One of American literature’s greatest courtroom dramas is generating some legal theater of its own. To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee is suing her former lit agent’s son-in-law, Samuel Pinkus, and companies he allegedly started for failing to protect the Pulitzer-winning novel’s copyright. Lee, 87, alleges that Pinkus took advantage of her failing eyesight and hearing and assigned the copyright to himself and a firm he operated after his father-in-law, Eugene Winick — who had repped Lee since the book’s publication in 1960 — became ill 10 years ago. The author, who lives in rural Alabama, filed suit in Manhattan federal court and is seeking return of the copyright and unspecified damages. The 1962 movie adaptation of Mockingbird was nominated for Best Picture and seven other Academy Awards and won three, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck’s legendary performance as Atticus Finch. The lawyer who becomes a pariah in his small Southern town as defends a black man accused of raping a white woman was hailed by the AFI in 2003 as the greatest film hero of all time. Last year President Obama introduced the film before a 50th anniversary screening at the White House.
Universal this month is launching a yearlong 2012 centennial celebration with an ambitious and almost unprecedented film-restoration effort, a new logo, a swarm of special-edition Blu-ray movie packages, theme park celebrations emphasizing their film history, special events, premieres, and a major social media campaign. Like Paramount, which is also embarking on a centennial celebration, the emphasis here is making the old seem new again. Key among Universal’s plans is the complete restoration of 13 films that showcase a large part of the history of the studio — from 1930′s All Quiet On The Western Front to 1993′s Schindler’s List.
When I spoke with Universal president and COO Ron Meyer on Monday morning, his excitement about this opportunity to mark the studio’s storied past and take it into the future was evident. “One hundred years is such a great milestone,” he said. “I am a movie lover. It’s such an important part of the American culture, a part of the heritage of this country. I think we have a responsibility to our employees, to the public to celebrate not just a milestone but celebrate the movie business, and this gives us a reason to do it.” He emphasized the centerpiece of this yearlong effort: the restoration of many Universal classics each uniquely repping their own decades.
Films chosen to get the full restoration treatment — in addition to the aforementioned All’s Quiet and Schindler’s List — are both 1931 versions of Dracula, Frankenstein (1931), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Abbott and Costello’s Buck Privates (1941), Pillow Talk (1959), To Kill A Mockingbird (1962), The Birds (1963), The Sting (1973), Jaws (1975), and Out of Africa (1985). That’s actually 12 titles altogether, but there are 13 films since the studio is restoring both 1931 versions of Dracula — including Bela Lugosi’s famous English-language picture and the Spanish version that was filmed on the same sets at night. Pillow Talk repping the ’50s was one of Universal’s biggest hits ever to that time, earning an Original Screenplay Oscar and Doris Day’s only Oscar nomination. It seems an interesting and inspired choice to me, and to Meyer. “What a great movie,” he said. “I have four children who don’t know these movies. They don’t know a Doris Day movie or Rock Hudson movies. And they are going to enjoy them when they see them. Once they see it they can appreciate it. There’s no way for even 30-year olds to know some of those movies unless they are film buffs.”