Universal blames rivals for ''Mind'''s bad press. The studio's chief says competing studios are planting stories to hurt the Russell Crowe film's Oscar chances
Ron Howard, Russell Crowe, ...
Credit: Crowe & Connelly & Howard: Hennessey/Ross/All Action/Retna

”A Beautiful Mind” does such a convincing job of depicting John Nash’s paranoia that the feeling seems to have spread to the film’s producer and distributor. Both are blaming the current wave of unflattering press surrounding the movie on ”Mind”’s Oscar competitors, accusing rival studios of planting the negative stories with compliant reporters.

”There’s been a shocking absence of self-restraint,” Universal chairman Stacey Snider said in a March 7 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. ”Lines that should be clear to all of us have recklessly been crossed.” At issue are articles noting how widely the movie diverges from the facts of Nash’s life; similar accusations of historical whitewashing were blamed for derailing the Oscar chances of Universal’s ”The Hurricane” a couple years ago, and the studio doesn’t want to see that happen again.

Two stories published in recent days raised red flags for Snider, both of them elaborating on the biopic’s already much-discussed omissions of the thornier aspects of Nash’s life. On March 5, Matt Drudge reported that some Oscar voters were taking note of the real Nash’s anti-Semitic ravings at the height of his schizophrenia and using them as a reason not to honor the movie with a Best Picture award.

Two days later, MSNBC.com’s Jeannette Walls published an interview with Eleanor Stier, a nurse with whom Nash fathered an out-of-wedlock son in 1953. ”They completely left me out of it,” Stier told Walls. ”They tried to pretend I don’t exist. I don’t want to say anything bad about John Nash, because my son will get mad at me, but [the film] made Nash seem heroic. He’s really sort of mean.” Nash continued to date her after the birth of their son John David Stier; at the time, Nash was also seeing Alicia Narde, whom he eventually married. Eleanor Stier also told Walls that Alicia is ”a not very nice person” and concluded that the film ”is full of things that were made up.”

Other outlets picked up the two stories. FoxNews.com’s Roger Friedman mentioned the Drudge item and wrote, ”Between the revelations about Nash and Russell Crowe’s bad behavior at the British Academy Awards, it’s slowly becoming the Gary Condit of movies.”

The New York Post cited both the Drudge and Walls stories and quoted a spokesman for Imagine Entertainment (”Mind”’s producer), who said, ”Look at the timing of when all this is coming out. Look at how long ago the movie came out. On the same day that Academy voters are receiving their ballots, journalists are getting calls from people saying, ‘Did you know this about him?”’ The spokesman wouldn’t name the alleged leakers but said, ”There are four other movies. Think about motivations, look at history, and draw your own conclusions.”

Snider, too, was suspicious. ”The timing of these latest missives and their orchestration has to be calculated,” she told the Reporter. She said she had personally spoken to rival studio executives, urging them not to stoop to such tactics. ”I have chosen to try to appeal to our competitors on a personal level, to urge them not to tumble down this moral slope,” she said. ”You don’t want to win because somebody else was attacked unfairly and so late in the game with salacious and inflammatory accusations.”

Speaking at Monday’s Oscar nominees’ luncheon, ”Mind” director Ron Howard was upset that anyone might slur Nash — and by extension, the film — by focusing on Nash’s bigoted remarks outside the context of his paranoid hallucinations. ”For anyone to try to distort behaviors reported to have occurred at the absolute height of his delusions — in the midst of a hellish, 35-year-period of schizophrenia — is not doing the world, John Nash, or themselves any kind of service,” Howard told Reuters. ”I have no respect for that, and to the extent that I think any of that occurred, I take it personally.”