Frank Sivero, best known for playing mobsters in The Godfather Part II and Goodfellas, is suing Fox Television Studios for $250 million, alleging that “Louie,” one of the “wise guy” mafia characters on The Simpsons, infringes on his likeness. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the actor claims that unspecified Simpsons writers modeled Louie on Sivero’s Goodfellas character, Frankie Carbone.
Sivero alleges that, in 1989, he lived next door to the writers in a Sherman Oaks, California apartment complex. “They knew he was developing the character he was to play in the movie Goodfellas,” reads the lawsuit. “In fact, they were aware the entire character of ‘Frankie Carbone’ was created and developed by Sivero, who based this character on his own personality. . . Louie’s appearance and mannerisms are strongly evocative of character actor Frank Sivero.”
Louie – along with his mafia boss, “Fat Tony” – made his debut appearance during the Season Three episode “Bart the Murderer,” which originally aired on October 10th, 1991 and was written by John Swartzwelder. The character has popped up in 15 additional episodes, including Season 25’s “What to Expect When Bart’s Expecting,” which aired in April. The suit adds that Dan Castellaneta, who voices Louie (and, more famously, Homer Simpson) “modeled his voice after Italian-American actor Joe Pesci, who also had a role in Goodfellas.”
Elsewhere, Sivero claims that he was courted over the years by James L. Brooks’ production company Gracie Films, who told him he “would be part of the future” connected to the show’s success. He allegedly even had a conversation with Brooks around 1996 about making a film; since such a movie was never created, the suit claims the company “never intended to make a film with Sivero, and that they were simply studying him further for the character Louie.”
Sivero alleges that the character’s similarity violates California’s publicity rights law – and that, by misappropriating his idea, the defendants have “diluted the value of the character created by Plaintiff, and contributed to the ‘type-casting’ of Plaintiff.” The Hollywood Reporter specifies that the actor is seeking $50 million in damages related to loss of the likeness, an additional $100 million for “improper interference,” $50 million for taking his “confidential” idea and another $50 million in exemplary damages over the idea, in addition to injunctive relief and attorney fees.
Outside of this legal distraction, 2014 has been a banner year for The Simpsons. Season 26 has seen the show kill off a character (Krusty the Clown’s father, Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky) and join Peter Griffin and company for a Family Guy crossover episode. Last month, after shattering FXX’s ratings record with their 552-episode marathon, the show celebrated 25 years of animated excellence with a star-studded extravaganza at the Hollywood Bowl.