OFF THE GRID

Woody Allen and Dov Charney: Who's the Mensch?

May 19, 09 | 8:45 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Talk about the courthouse steps…as jury selection was about to begin yesterday in Woody Allen’s suit against American Apparel CEO and sleazeball Dov Charney, a $5 million settlement was announced.

The suit was for $10 million; half that as a settlement in an American litigation is about as great as you’re ever going to get. The Woodman has made more out of this suit than he ever makes from a movie. What’s more, a settlement without any nondisclosure agreements means you’ve really hit the ball out of the park. The other side just rolled over—decided it would do anything not to go to a jury.

It’s a sleaze settlement. That is, the entire tussle, while ostensibly about rights of publicity—American Apparel used an unauthorized image of Woody Allen in an advertising campaign—is about who’s grosser.

Woody, of course, ran off with his girlfriend's adopted teenage daughter more than a decade and a half ago, turning himself into an enduring symbol of scuz. Dov Charney has used a photographic approach that might be characterized as underage retro porn as American Apparel’s branding theme. Charney, who often takes the pictures himself, recently approached my daughter in Union Square Park in New York and gave her his business card in case she ever wanted to model for him.


(AP Photo)

In a mean-spirited defense, Charney maintained that Woody’s reputation was so tarnished there was little or no value left to his publicity rights. Woody, on his part, was full of dripping scorn for Charney’s lack of couth and for American Apparel’s vulgarity and crassness.

Woody’s victory, in addition to providing a huge payday, may also have helped with his own ongoing rehabilitation. Standing up for principles, he flatted a known sleazeball. And, to boot, we have demonstrable proof that Woody’s reputation is worth quite a lot.

And yet, Charney comes out of this as the more interesting character. He’s either a completely crazy bugger who has just spent $5 million of American Apparel’s insurer’s money and earned the investors who bought his company a few years ago a mountain of bad publicity (in that case, we might assume those investors will fire him shortly). Or this is yet another improbably canny and profitable chapter in the strange career of this exhibitionist and entrepreneur, whose currency is to annoy, disrupt, flaunt, and embarrass himself.

Woody is the righteous citizen and offended party, furiously tending his own reputation.

Charney is the screwball performance artist, heedless of propriety and reputation—and cost.

This is what we learn: Making a living can sometimes require heroic exertions.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com.
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