If the Actor Doesn't Play, Will the Insurance Company Pay?

Special Features   If the Actor Doesn't Play, Will the Insurance Company Pay?
The seminar was titled "The Art of Structuring and Purchasing Nonappearance Insurance," but a better title might have been, "Oh My God, What If My Superstar Breaks His/Her Leg?"

The seminar was titled "The Art of Structuring and Purchasing Nonappearance Insurance," but a better title might have been, "Oh My God, What If My Superstar Breaks His/Her Leg?"

That was the gist of a conference given by insurance brokers J&H Marsh & McLennan for members of the entertainment industry, Jan. 15. Held at NY's Marriott Marquis hotel, the afternoon lunch featured an audience of producers and general managers, and a panel of brokers, producers and claims adjusters.

Moderator Le Conte Moore (of Marsh & McLennan) answered the day's first question -- why hire a star? -- with a sight gag. Actor/comedian Rip Taylor, soon to go on tour with A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, sat on the panel, tossed some confetti and then left the room shouting "Lunch!"

Question number two -- why buy insurance for a star's potential nonappearance? -- was answered by producer Manny Kladitis, who said "A star means a lot of things, but to all of us it means business. Everyone here has two businesses: theirs, and show business."

Admitted general manager Nina Lannan, "When you decide to do a show, the last thing you want to think about is insurance for the star. It's a big pain in the neck, but unfortunately, you have to pay attention to it. Frequently, your insurance budget can go up by 100 percent. So ask how long you really need it for. If it's for a composer or director, you might not need it for the whole run." Insurance broker Robert Boyar (senior VP of Marsh & McLennan) concurred that research and logical questions are a general manager and producer's best in approching insurance. "No production is quite the same as another, so you need to know the nature of the exposure. By the time the claim comes in, it should be just an accounting exercise -- how much was the net loss?" Boyer also joked that alas, "You still can't find an underwriter who'll insure against a star's temperament."

Once the details have been worked out between the producer and the American broker, the deal likely travels to what Back Stage dubbed "a mega-underwriter," such as Lloyd's of London or the Chubb Group. Said Victor Broad, a broker for Lloyd's, "Our main part is to get the best deal for you. Lloyds chooses which underwriter to use, since some are better for theatre and some are more suited to pop stars or films."

Fellow Lloyd's broker Victor Broad told the assembled it's a common mistake to equate non-appearance insurance with gambling. "But there's a fundamental difference: in gambling, one party wants the event to happen. With insurance, both parties don't want the event to happen."

Most important, continued Broad, is to be honest in filling out forms on the production and the star's medical condition. "We rely on full disclosure," he said, "and our biggest problem is when an actor falsely declares or hides medical information. Just tell the truth."

Attorney Orin Snyder pursued that theme and said the wording of contracts and claims forms relies on the producer and star providing information that is true to the best of their knowledge. An honest omission is one thing, but "by law, if an actor breaks his foot and has to miss performances, if he failed to note in his initial form that he once had an appendectomy, the policy can be rescinded. Even if one thing has nothing to do with the other."

And who examines the stars to see what's right and wrong with them? Often, it's Dr. Louis Katz, a certified internist who said his job is to protect four people: "the performer, the insurance company, the production, and myself."

Added Katz, "A lot of stars have the Merman credo of `the show must go on,' so they'll neglect to mention things on their questionnaire. One actor I recently looked at neglected to tell of facial and plastic surgery he just had because he got into a barroom brawl. But my task is to make the unpredictable predictable. Sometimes I see the same film actor four times a year, so it isn't a full physical exam; it's more like a medical history. And sometimes they see it as a waste of time, but they should take it as a compliment."

Albeit an expensive compliment. Even before a producer considers this kind of insurance, he's already taken out a $1 million liability policy covering accidents to audience members, and a $10 million "umbrella" policy on a Broadway show ($2-$5 million Off-Broadway).

Carol Bresci-Cilona, of the DeWitt Stern Group brokerage house, told a Back Stage interviewer in August, "Some stars are known to miss a lot of work. Others don't. Brian Bedford [London Assurance] did not have an understudy. Still, the Roundabout's producers did not take out a non appearance policy on him. That's because Bedford has a reputation for never missing a performance. The producers were willing to take a chance!"

Producers who weren't willing to take a chance were those for Victor/Victoria. That Broadway musical suffered severely at the box office losses because Julie Andrews missed many performances due to various ailments, including gall bladder surgery. (She continues to postpone the show's mini-tour due to throat trouble; for more information, please see the news story, "Vic/Vic Postpones Again in Seattle.") However, the insurance company, De Witt Stern, has been contesting the producers' claim, saying that Andrews' wasn't up-front about her pre-existing medical condition. Victor/Victoria producer Tony Adams was scheduled to appear at the insurance seminar but did not attend. The lawsuit continues.

-- By David Lefkowitz

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