Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hard-boiled Author's Widow Sues to Avert Film Version of Long-Neglected Work

A rat caught in a rat trapImage via WikipediaIn Loretta Cubberley v. Jan Egleson, Fund for Theater & Film, Inc. et al. (Case No. 1:11-cv-10844-GAO), a copyright infringement suit filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the widow of attorney/journalist/author George V. Higgins is seeking to put the kibosh on the film adaptation of one of her husband's long-neglected works, The Rat on Fire.

The suit reads like one of the gritty novels by the hard-boiled Higgins, best-known for The Friends of Eddie Coyle, which was made into a film starring Robert Mitchum in 1973. Cubberley claims Higgins produced The Rat on Fire manuscript in 1979 at the behest of  the Fund for Theater & Film, Inc. ("FTF"), with an eye toward creating a dramatic series for WGBH-TV, the local PBS station, about arsonists who torch structures by dousing rats in gasoline and turning them loose in targeted buildings.

The station balked at producing the controversial series, in part, because of its portrayal of minorities, so the manuscript languished on the shelf for a couple of years and was published as a novel in 1981, according to the complaint. A film version of the novel, Cogan's Trade, published by Higgins in 1974, starring Brad Pitt, is scheduled to premiere next year, which prompted FTF to dust-off  Rat on Fire to capitalize on a Higgins revival.

Not so fast, says Cubberley, in her lawsuit that alleges FTF's film rights to the flammable rodents tale have expired. The complaint alleges Egleson, a film professor at Boston University (where "TUOL" also teaches), FTF, along with defendants Robert Patton-Spruill, Patricia Moreno and Film Shack, Inc., have violated copyright and trademark rights of the Estate of George V. Higgins by establishing a Website and pursuing a film adaptation of Rat on Fire.

U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts Jude George A. O'Toole, Jr. has been assigned to the case.

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