DISNEY STUDIO CHIEF OUSTED

Disney Studios chief Dick Cook received his walking papers from Disney Chairman Robert Iger in a ten-minute late-afternoon meeting last Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Monday) citing unspecified accounts of the meeting. Cook, who began his career at Disney 38 years ago as an operator of a Disneyland monorail train, later told colleagues that he was stunned when Iger told him that "after a lot of thought" he had decided to "go in a different direction," then went on to refer to complaints that "the studio was overly secretive, uncooperative and isolated from the other divisions," the Times said. Formal statements announcing Cook's departure were issued in the early evening on Friday, with Cook referring to a famous comment by baseball's Yogi Berra: "If you come to a fork in the road, take it." According to the Times, a teary-eyed Cook first read the statement to his staff earlier in the day, asking that they not disclose the news before it was released to the press and that they "give me two minutes to walk out the door alone. For his part, Iger said, "On behalf of everyone at Disney, we wish him the best." Reverberations were immediate. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer said that he was "in shock" over the announcement. Actor Johnny Depp, who said that he had agreed to appear in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides without seeing a script when Cook contacted him indicated that he was reconsidering his decision. "There's a fissure, a crack in my enthusiasm at the moment," he told the Times. There was no immediate announcement about who would be succeeding Cook, but insiders appeared to be betting heavily on John Lasseter, Disney Animation's "chief creative officer."

MEATBALLS DELICIOUS AT BOX OFFICE

The forecast for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was that it would earn $25-30 million over the weekend, and the 3D animated film wound up at the high end of that forecast, with an estimated $30.1 million, the studio said Sunday. Not much hope had been held out for the three other new releases, and they performed just about as poorly as predicted. The Informant! starring Matt Damon opened in second place with a moderate $10.5 million. Love Happens drew an estimated $8.5 million, while Jennifer's Body could only collect about $6.8 million. Last week's winner, Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All by Myself, dropped 57 percent to $10 million to place third and bring its total to date to $37.9 million.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Box Office Mojo:

1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, $30.1 million; 2. The Informant! $10.5 million; 3. I Can Do Bad All By Myself, $10 million; 4. Love Happens, $8.5 million; 5. Jennifer's Body, $6.8 million; 6. 9, $5.5 million; 7. Inglourious Basterds, $3.6 million; 8. All About Steve, $3.4 million; 9. Sorority Row, $2.5 million; 10. The Final Destination, $2.4 million.

RIVAL CAMPS AT SAG FAVOR STRIKE AUTHORIZATION

In separate statements over the weekend, spokespersons for the two rival factions of the Screen Actors Guild said that they favor seeking strike authorization in advance of next year's negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Anne-Marie Johnson, the candidate of the Membership First group insisted that strike authorization from the membership is needed in order to give union negotiators sufficient leverage at the bargaining table, and she voiced confidence that union members would back her stance. At the same time, Ned Vaughn, a spokesman for the Unite for Strength camp, was quoted by labor attorney Jonathan Handel on his blog that his group's "sole focus ... is increasing performers' bargaining power, so if a strike authorization is needed, we would certainly support it."

JOHN WELLS TO RETURN AS PRESIDENT OF WGA WEST

In what appeared to be a rejection of the more confrontational approach of its recent leadership, the membership of the Writers Guild of America West has returned John Wells to its presidency. Wells received 53 percent of the votes over Elias Davis, but was unable to persuade union members to vote for his running mates. Tom Schulman, an ally of outgoing President Patric Verrone, was elected vice president of the union and current VP David Weiss was elected treasurer.

PRECIOUS BECOMES OSCAR CONTENDER AFTER TORONTO WIN

Lee Daniels' drama Precious, which had already been showered with awards at the Sundance Film Festival added the top People's Choice prize from the Toronto Film Festival to its collection on Saturday. The award immediately put it into contention for next year's Oscars. (Last year's TFF winner was Slumdog Millionaire.) It also virtually assures a best-actress nomination for newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, who plays the title role. In the documentary category, Michael Moore's latest, Capitalism: A Love Story, was edged out by Leanne Pooley's The Topp Twins, about a pair of New Zealand lesbian country singers.