The Hollywood superlawyer whose death went unnoticed

Mon Mar 28, 2011 8:52pm EDT
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By Daniel Miller

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - For Arthur Crowley, messy personal lives were good for business.

Crowley, whom legendary producer Robert Evans once called "the toughest Irishman attorney west of Chicago," practically invented one of the stock characters of the current tabloid world: the celebrity divorce lawyer.

Today, few things move newsstand sales and boost online traffic more than broken vows. But long before the likes of Hollywood superlawyer Laura Wasser regularly made headlines extricating Angelina Jolie, Christina Aguilera and Ryan Reynolds from failed marriages, Crowley -- whose death one year ago at the age of 85 drew strangely little notice -- was turning big-league divorces into can't-miss showbiz theater.

"He was, in his day, the most famous trial lawyer in Los Angeles," says prominent entertainment attorney Bert Fields.

Known for his outrageous legal gambits, Crowley won a $20 million settlement for Johnny Carson's third wife, $42 million for the first wife of then Los Angeles Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke, dug up dirt on Steve McQueen, sued Howard Hughes and helped divvy up the Frank Sinatra estate.

Crowley learned to play rough with the powerful and famous by staring down all of Hollywood in the notorious Confidential magazine libel trial of 1957. Representing the publication -- the National Enquirer of its day -- in a case brought against it by the state of California, the attorney subpoenaed more than 100 stars including Elvis Presley and Clark Gable to testify whether stories about them were true. (Perhaps the most infamous was an article alleging that actress Maureen O'Hara all but had sex at the back of Grauman's Chinese Theater.)

It was said that as a result of Crowley's ploy, half the town hurried to vacation in Mexico. The attorney made such a name for himself with the case that when he was sued four years later in a paternity matter by a former Miss USA, the well-known ladies' man garnered headlines in the Los Angeles Times.

But when Crowley -- whom colleagues describe as a brilliant attorney but an often-distant co-worker -- passed away April 20, 2010, of unknown causes, the Los Angeles Times didn't memorialize him. In fact, Crowley slipped away without a single media outlet -- including the New York Times, which had spilled plenty of ink on his cases -- taking note of his five-decade-plus career. Indeed, only a 50-word paid obituary in the Los Angeles Times noted his death, describing Crowley, who ran his own namesake firm, as a "WWII vet, famed trial attorney and loving father," but offering little else.   Continued...