Fights thwart film re­makes of John Stein­beck nov­els

The Korea Times - - CULTURE -

LOS AN­GE­LES (AP) — Film re­makes of “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden” fell apart be­cause John Stein­beck’s son and daugh­ter-in-law im­peded the projects, the writer’s step­daugh­ter says.

Waverly Scott Kaffaga al­leges that long-run­ning lit­i­ga­tion over the au­thor’s es­tate has pre­vented her from mak­ing the most of Stein­beck’s copy­rights at a time when mar­quee names such as Steven Spiel­berg and Jennifer Lawrence were in­ter­ested in bring­ing some his mas­ter­pieces back to the screen.

“The cat­a­log has been dirt­ied by these le­gal­i­ties,” Kaffaga told ju­rors in fed­eral court Tues­day. “The whole Stein­beck canon has been put into doubt.”

Kaffaga, daugh­ter of the late au­thor’s third wife, Elaine, is su­ing the es­tate of step­brother Thomas Stein­beck, who died last year, and his widow and their com­pany.

The law­suit fol­lows a decades-long dis­pute be­tween Thomas Stein­beck and Kaffaga’s mother over con­trol of the au­thor’s works.

Thomas Stein­beck has lost most rounds in court, in­clud­ing a law­suit he and the daugh­ter of his late brother, John Stein­beck IV, brought that spurred Kaffaga to coun­ter­sue in the cur­rent case.

A judge al­ready ruled the cou­ple breached a con­tract with Kaffaga. Ju­rors must de­cide if Thomas and Gail Stein­beck in­ter­fered with deals and should pay up.

At­tor­neys for Kaffaga did not name a price in court, but Gail Stein­beck said they pre­vi­ously asked the judge for $6.5 mil­lion plus puni­tive dam­ages.

Gail Stein­beck’s lawyer said she never in­ten­tion­ally in­ter­fered in deals she and her hus­band would have ben­e­fited from and that would have served their in­ter­est pro­mot­ing the No­bel Prize win­ner’s legacy.

An at­tor­ney for Kaffaga said Gail Stein­beck caught wind of projects and then threat­ened movie mak­ers that she and her hus­band had le­gal rights to the work and also cut se­cret side deals without no­ti­fy­ing Kaffaga.

In one in­stance, Thomas Stein­beck se­cretly signed a $650,000 deal with DreamWorks to be an ex­ecu- tive pro­ducer on a film re­make of “The Grapes of Wrath,” the Pulitzer Prize-win­ning novel that starred Henry Fonda on the sil­ver screen that won two Os­cars.

Pro­duc­ers and di­rec­tors later dropped the re­makes be­cause they feared lit­i­ga­tion by the Stein­becks, Kaffaga’s at­tor­ney Su­san Kohlmann said in her open­ing state­ment.

Kohlmann put Gail Stein­beck on the wit­ness stand early in the case and dis­played emails that she wrote sug­gest­ing that a re­ported re­make of “East of Eden” star­ring Lawrence would be “lit­i­ga­tion city.”

An­other email Gail Stein­beck wrote af­ter her hus­band lost a re­lated court case in New York sug­gested lit­i­ga­tion wouldn’t end un­til “I draw my last breath.”

Stein­beck laughed off that com­ment in tes­ti­mony, say­ing, “Oh, that was silly.”

De­fense at­tor­ney Matthew Berger noted that Kaffaga was never adopted by John Stein­beck and was not one of his heirs. He said Thomas Stein­beck was a co-owner of his fa­ther’s copy­right and re­ceived roy­al­ties.

Gail Stein­beck es­ti­mated con­ser­va­tively that her hus­band re­ceived $120,000 a year in pub­lish­ing roy­al­ties from the au­thor’s work — and as much as $200,000 in some years.

Berger said Kaffaga’s claim had no merit and she wasn’t en­ti­tled to any dam­ages be­cause most movies op­tioned are never made and that es­ti­mated rev­enue from un­pro­duced projects was spec­u­la­tion.


Amer­i­can au­thor John Stein­beck, win­ner of the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for his novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” is shown in this un­dated file photo.

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