The billboards that sprung up in Hollywood and New York in 2007 depicted Woody Allen as a Hasidic Jew — long beard, side curls, black hat — and featured Yiddish text meaning “the holy rebbe.”
The actor-director wasn’t amused by the makeover.
Allen sued the advertiser, American Apparel Inc., last year for $10 million, claiming it didn’t have permission to use the doctored frame of him from the Oscar-winning film “Annie Hall” on the billboards and on a Web site. Barring a last-minute settlement, jury selection was expected to begin Monday morning in federal court in Manhattan.
A spokeswoman for Allen, Leslee Dart, said Sunday that he planned to take the witness stand Monday as the trial’s first witness. She declined further comment.
Stuart Slotnick, an attorney for Los Angeles-based AmericanApparel, said his client’s First Amendment rights were at stake.
“The freedom of expression is what this case is all about,” he said.
Court papers filed on Allen’s behalf describe the 72-year-old plaintiff as one of the most influential figures in the history of American film, and say he believes maintaining strict control over his image has been critical to his success.
The papers claim Allen hasn’t done commercials in the United States since 1960s, when he was a struggling standup comic. The billboards, he says, falsely implied he endorsed the trendy clothing line known for its racy advertising — a “blatant misappropriation and commercial use of Allen’s image.”
Allen himself has said he considered the billboards an “appalling” and “mortifying” violation of his privacy.
American Apparel lawyers have called the $10 million demand “outrageous,” especially since the billboards were taken down after a week. They also have threatened to call Allen’s former longtime companion, actress Mia Farrow, and his current wife, Soon-Yi Previn, as witnesses to show that his image has already been devalued by scandal. Previn is Farrow’s adopted daughter.
Farrow starred in several of Allen’s movies, including “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Their relationship ended in 1992, when she discovered he was having an affair with Previn, then 22.
After Allen complained he was a victim of a “brutish attempt to smear and intimidate” him, American Apparel founder Dov Charney issued a statement last month denying lawyers would delve into Allen’s personal life.
“I have deep respect for Mr. Allen, who is a source of inspiration for me,” Charney said.