Gene Maddaus writes: A federal jury on Tuesday ordered John Steinbeck’s daughter-in-law to pay $13 million for interfering in efforts to produce film versions of “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden.”
The verdict is a huge victory for Waverly Scott Kaffaga, the daughter of Steinbeck’s third wife, who controls the rights to Steinbeck’s works under a 1983 agreement. Kaffaga sued Thom and Gail Steinbeck, the author’s son and daughter-in-law, in 2014, accusing them of scuttling the two film projects by falsely claiming control of the copyrights.
The $13.15 million award is $1.3 million more than Kaffaga’s attorneys had asked for. Kaffaga sought $3.95 million to compensate for lost income from the film projects, along with $7.9 million in punitive damages. Attorney Susan Kohlmann argued that Gail Steinbeck had repeatedly flouted court rulings and asserted her right to control the copyrights, and argued that a steep judgment would send a strong message.
“We ask you to stop Gail… from interfering once and for all, so that the public will see John Steinbeck’s works come to life,” Kohlmann said in closing arguments.
In a statement, Kaffaga said she was pleased that the verdict “recognizes the Estate’s full control of the rights to John Steinbeck’s works.”
“The outcome upholds the Estate’s mission of sharing his legacy with the world,” she said. “We are thankful to the members of the jury for their time and service.”
But Gail Steinbeck shows no signs of giving up. Outside court, she said she would seek a stay of the judgment and pursue the case at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, indicating that any film adaptations may yet be some time off.
“They’re trying to bankrupt me,” she said.
At trial, Kaffaga’s attorneys presented evidence that Gail Steinbeck had scuttled a proposed Universal adaptation of “East of Eden,” which was to star Jennifer Lawrence. They also put on evidence that she and her husband, who died last year, negotiated a secret “side deal” with DreamWorks over the rights to “The Grapes of Wrath,” which was at one point to be directed by Steven Spielberg. Kaffaga’s attorneys argued that the $650,000 payment “went to the wrong person.”
The Steinbeck rights have been subject to decades of dispute and litigation. The 1983 agreement gave Elaine Steinbeck control of … (read more)