Two Literary Estates in Shambles

All would be novelists/writers should take note of the literary estates of Jack Kerouac and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  They are a mess.  To say the least!

“It is,” Jon Lellenberg, the American literary agent for the Arthur Conan Doyle estate, told the New York Times, “enough to make lawyers’ eyes roll up in their heads. Even British lawyers.”

See if you can follow this: “After the death of Conan Doyle in 1930, the guardianship of his literary properties was handed down through the three children he had with his second wife, Jean. Their son Denis helped usher Holmes into screen appearances both enduring (the Basil Rathbone films) and ephemeral (a 1954 television series starring Ronald Howard) before his death in 1955. The estate then passed to a younger son, Adrian, who died in 1970, and then to a daughter, also named Jean.  Denis’s widow, Nina, fought for control of the properties and won, purchasing the characters and establishing Baskervilles Investments Ltd., which fell into financial disarray. The Royal Bank of Scotland took receivership of the company and in 1976 sold the Conan Doyle rights; they came under the management of an American producer, Sheldon Reynolds, who made the 1954 “Sherlock Holmes” television series.” 

And that ain’t the half of Conan Doyle’s tangled web for ownership of his most famous detective Sherlock Holmes.  And yet, that mess is arbitrarily better than the one facing the potential inheritors for Jack Kerouac’s Literary Estate.

When Kerouac died, he wasn’t particularly weathly — some might call it “broke” — but his subsequent rise in popularity during the late-half of the 20th Century has led his estate to be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million. 

So you can imagine the kind of drama that has resulted: familial infighting! forged wills! lawsuits! Oh my! Actually, lots of the details regarding Jack Kerouac’s will is pretty seedy.

“What exactly remains of the Kerouac estate is a closely guarded secret; apparently the Sampas family keeps the archive in a bank vault, available only to hand-picked scholars and biographers, such as Douglas Brinkley, author of the unfinished and unpublished official Jack Kerouac biography, which was cancelled by Penguin after Brinkley failed to deliver the book in time for the 50th anniversary of On The Road,” writes Stephen Maughan. “Rumors circulated following Penguin’s decision to cancel the book that Sampas planed to write the official biography himself. When questioned about it, Sampas declared that of all the Kerouac biographies available, ‘none are of any quality.'”

So, lesson to young writers.  Make sure your will is locked down and your shit is tight, otherwise, you can expect relatives and ex-spouses and grandkids you never knew to fight of the millions of dollars your dead legacy generates.  Good times!

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