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Steinbeck’s estate wants suit dismissed

Heirs say ‘hidden conspiracy’ cheats them of royalties
/ Source: The Associated Press

Attorneys for the estate of John Steinbeck’s widow are seeking to dismiss a lawsuit by the author’s surviving heirs, who are alleging a “30-year hidden conspiracy” to cheat them of royalties and copyright control.

The late Nobel laureate’s son, Thomas Steinbeck, and granddaughter, Blake Smyle, filed suit July 15 in the U.S. District Court in New York, seeking greater ownership of “The Grapes of Wrath” and other Steinbeck classics and monetary damages of at least $18 million.

Defendants in the lawsuit include the estate of Steinbeck’s widow, Elaine Steinbeck, who died last year; two sisters of Elaine Steinbeck; Elaine Steinbeck’s daughter from a previous marriage and four grandchildren.

Defendants filed their response late Thursday. Susan Kohlmann, an intellectual property partner with Pillsbury Winthrop, which represents the estate of Elaine Steinbeck and its beneficiaries, said Friday the allegations had been resolved in a confidential 1983 settlement.

“It is unfortunate that Thom Steinbeck and Blake Smyle have used the death of Elaine Steinbeck in 2003 as an opportunity to relitigate virtually identical claims resolved more than 20 years ago,” Kohlmann said.

“Nothing has changed in all these years to change the nature of that agreement. The Elaine Steinbeck estate and its beneficiaries will vigorously defend their rights to retain their interests in John Steinbeck’s works.”

No hearing has been set.

John Steinbeck died in 1968, but his books remain in great demand. “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men” sell hundreds of thousands of copies annually, and “East of Eden,” an epic story of family rivalry, was an Oprah Winfrey book club pick last year. His works are also frequently filmed and staged.

The author’s literary estate was originally bequeathed to Elaine Steinbeck, whom he married in 1950. In 1981, the author’s sons from a previous marriage, Thomas and John IV, sued for increased royalties and the case was settled out of court two years later after a federal judge in New York dismissed the claim.