There’s not much of a gray zone in Hollywood. You’re in or you’re out. Films are blockbusters or lackluster. But for a few weeks this summer, the artist primarily known as Austin Powers shimmied at the center of one of the grayest, murkiest conflicts the town has ever seen: Call him Mike Myers, Man of Mystery.
The enigma involved Dieter, the monkey-loving German talk-show host that Myers created during his tenure on Saturday Night Live. Universal and Imagine’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard had once hired Myers to write a feature about the turtlenecked Teuton. Now, two years later, Myers wasn’t ready to go ahead with the project.
Universal sued Myers for breach of contract. Myers promptly countersued for defamation, among other claims. Court documents spilled over with strange insinuations (Myers found the script unacceptable even though he wrote it; Universal had Myers stalked; Myers demonstrated ”inexcusable bigotry”), and the entire industry gleefully hashed out the ambiguous details at every power-breakfast nook in town. Imagine, in a suit of its own, charged that the comic’s conduct was ”selfish” and ”irresponsible.” Myers’ countersuit accused Universal of causing him ”severe emotional distress.” DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg — no stranger to the Tinseltown courtroom circus, having once been dubbed a ”midget” in his own legal fracas with Disney strongman Michael Eisner — was brought in to mediate, but even Katzenberg couldn’t say who got shagged. ”We wanted to help try and make peace if that was possible without regard to anybody being right or wrong,” he said at the time. ”These things usually have as much to do with hurt feelings and misunderstandings as anything else.”
An imbroglio of this magnitude might’ve docked Myers back to the So I Married an Axe Murderer C list among the studios. But for now, it seems he’s managed to shake Dieter’s monkey off his back without losing his smashing status. ”It’s just a matter of picking smart (projects),” said his agent, David O’Connor, insisting that studios were wooing the star throughout the legal weirdness. In fact, Myers is negotiating to play Gong Show loon Chuck Barris in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and he’s mulling over a reported $20 million paycheck to resurrect Inspector Clouseau in a Pink Panther remake. Which suggests that Myers hasn’t lost his appetite for mystery…or absurdity.