April 22, 2008 / 12:12 AM / 10 years ago

Hells Angels' chief sues HBO

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Hells Angels veteran Sonny Barger, the man who oversaw the motorcycle gang’s violent crackdown on fans at the Rolling Stones’ disastrous Altamont concert in 1969, is suing HBO over a drama project he claims he helped develop.

In a suit filed last week, Barger contends HBO and the producers of the motorcycle-themed drama pilot “1%” cut him out of the project and violated many of his publicity rights when he demanded changes to protect his own brand.

“1%” originally was set at the Carefree, Ariz., chapter of the Death Rangers, one of the toughest motorcycle clubs in the country, and centered on Misfit (Donal Logue), a Silicon Valley member who is sent to the troubled chapter to bring it under control.

The lawsuit comes as HBO is readying “1%” for production. The actors had motorcycle training late last week, and production on the pilot is slated to begin Friday.

In the complaint, filed in Los Angeles federal court, Barger says he first optioned his best-selling autobiography to 20th Century Fox for movie development. Fox then hired writer/executive producer Michael Tolkin (Robert Altman’s “The Player”) to write the script. Tolkin is also named in the suit.

Barger claims he also shared with Tolkin a series of novels he had been working on about a fictional motorcycle club. Together, the two pitched HBO on a motorcycle club-centered series, and HBO subsequently turned to Tolkin to create it.

However, after Barger objected to some of the elements in the pilot, HBO “refused to acknowledge the contributions or authorship” of Barger and didn’t seek permission to “use or publish the name, trademark, persona or likeness of Sonny Barger for any purpose,” the suit said.

Barger was given the option of serving as a consulting producer on the project but turned it down. There was also talk of his appearing in the pilot in the potentially recurring role of Chief, the oldest member of the Death Rangers, but the casting never materialized.

Among the objections Barger lists in the suit are “that some characters introduced by Tolkin too close resembled or depicted living persons (in particular a character named ‘Chief,’ which for decades has been a well-known nickname or alias for Sonny Barger), that some actual place names used in the script were too identifiably associated with Sonny Barger and the Hells Angels (such as the primary location being Carefree, AZ, which is the town adjacent to where Sonny Barger presently resides, and that the principal character has moved from Northern California, which is exactly what Sonny Barger did).”

The name of the Chief character, played by Hans Howes, has been changed to Cap, the setting of the show has been moved to Apache Junction, Ariz., and Misfit now comes from Valhalla, Ore.

Barger wants the court to declare the “1% Script” as a joint work of Sonny Barger Prods. and Tolkin, enjoin Tolkin and HBO from selling or exhibiting the program, and award compensatory damages for exploiting Barger’s publicity rights.

Barger is best known for his role at Altamont, a free Stones concert captured on film in the documentary “Gimme Shelter.” The band hired Barger’s Oakland, Calif., chapter of the gang as security for the poorly organized event, and his crew tried to control the masses by beating them with pool cues. One fan, who appeared to be pointing a gun at the stage, was fatally stabbed by a Hells Angels member who was acquitted at trial. Barger angrily claimed the gang were treated as dupes by the Stones.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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