William Greene reflects on his $22.75 million suit against Warren Beatty.


Sometime around 1982

Photo by Richard S. Hayza / Seattle Times


Author sues Warren Beatty over film


by Don Duncan


Times staff reporter


LACEY, Thurston County - When William M. Greene wrote a manuscript about Louise Bryant and handed it over to Warren Beatty for use in Beatty's highly acclaimed movie, "Reds," Greene had expectations of modest wealth and maybe a little fame.


Now, with Hollywood's annual Academy Awards just a few days away, and "Reds" nominated for 12 Oscars, Greene has filed a $22.75 million lawsuit against Beatty, in Santa Monica, Calif., Superior Court, charging that much of his material was used and Beatty gave him almost nothing.


Beatty was the producer-director and star of the film.


"It makes me seem like a senile old man," Greene said. "But I got $250, which I thought was an advance. He invited me down to see him, in 1973, after my agent sent his agent a copy of the manuscript. I hardly knew his name, when he telephoned me. I spent three days with him. And I paid my own air fare."


Beatty's attorney, Gerald Corsini of Los Angeles, told The Associated Press that "Mr. Beatty vigorously denies and will vigorously contest Mr. Greene's allegations."


Despite the lawsuit, Greene has no complaint with how "Reds" came out. "It's a Hollywood version of the Russian Revolution, but it's well done. Diane Keaton (as Louise Bryant) was sensational. I know probably more than anyone else about Louise and she caught the spirit."


For the Ukrainian-born Greene – a former newspaperman, radio and TV writer and sometimes biographer - the opportunity to see his Louise Bryant manuscript on film, "and make a little money," was not, and is not, his dream for the story.


"I've got the book out with my agent. It's called 'Louise Bryant - Her Life With Revolutionist John Reed, Playwright Eugene O'Neill and U.S. Ambassador William C. Bullitt.' I hope it sells. Then there's TV rights, which are mine."


In Greene's opinion - and he has strong ones - Louise Bryant's story was one of the great untold tales of the radical movement in this country during the late teens, '20s and '30s.


"Reds" deals with Bryant's relationship with Reed (Beatty), author-journalist who died in Russia and is buried in the Kremlin.


Greene over the years worked for The Wenatchee World, Tacoma News Tribune and The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, wrote radio material for ABC and NBC and produced one of the early-day talk shows on television.


It was while working as a copy editor for The Tacoma News Tribune in 1967 that a woman friend mentioned Louise Bryant and he recalled having read Reed's "Ten Days That Shook the World" and Bryant's "Six Red Months," which she dedicated to Reed. He re-read them and began a search for Bryant's roots.


The breakthrough, he says, came when he located a woman in Bellingham who had gone to a tiny one-room school on Stuart Island (in the San Juans) when Bryant was the teacher. What's more, Bryant had lived in the family home.


Greene traced Bryant's first marriage, to a Portland dentist; her life with Reed in New York's Greenwich Village, before their marriage; her interim affair with O'Neill, "who was responsible for her abortion," and what he calls "the real story" of how Bryant joined Reed in Russia during his dying days.


"Historians always said she sneaked into the country disguised as a male sailor. That was a story she made up and told, tongue-in-cheek. The truth is, she was a correspondent for William Randolph Hearst and that's how she got in."


Perhaps the most interesting chapter of Bryant's life, Greene says, was her second marriage and equally secret divorce from Bullitt, the epitome of the upright presidential servant.


"All her life, Louise had a way with men - important men."


Both Seattle and Tacoma were visited by Bryant during her radical speech-making period, Greene says. Seattle's labor newspaper gave her a big write up when she arrived soon after the "general strike" of 1919, and she became close friends with another famous radical, Anna Louise Strong.


"In Tacoma, they packed a house to hear her speak, in part because The News Tribune made such a to-do in an editorial about a Communist coming to speak. That made everyone interested."


Bryant believed in Russia's social revolution, Greene says, but she never was "a card-carrying Communist."


Greene, who likes to joke about "my six gentile wives," all of whom he parted with on friendly terms, says that in pursuit of Louise Bryant story he fell in love once more.


With Bryant, naturally.


"There 'was something about her and it comes through when you look at her picture and talk with those who knew her."


Greene hopes "Reds" wins several Oscars. It might help sell books and get television really interested in doing a story on Louise Bryant alone. And if the Bryant story sells, the world might be ready for Greene’s own biography.


When you are in your 80s and living on a small newspaper pension and Social Security you let the agents and lawyers take care of the lawsuits, Greene says.


"Me, I've got to write while I've still got time.”