LOS ANGELES - Walt Disney chief Michael Eisner startled a courtroom by admitting he once said of his ex-studio boss and ex-best friend Jeffrey Katzenberg, "I hate the midget."
|Eisner acknowledged he may have made the statement about Katzenberg
after the partners' bitter breakup
Eisner's surprising slur came during private conversations with writer Tony Schwartz, who ghost-authored Eisner's recent autobiography. Eisner obviously wanted to keep his remark secret.
"What I would consider a very private note got into a deposition. I never intended to go public with it or tell anybody about it," Eisner testified yesterday during his second day on the stand at the pay dispute trial.
Katzenberg is suing Disney for a $250 million bonus allegedly owed him for making hits such as The Lion King, which was among the 60 flicks the diminutive Katzenberg made for Disney before quitting five years ago.
Disney has already admitted it owed Katzenberg money. The trial is to determine how much cash.
The "midget" comment was in notes in Schwartz's computer, which were subpoenaed for the trial.
As Eisner revealed his animosity under cross-examination by Katzenberg's attorney, Bert Fields, the nation's highest paid executive avoided looking at Katzenberg, although just 15 feet separated the two. Katzenberg, meanwhile, focused an icy stare at his former boss.
Eisner said he was particularly annoyed by Katzenberg's "practice of negotiating in the press."
Eisner mentioned a Katzenberg fax that fell into his hands, by chance. The ex-studio boss had sent it to Fields, thanking the lawyer "for handling the New York media."
When Eisner discovered the fax, he said, he changed his mind about awarding Katzenberg his bonus after he quit.
"To the extent I was considering some settlement and flexibility, I was now saying, "Screw that."
"If he is going to play this media game, his deceptive disingenuous game, and do the kind of things I was angry with him about anyway in the course of our relationship keeping his word, being rude I was simply not going to pay him his money."
"After this final, final, final confirmation of bad behavior, I wasn't going to do it (pay the bonus)...I don't care what he thinks I'm not going to pay him any of the money."