Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Happy Birthday, Shirley Jackson

Masterful modern gothic author Shirley Jackson ("The Lottery," The Haunting of Hill House, etc.) was born today in 1916. After her death in 1965, she received an Edgar Award in 1966 for her short story "The Possibility of Evil."

Monday, December 12, 2005

Lucy Maud Montgomery's Lawsuit

An interesting episode in the life of Anne of Green Gables author Lucy Maud Montgomery was her lawsuit against her original publisher, L. C. Page Co. of Boston, for its publication of Further Chronicles of Avonlea.

The suit is recounted in My Dear Mr. M, a collection of letters from Montgomery to her friend George MacMillan that was published by Oxford UP (1992), and it makes for fascinating reading.

Montgomery had changed publishers in 1916, whereupon Page withheld $1,000 of her royalties. With the assistance of the Authors League of America (which is now made up of the Authors Guild and the Dramatists Guild), Montgomery filed suit to collect her royalties and won. In March 1920, Page issued Further Chronicles that included stories that had been cut from an earlier volume, Chronicles of Avonlea. The cut stories had been returned to Montgomery, but she learned that the publisher had kept copies, and Montgomery was concerned because the cut stories contained descriptions and other elements that were now in Montgomery's books with Stokes, her new publisher.

Montgomery brought suit for an injunction against the book and damages. She testified in court for 3 weeks, which included one comical episode where she and legal counsel debated the precise color of Anne's hair. Page attempted to bring a libel suit against Montgomery that went all the way up to the Supreme Court where it was thrown out. In April 1923, a judge found in Montgomery's favor, with an injunction against the book and the profits from it awarded to her. The appeals by Page lasted until October 1928, when its last legal avenue was exhausted.

Summed up Montgomery in 1929: "They paid me $18,000 of profits and the thing was ended after nearly 9 years of worry and expense. The suit cost me $15,000. So I had for recompense $3,000, my injunction against the book---and the satisfaction of having rebuffed the Pages to a finish! The suit cost the Pages about $75,000 in all."

Translating the figures into 2003 dollars via the consumer price index, $3,000 in 1929 was equivalent to about $32,000 in 2003; $15,000 in 1929 was roughly $161,000 in 2003; and $75,000 in 1929 amounted to about $800,000 in 2003.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Happy Birthday, Cornell Woolrich

Today marks what would have been noir master Cornell Woolrich's 102nd birthday (he died in 1968). Probably best known for "The Window" (that eventually became Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window), Woolrich also wrote under the pseudonym William Irish, and his works under that name include I Married a Dead Man (that was adapted as the film Mrs. Winterbourne starring Shirley MacLaine and Ricki Lake). You can read a good sampling of his dark and often disturbing works in Darkness at Dawn, including a chilling short story that I have never forgotten, "Walls That Hear You." Some other Woolrich-inspired films include Black Angel (starring Dan Duryea as an alcoholic piano man trying to expose a murderer) and Francois Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black.

You can hear more about Woolrich's life and work tomorrow on my radio show, "It's a Mystery," at 11 am ET, when Mike Nevins, Woolrich's biographer, will speak about Woolrich's considerable contributions to the mystery. Click here for a link to the Webcast, or for more information on (and sound clips from) "It's a Mystery," click here.