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Scenes From a Bad Movie Marriage

When Lorraine Bracco dumped Harvey Keitel for Edward James Olmos, taking their daughter with her, it made Keitel mad. And when Olmos was accused of sexual misconduct, it made him really mad. And Keitel is not a man you want to make mad.


Not three minutes into her latest custody-battle appearance against her ex-boyfriend, Harvey Keitel, Lorraine Bracco, erstwhile film star, feminist, and suburban mom, had flipped him the bird. She did it with panache, so that for a moment, Judge Margaret Garvey, an urbane blonde jurist in Rockland County’s Family Court, wasn’t sure she’d seen it; but Bracco, every bit as tough as Keitel, then barked out of the side of her mouth: “So ya don’t think I can protect your daughter, huh, Har-vey?” Whereupon Judge Garvey banged her gavel and admonished Sandy Dranoff, Bracco’s attorney, to control his client. Bracco flung herself back in her chair, tossed her luxuriant dark hair, and declared: “Margaritas for everyone!”

The Keitel-Bracco mismatch, which also involves actor Edward James Olmos, Bracco’s current husband, has been blundering on for most of the decade- “Since my bar mitzvah!” quips the droll Dranoff-and has recently devolved into a kind of blue- collar Roshomon and Woody-Mia mess. Keitel, who’d given custody of his (now) 12-year-old daughter, Stella, to Bracco when she’d left him for Olmos in 1991, learned in 1993 that Olmos had been accused the year before of having fondled a 14-year-old family friend and sometime baby-sitter of Stella’s. Keitel also learned that Olmos, while absolutely denying the young girl’s allegations, had paid her family at least $150,000 to sign releases promising not to prosecute, and to keep quiet about the matter. (The court eventually ruled that Olmos could not be alone in a room with Stella.) Most maddeningly for Keitel, Bracco hadn’t mentioned any of this to him, even though their legal agreement called for her to “reasonably consult” on matters crucial to their daughter’s welfare; worse, he charged that, more worried about the effects of bad publicity on her own and Olmos’s careers than about Stella’s safety, she’d “covered up” the “payoff” in a “conspiracy of silence.”

It was for these reasons that Keitel and Bracco were in Rockland County on October 15; Keitel was supporting a motion by his daughter’s law guardian, investigating the degree to which Stella might be at “additional risk” in Olmos’s company because of alleged threats to Olmos’s life made six years ago by members of the Mexican Mafia, a California prison gang about whom he’d made the film American Me. Although Family Court had ruled in favor of Bracco’s retaining custody in 1996 (against Keitel’s contention that his daughter was in danger of being molested, too), Keitel was now carrying the battle to the appellate division and hoped Judge Garvey might give him additional ammunition to reverse custody there.

Accordingly, he swiveled his lower jaw and wrinkled his forehead in concentration as Olmos, a small, swarthy man, took the stand.

Mark Platt (counsel for Keitel): “Do you know someone by the name of Manuel Luna?”

Olmos: “Yes, sir . . . a lieutenant in the Mexican Mafia.”

Platt: “Is he alive today?”

Olmos: “No, he isn’t.”

Platt: ”Was he involved . . . with the production of American Me?”

Olmos: “I think that my staff may have consulted him. . . .”

Platt: “You testified that Anna Lizarraga . . . was a consultant too?”

Olmos: “Yes, sir.”

Platt: “And she is also no longer alive today?”

Olmos: “Yes, sir.”

Both parties, it turned out, had been killed by the Mexican mafia subsequent to their participation in Olmos’s movie; the film had portrayed the fictionalized homosexual rape of one of the founders of the MM, apparently a profound insult to the machismo of the real gangsters. 60 Minutes, the L.A. Times, and the Washington Post had all run stories citing alleged threats to Olmos from the group, but the actor steadfastly denied them and swore that although he’d been subpoenaed by a Los Angeles grand jury as part of a federal probe of the MM, he’d never felt endangered. The people killed were in trouble with the mafia for reasons having little to do with movies, he assured the court. In fact, the only time his life had ever been threatened was in a completely different context-here he paused dramatically-in phone calls “from Mr. Keitel!”

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