Exec Richard Saperstein has been caught in sordid love story with a plot straight out of the movies

Although it put the Nightmare on Elm Street movies to bed in 1994, New Line Cinema is still referred to as the house that Freddy Krueger built. Lately, however, New Line seems like the house that Freddy Krueger cursed.

Run by a group of colorful, jeans-wearing execs who think like the mythic Corleones but sometimes act like the bumbling Griswolds, the studio has always been a place where wilder instincts are encouraged both on screen (Seven, The Mask) and off (Michael DeLuca, New Line’s hotshot president of production, once asked for a beer while giving a deposition).

But even New Line’s unflappable mavericks must be embarrassed by the situation that one of their own now finds himself in. In legal papers filed in March, Kearie Peak, 33, former president of the Steve Tisch Co., petitioned an L.A. court to nullify her marriage to Richard Saperstein, 36, New Line’s executive vice president of production, on grounds of bigamy and fraud.

Some say Saperstein’s connubial conundrum couldn’t have cropped up at a more inopportune time. New Line is just recovering from a box office hangover (see chart). The studio only recently emerged from the ego-crushing experience of being put up for sale by its parent company, Time Warner, newly merged with Turner (which purchased New Line in 1994 for $550 million), only to fail to attract any bidders at the reported $1 billion asking price. (TW, which also owns ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, opted to keep New Line instead.) And the news of the bigamy allegations broke right when the surprise success of Austin Powers means an unrepentant swinger became the studio’s newest most valuable player.

Now it’s possible that Saperstein’s sticky personal tumult could gum up a number of studio projects. Although his relationship with Peak will not affect one of their just wrapped projects, American History X (touted as a possible Oscar contender, starring Edward Norton as a skinhead leader), there may be repercussions for the Hughes brothers’ movie From Hell. More damaging, still, is that the Saperstein-Peak story is making the town wonder whether New Line’s naughty-by-nature ethos has, even by Hollywood standards, finally gone too far.

The outlandish tale began four years ago when the duo started dating, quickly becoming one of the industry’s most attractive and upwardly mobile twosomes. She, with a button-cute face and a warm personality, served as president of the Steve Tisch Co., which produced Forrest Gump. He, with the preppy good looks, likable personality, and smooth demeanor of a young politician, moved from an agent’s gig at ICM to an inner-circle job at New Line — where Tisch had a coproduction deal.

According to Peak (Saperstein refuses to go on the record), things between the couple got off to a fast start, then took a bizarre turn. On July 11, 1993, about six weeks into the relationship, Saperstein and Peak eloped to Las Vegas — even though he was still married to his first wife, Dale. What was she thinking? ”I knew he was still married,” Peak admits, adding she believed that after Saperstein was officially divorced, the two would be formally married. ”It makes no sense. I fell in love with him, and you do really stupid things when you fall in love with people and when they’re really good talkers.”