Was ‘Bachelor’ Host Chris Harrison’s Huge Payoff About Creator Mike Fleiss?
The same lawyer representing Harrison in his reality-TV exit also repped Fleiss’ wife during heated divorce proceedings that included allegations of abuse.
Chris Harrison might have promised to keep his lips sealed about the behind-the-scenes debauchery on The Bachelor, but he didn’t exactly go quietly.
Soon after Katie Thurston’s season of The Bachelorette debuted on Monday night, news broke that Harrison would exit the franchise after a months-long indefinite hiatus—with an eight-figure golden parachute. Harrison’s camp reportedly came to the table with two sources of leverage. According to Deadline, Harrison’s lawyer, Bryan Freedman, vowed to drop “the Shiva of lawsuits” on the franchise, should Harrison’s settlement prove insufficient. Variety, meanwhile, reports the team also brought up Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss’ wife Laura’s request for a temporary restraining order in connection with an incident police investigated in 2019. (Fleiss denied all the allegations against him at the time.)
Another indication Harrison wasn’t playing around: It was Freedman who represented Fleiss’ formerly estranged wife, Laura Kaeppeler Fleiss, during the couple’s divorce that year. The two have since reconciled.
“Just hiring Freedman was a huge shot across the bow from Harrison from the outset, and shows the level of contentiousness involved,” entertainment lawyer and Sharma Law founder Anita K. Sharma told The Daily Beast. While any information Kaeppeler provided Freedman during that time would be protected by confidentiality and could only be shared with Kaeppeler’s consent, Sharma noted that anything that came from third parties about Fleiss would be under no such restriction.
Harrison and Fleiss famously did not get along when they first met. Harrison did not mince words during an interview with The Cut in 2015: “We hated each other,” he said. “It was a five-minute meeting that I was told would take an hour.”
“He looked like a guy barfed on by an eight-week-old,” Fleiss told The Dallas Morning News, as quoted in Amy Kaufman’s book Bachelor Nation. (Harrison’s son Joshua was an infant at the time of his audition.) “There was just no energy in the room,” Fleiss continued. “I couldn’t wait for that meeting to end. It was incredibly painful. He was the dullest guy I’ve ever seen.”
Another candidate got the gig instead—until they didn’t. “It’s funny,” Harrison told The Cut. “Mike Fleiss walked out of his office and yelled across the room, ‘Harrison, you were F-ing terrible in our first meeting, but I hear you’re a good guy. Let’s do this again.’ And I did it and we hit it off and we’ve been best friends ever since.”
It would appear, however, that their bond has now soured—and that Harrison wanted to send a message with his choice of attorney.
“There’s obviously tons of very talented litigators in L.A.—especially within the entertainment business—that he could have used,” Sharma said. Choosing the one who represented Fleiss’ formerly estranged wife in a contentious divorce, the attorney added, “was definitely a power move.”
Kaeppeler’s allegations against Fleiss back in 2019 were as complicated as they were disturbing. The two met in 2012, when Kaeppler, who was 23 years old at the time, was competing in a Miss America pageant; Fleiss, then 47, was a judge. The two married in 2014 and welcomed their first child, Ben, in May of 2015.
In court filings obtained by The Daily Beast, and as reported at the time, Kaeppeler alleged that for the past several years of their marriage, Fleiss had flexed his “financial coercive control” over her through demeaning comments—and insinuated “that he would destroy me with his wealth and power.” She claimed to keep a packed bag ready at all times in her closet due to her husband’s alleged erratic behavior and violent threats.
Things allegedly got worse when Kaeppeler discovered she was pregnant with the couple’s second child. Fleiss had consistently said he only wanted one child with her, Kaeppeler wrote in her restraining order request—and when she told him she was expecting another, he began to demand she have an abortion. Over the course of a few days, a series of alleged frightening and, in at least one case, violent incidents led Kaeppeler to seek a temporary restraining order.
“We are aware of these serious allegations, and are looking into them,” Warner Bros. said in a statement at the time. A source told People, “Mike is the creator of the show, but he is not the showrunner. While he is involved in certain aspects of the franchise, he is by no means involved in the day-to-day… he spends much of his time in Hawaii, and the show runs independently of him.”
“I am cutting you off financially Monday morning,” Fleiss allegedly said during an argument on July 4. Another alleged quote: “Next time I see you, I don’t want to see your stomach.” And another: “You have a choice, you can choose. Have an abortion or go back to Wisconsin, but you are not taking Ben.” Among his favorite refrains throughout the year prior, she said, had been that she would end up “fat and single in Kenosha, Wisconsin,” where she grew up—“with the usual follow-up comment of ‘Good luck with that.’”
A day later, Kaeppeler wrote, Fleiss heaped on more alleged verbal abuse, calling her a “low-rent gold-digger” and a “50,000 whore,” in addition to other unprintable epithets—all of which, she said, he’d used before. When she tried to go into another room to call her mother, “Mike refused to let me go and made threats that I would lose access to my family and my family’s ability to see Ben,” Kaeppeler wrote. “Mike said ‘You aren’t going to see your mother for the next two-to-three years. You need to call [your mom] right now and tell her this.’ I was terrified.”
Fleiss allegedly forced Kaeppeler to call her mother while he watched before seizing the phone from her and telling her mother she was having an abortion.
But the most harrowing incident allegedly occurred the next day, when Fleiss returned to the couple’s home. Kaeppeler, who had asked a friend to stay over the night before in case Fleiss returned, was tending to their son, Ben, who was sick with a cold. When she left the room with her cellphone, Kaeppeler wrote, Fleiss—who is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds—forcibly took it from her, threatening to throw her down the stairs when she tried to take it back.
Fleiss later allegedly pinned Kaeppeler to a wall, holding her there until she squirmed away. He approached his truck telling her, “I’m going to punch your face in.” And when she stood on the running board between him and the door, still attempting to get her phone back, he allegedly started the car and drove forward before braking suddenly. Finally, Kaeppeler wrote that Fleiss shoved her off the truck and drove away.
“I was extremely traumatized from the incident and started crying hysterically,” Kaeppeler wrote. “Our unborn child and I could have been severely injured if I had fallen off the truck’s running board or over the wheels of the truck. I began to scream for help.”
Kaeppeler submitted photos of her bruised arm, scratched neck, and torn dress as evidence—along with images from the house’s security camera that appear to show a part of the altercation.
“I am afraid of Mike,” Kaeppeler wrote. “I am afraid he will continue to act erratically towards me, verbally and physically, and in the presence of Ben. I have been hiding in a hotel for the past several days with Ben, and want to be able to return home without fear for myself, my son, and my unborn child.”
Fleiss filed to dissolve the marriage days later, and at the end of July the couple settled their divorce; Kaeppeler dropped the assault charge and received a $10 million settlement.
In November, Fleiss tweeted that the couple had reconciled, writing in part, “I love my wife and am grateful for this opportunity to work on our marriage.” The two remain together, along with their two sons.
Kaeppeler also joined Twitter that day to share a statement of her own: “Over the summer, my husband and I went through a challenging time, as all marriages do,” she wrote. “There was an emotionally charged incident in which we fought over a phone and both exhibited immature and irresponsible behavior. This situation led to making rash decisions we both regret.”
Kaeppeler added that the two were working with a marriage counselor “to rebuild what we lost. I love [Fleiss] and our kids very much. We appreciate your support at this time.”
Representatives for ABC and Warner Bros. declined comment to The Daily Beast on behalf of the studios and Fleiss.