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Alain Bernheim; producer sued studio

By Corina Knoll
Los Angeles Times / October 6, 2009

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LOS ANGELES - Alain Bernheim, a producer and literary agent who with humorist Art Buchwald sued Paramount Pictures for using their concept for the 1988 film “Coming to America,’’ has died. He was 86.

Mr. Bernheim, a resident of Los Angeles, died Friday of complications during dialysis treatment at a hospital in Paris, said his wife, Marjorie. The couple, who were married for 54 years, own a vacation home near Bois de Boulogne.

Buchwald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist, and his producing partner, Mr. Bernheim, filed a $5-million lawsuit against Paramount in 1988, contending that the Eddie Murphy hit “Coming to America’’ was based on a treatment about an African prince who leaves his homeland to find a wife that Buchwald wrote and sold to the studio in 1983.

A Los Angeles judge awarded them $900,000 in 1992, but the studio appealed. After a seven-year legal battle, Buchwald and Mr. Bernheim received a settlement of $825,000. Buchwald died in 2007.

“He felt that the studio had taken advantage of him,’’ producer Peter Katz said. “The lawsuit wasn’t a wonderful thing, but he felt it had to be done.’’

Born in Paris Mr. Bernheim worked in Los Angeles for talent agent Charles Feldman before relocating to London, where his clients included authors Irwin Shaw and James Jones and French filmmaker Jules Dassin. After he returned to Los Angeles, Mr. Bernheim decided to become a producer and worked on several films in the 1980s, including the dark comedy “Buddy Buddy’’ directed by Billy Wilder and “Racing with the Moon’’ with Sean Penn and Nicolas Cage.