John Steinbeck’s relatives by marriage in copyright dispute

By , on August 30, 2017


Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles, California  (Photo By Thomas Wolf, www.foto-tw.de, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles, California
(Photo By Thomas Wolf, www.foto-tw.de, CC BY-SA 3.0)

LOS ANGELES— Film remakes of “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden” fell apart because John Steinbeck’s late son and widow impeded the projects, the writer’s stepdaughter told jurors in federal court Tuesday.

Waverly Scott Kaffaga alleges that long-running litigation 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 catalogue has been dirtied by these legalities,” Kaffaga said. “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.

A judge already ruled the couple breached a contract with Kaffaga and 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 sought $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 would have served their interest in 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 rights and tried to cut side deals without notifying Kaffaga.

Attorney Susan 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.”