Sumner Redstone Legal Turmoil: Fighting Women, Lie-Detector Tests, Stolen Laptop With 'Private' Photos
This story first appeared in the July 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Sumner Redstone's business decisions and private life have been dragged into a heated legal war that pits his live-in companion against the star of a controversial MTV reality series. Now the star's lawyer is probing highly personal details about the Viacom and CBS executive chairman.
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Sydney Holland, the 43-year-old girlfriend of the 91-year-old mogul, has been waging litigation for 10 months against Heather Naylor, a singer who starred on the short-lived MTV series The Electric Barbarellas, which was steered to the Viacom-owned network by Redstone after he befriended her.
Court documents obtained by THR reveal that in August, Holland sued Naylor for $1 million, claiming the performer had stolen Holland's computer containing "private and confidential" photographs from the Beverly Park home she shares with Redstone.
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Naylor has fired back in a June 18 cross-complaint alleging that Holland has wrested control of Redstone's life, firing many of his longtime staff, changing his phone number to filter the information he receives and persuading him to pull support for the MTV series, which was canceled in 2013 and led to the implosion of Naylor's career, she claims.
Barbarellas, a docuseries about Naylor and her all-girl band, drew scrutiny when it debuted in 2011 because some believed it was ordered to air by Redstone against the advice of network execs and after he had struck up a personal relationship with Naylor. (Redstone further fueled the controversy by leaving a lengthy voicemail for Daily Beast reporter Peter Lauria demanding to know his source for a story on Redstone's ties to Naylor and the Barbarellas.) The show averaged a soft 858,000 viewers during its first season but was renewed and retitled The Alectrix for a short second season, which drew only 197,000 viewers a week.
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Despite the low ratings, Naylor accuses Holland, who has been close to Redstone for years, of using her influence to kill the show. "Holland grew jealous of Naylor's relationship with Redstone and made efforts to cut off all ties between Redstone and Naylor so that Holland could control Redstone for her own economic advantage," states the cross-complaint alleging tortious interference.
In June 2013, Naylor and Redstone are said to have had lunch, after which Holland allegedly took steps to isolate Redstone, including attempting to limit access to him and firing loyal staff. (Some employees, including longtime Redstone helper Carlos Martinez, are being targeted by Holland for allegedly aiding in the computer theft.) "Holland wanted to prevent Redstone from spending time and money on another free-thinking individual like Naylor, who was not under Holland's control and not a sycophant," alleges Naylor.
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Holland's efforts hit the mark, according to Naylor: MTV reduced an eight-episode order for The Alectrix to six; Redstone didn't show up for an important meeting he had helped set up for Naylor with record executives; and "Naylor's relationship with MTV and Viacom came to a halt," she claims. Her relationship with Redstone also "disintegrated."
Viacom and a rep for Redstone, who is not a party to the litigation, declined comment. But Holland attorney Patty Glaser denies her client had anything to do with Barbarellas' demise. "Viacom is a public company that makes its programming decisions irrespective of Sumner Redstone's personal relationships," she says. She declined comment on the contents of the missing computer, but two sources say they include "highly personal" photos.
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Perhaps most troubling for Redstone and Viacom, Naylor's lawyer Neville Johnson has begun to probe those potentially scandalous materials, along with details of Holland's relationship with Redstone and communication with Viacom employees.
Holland was asked in a recent filing to admit she had met Redstone on a "millionaire matchmaker" dating site and acknowledge a past sexual relationship with Grammy-winning producer John Shanks. The court documents suggest Holland has been added as a beneficiary in Redstone's will. And Johnson is threatening to dig deeper during Holland's planned deposition.