department. The L.A. district attorney’s office will determine if she will be charged. According to Flamm, Berry’s rented Chevrolet Blazer ran a red light and smashed into a 1996 Pontiac Sun-fire on Sunset Boulevard, then left the scene before the police arrived. Berry, who won a Golden Globe this year for Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, required 22 stitches on her forehead; the unidentified driver of the Sunfire broke an arm. “Halle is taking this situation very seriously,” said Berry’s publicist in a statement.

Lawyers Punch Judy

Judge Judy gets high ratings—but not from a couple of legal heavy-weights. Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz and National Judges Association director Harol D. Taylor both blame Judge Judy Sheindlin and her TV imitators for a palpable slump in the legal system’s stature. “Judge Judy is despicable because she presents the image of a judge as a tyrant,” gripes Dershowitz. “Who made her God?” Opines Taylor: “Folks expect the television version when they come before the bench. I think it harms the justice system.”

Judge Judy’s rep rebuts, “People have their own opinions.” But the chorus of complaints may grow louder next season, when at least seven new TV court shows hope to join the six already on the air. Among them: Power of Attorney, featuring former O.J. Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden and, as he puts it, “a bunch of high-powered, overpaid, egotistical lawyers representing real-life cases.”


with Jay Leno

John McCain and George W. Bush both planned to visit Jay Leno’s Tonight Show the week before Super Tuesday’s presidential primary, March 7, a sign that Leno, 49, remains a powerhouse in the face of revived competition from noted heart-bypass patient David Letterman. Why do Leno and politicians mix well? Scoop inquired.

From a joke-potential standpoint, you seem to be fond of George W. Bush.

What’s funnier than a candidate saying, “I can’t remember anything that happened before 1973”? I mean, weren’t you flying jets in the National Guard then? Hello!

What are the rules?

You don’t go after somebody unless they say or do something first. A candidate makes a statement, and then spin doctors put their spin on it, then hopefully a comedian cuts to the quick to get to the heart of the issue.

Ever prep the pols?

Many times I will send a politician a reel of the jokes I have done about them, just so they know what they are up against. And then a lot of times they get comedy writers.

And the funniest is…?

No one is funnier than Bob Dole. Backstage he will throw zingers that a comedy writer would write, but are too mean for the general public.

And the Democrats?

The Bradley-Gore race is kind of like the race between the tortoise and the other tortoise.

Have you ever had a candidate say, ‘Hey, lay off!’?

No, but one time I did a joke about Gore becoming a grandfather and alluded that Clinton might have been involved. I got a call from someone, and I said, You are absolutely right, and it was totally unfair. We don’t go after any family members. I have never done a Chelsea joke.

Do your politics show?

I don’t think anyone can figure out my politics from watching the show.

Have you thought about heart surgery to boost ratings?

Boy, it seems to help. Why not? You do what you gotta do!

All You Need Is Cash

Despite John Lennon’s plea to “imagine no possessions,” one of his fans may drop millions this summer for the piano on which the slain Beatle composed “Imagine.” Internet auction house will solicit bids for the Steinway Lennon bought for about $1,600. Now its anonymous owner may get $2 million. Beatle historian Shelagh Johnston worries that the sale might ship the piano out of the U.K. “It would be sad if it goes to the U.S. or Japan.”



Dan Aykroyd will no longer be California dreamin’ in his Hollywood house, once owned by Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas. Since his series Soul Man met its maker two seasons ago, Aykroyd rarely visits the West Coast, opting to live in Manhattan with his wife, Donna Dixon, and their three children. The old Aykroyd residence—complete with swimming pool, staff quarters and an English garden—is on the market for $2,450,000.

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