Business: Questionable Encounters

Stranger-than-fiction happenings at Columbia Pictures

Opening scene: the time is February 1977. The place: Beverly Hills. A lanky, soft-spoken actor is sorting through stacks of bills and payments with his secretary, in preparation for filing his federal income tax return for 1976. Suddenly he spots a document from a major studio attesting that he received $10,000 for services rendered during the year. Puzzled, the actor looks at his secretary. "I didn't work for them in 1976,"he says.

Thus began a bizarre story that might conceivably have been offered as a script proposal to, say,...

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