Jury trial concludes in storied writer’s estate litigation clash

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Well, it’s not The Grapes of Wrath, but it is nonetheless wrath, and it spells mutually directed ire that has soured relations between heirs of best-selling author John Steinbeck for many years.

Steinbeck has been dead for decades, but his classic treatment of potent themes in American life resulted in novels that exploded in popularity during his life and that endure perpetually as riveting classics.

Understandably, people have wanted to adapt Steinbeck’s works into other art forms since his passing. A recent media report cites two of the writer’s novels that became popular motion pictures during his life, namely the above-noted Grapes of Wrath and, later, East of Eden, respectively. Those works have commanded continuing attention, and the estate of Steinbeck’s third wife — which has been recognized as having full control over the novels — has periodically considered new film adaptations.

And, as is now being revealed in reports from just-concluded estate litigation that played out in a federal court, the estate has long suffered from intentional interference from Steinbeck’s now-deceased son and his still-living daughter-in-law aimed at impeding remakes of those two books.

The executor of the estate, the third wife’s daughter Waverly Scott Kaffaga, told the jury that, although the estate has considered many proposed adaptations, including an overture from Steven Spielberg, attempts to move forward on projects have been recurrently stymied over many decades. Kaffaga told the jury that the defendants engaged repeatedly in illegal actions to impede new adaptations, including threats they made to keep the estate persistently embroiled in litigation.

The jury panel ultimately sided with Kaffaga in the estate battle, awarding the estate a money recovery of $13 million, which included nearly $8 million in punitive damages.

The matter now seems likely headed for appeal.

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