Emily Stern, daughter of shock jock Howard Stern, is threatening to sue The Jewish Theater of New York.
Stern, who played pop star Madonna in “Kabbalah” — a satirical look at the celebrity fascination with Jewish mysticism — quit the show two weeks ago, after her father’s fanatical fans learned that she got naked in the off-off Broadway production. Just days after Stern quit, she had her lawyer, Stephen Huff, send a letter to the show’s playwright and director, Tuvia Tenenbom, demanding “compensatory and exemplary damages.”
Huff’s letter charges the theater with exploiting Stern’s photograph “for commercial purposes without obtaining Ms. Stern’s written permission.” In the letter, Huff demands compensation for “acting services… obtained by you without the compensation required under Federal and New York State employment laws.”
Tenenbom, who says he is searching for a lawyer to defend the theater, called the charges “ridiculous.” He argued that Stern’s demands pose a threat to all artists everywhere who work on a volunteer basis. He still sounds upset that Stern decided to quit after her father’s notoriously zealous listeners discovered her identity.
“She quit the show just when it started to sell,” he said, “and now they have the chutzpah to sue.”
Stern originally joined the show — over the objections of her famous dad — on the condition that the theater keep secret that she was the daughter of the King of All Media.
Tenenbom said that Stern “knew from the top that there is no money” in off-off Broadway productions. Such productions are “for actors to get noticed,” not paid, he said.
Stern could not be reached. Her lawyer did not return a call seeking comment.
According to Tenenbom, Stern, along with her fellow actors, “smilingly and willingly participated in three photo shoots.” In fact, Tenenbom said, Stern provided the playwright/director with her own photo of herself to put on his Web site. Asked if Stern had signed any contract with the theater, Tenenbom said: “I’m an old-timer; I do handshakes.”
Tenenbom said that in 13 years of theater productions he never has been in such a situation.
“If they are successful, then it is because of their money and power,” Tenenbom told the Forward. “It will be a very sad day for New York.”