Elie Samaha, Eyeing Oscar Venue Buy, Has Checkered Record

By Chanak Maduranga

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Elie Samaha, Eyeing Oscar Venue Buy, Has Checkered Record
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The home of the Oscars telecast may soon be purchased by a producer and local venue owner with a checkered history in and around the entertainment business. The Hollywood Reporter has learned that Elie Samaha is in discussions to acquire the Dolby Theatre.

The 3,400-seat Dolby, part of the separately owned Ovation complex at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, is contracted with the Motion Picture Academy through 2028. Bloomberg reported in October 2023 that the venue could sell for $70 million. It’s currently owned by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and managed by investment firm Canyon Partners. The theater and Samaha didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Samaha, who purchased and upgraded the landmark Grauman’s Chinese Theatre more than a decade ago along with producer Don Kushner (Tron), is a longtime L.A. nightlife entrepreneur still best known for his Sunset Strip club the Roxbury, a 1990s social nexus for the likes of Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty as well as Samaha’s first wife, Wayne’s World star Tia Carrere. (It also served as the inspiration for Saturday Night Live’s head-bobbing “Roxbury Guys” skit and subsequent movie starring Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan.)

Samaha turned his after-dark connections into a distribution deal with Warner Bros. Pictures. His banner Franchise specialized in cheaply backing stars’ pet projects that hadn’t landed a home elsewhere in town. This model came to include flops headlined by John Travolta (Battlefield Earth) and Kevin Costner (3000 Miles to Graceland) as well as more culturally resonant releases like The Boondock Saints, The Whole Nine Yards and Get Carter.

Samaha’s Hollywood record includes a judge in a 2004 fraud suit finding him personally liable for nearly $97 million to German distributor Intertainment, which claimed he’d improperly inflated projects’ budgets. The case eventually settled for $3 million. This same matter, which the FBI separately probed, later also resulted in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department carrying out a raid on his Sherman Oaks home to pay off legal fees owed to his blue-chip law firm. In 2018, business partners claimed he and Kushner (the pair had also together since bought the industry-favored Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs) improperly diverted $580,000 to ventures including the Chinese Theatre.

The next year, the Los Angeles City Attorney filed criminal charges against Samaha and associates for a variety of alleged safety issues at his Hollywood nightclub Project, claiming improper security, lighting and other problems “put their customers, and everyone in the vicinity, in potential danger every single night.”

Samaha, a U.S.-Lebanese citizen, and his current wife, Lara, who has a green card, have also made international news in recent years for their legal efforts against senior Lebanese political figures, which originally arose out of a familial inheritance claim. The U.S. State Department got involved on the couple’s behalf after they visited Lebanon in 2019, intending to settle the dispute, and ended up incarcerated in a military prison.

Samaha — whose other holdings have included the iconic Hollywood restaurant Yamashiro as well as the Fox Theatre and the Vogue Theatre, two historic Hollywood Boulevard movie theaters that have since been converted to after-dark venues — also currently appears on the Writers Guild’s Strike/Unfair List, which prohibits members from working with him. After Franchise went bankrupt following the Intertainment verdict, the Writers Guild, DGA and SAG joined in seeking potential residual claims for its members.

Samaha has since started a new production and distribution firm, Luminosity Entertainment.

Chanak Maduranga

passionate journalist behind 'USA News Now 24', dedicated to delivering timely and accurate updates on US affairs. Committed to journalistic integrity and informing audiences with credible news coverage.

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