The Problems at Hand, and How You Can Help
My deepest possible thanks to the Green Man for this platform and the chance to speak out. It's a great kindness, and a mark of some of what makes this site the extraordinary place that it is.
Over the last few years, with the help of certain friends and lots of fans, there has been real progress in solving Peter S. Beagle's professional problems. We've come a long way since his appalling nadir in 2001. But 40 years of professional mismanagement can't be erased overnight — and in some ways we're entering the hardest patch yet. Once you fix the little problems, after all, what's left are the really big ones.
There are five problems on deck worth mentioning. I'll summarize them here briefly, with links to more information where it's available, then close with some specific ways that people who are inclined to help can join in.
The Film Rights to "Farrell and Lila the Werewolf"
Oh what a tangled web we weave...In 1985 a producer named Max Rosenberg optioned the movie rights to "Farrell and Lila the Werewolf" from Peter's film agent. In 1986 Max sold these rights to Irving Schwartz and his American Motion Picture Company — but he decided not to tell Peter or Peter's film agent about the deal, or to share any of the proceeds. Irving Schwartz, not knowing that Max hadn't met his contractual obligation to Peter, started development on the picture and invested in multiple treatments and screenplays.
Meanwhile Max, in an amazingly flagrant display of chutzpah, continued to offer the already-sold film rights to other production companies and studios. He did this for years, apparently assuming Schwartz & Co. weren't ever going to get anywhere or discover what he was up to.
In 1992 Geena Davis almost bought the property from Max. In 1999 Continent Films did buy, and announced the purchase in the Hollywood trades...
...which report was seen by the Schwartz family, who hit the roof. Lawyer letters flew.
When the dust settled, Continent had to admit it didn't own what it thought it just bought . . . Max admitted what he had done but tried to make it seem harmless and innocent...the Schwartz family appeared to own the film rights...and Peter finally realized that Max, whom he'd thought of for years as a "lovable scoundrel" who simply hadn't been able to make a deal for the story...wasn't so lovable after all.
In 2004, before things could be untangled, Max — in his 90s now — died. He left no money in his estate and nothing of value to go after, so everybody involved was stuck without compensation for the fraud Max committed.
Status: We're still untangling. It's a mess and it will take some reasonably significant lawyering to sort out.
How Peter's Fans Can Help: Donate to the support fund. This one isn't costly yet, but it's almost certainly going to go on for a long time before there's any agreement.
The Stage Rights to A Fine and Private Place
The original theatrical adaptation of Peter's first novel, A Fine and Private Place, was written by Peter's good friend Irv Bauer. This straight dramatic staging got one production at the Showboat Theatre in Seattle and never ran again. Peter made his second theatrical deal on the property in 1985, this time for a musical. But while the young playwright and composer involved did manage to complete their show, and even get it staged a couple of times, they never met the merger requirements of their option contract. Ultimately their rights lapsed.
In 1990 the Samuel French Company expressed interest in marketing the musical for amateur and stock performances, so the playwright and composer came back to Peter and asked him to sign a waiver allowing the deal. He did...and that's where all the trouble started. Since that point the other side has adamantly claimed that the Samuel French waiver triggered merger, as defined by the lapsed 1985 deal, so that they now own all theatrical rights to A Fine and Private Place, and Peter owns nothing. Peter sees things differently. According to his attorney, even the Samuel French waiver lapsed sometime back in 1992.
Things got especially complicated this last spring, when the other side arranged for a run of their musical at the York Theatre in Manhattan. This production was done without Peter's permission and was absolutely outside the bounds of the Samuel French deal, even if it were still valid.
Things might be different if Peter liked the musical. But he doesn't. He thinks it's terrible. (Some hints, for those who know the book...in this musical, the Raven hits Mrs. Klapper on the hat with a well-aimed bit of birdshit. And it turns out that ghosts can read minds and send mental messages, as we discover in a rumba-tinged number unfortunately called "The Telepathetique." Oy.)
Status: We are in the early stages of a full legal battle to re-establish that Peter is sole owner of the rights. We want to make sure this musical is never performed anywhere ever again.
How Peter's Fans Can Help: Donate to the support fund. This has already cost $8,500 in legal expenses and could easily cost another $20,000 before it is settled, either through arbitration or other legal means.
The Conflict with Granada Media over the 1982 Animated Version of The Last Unicorn
Between 1999 and 2006, London-based Granada
Media (a multibillion-dollar entertainment and news conglomerate) sold
hundred thousand DVDs and videotapes of the animated version of The Last Unicorn through various distributors around the world.
They've also made cable broadcast deals for the film in several
different countries, and they sold the live action remake
rights for a quarter of a million dollars.
The film is based on Peter S. Beagle's famous book. He also wrote the screenplay. The film is as good as it is because Peter put everything he had into it.
And — as of this writing — Granada Media still hasn't paid Peter a penny of what they contractually owe him, which could be as much as several hundred thousand dollars.
UPDATE: There's progress! Thanks to internet PR, a fan-based letter-writing campaign, and the entrance of an Eminent Third Party (who can't be named, just yet) as of July 2006 we may be nearing an equitable resolution. Negotiations are currently under way. No guarantees, of course, but it looks like we might be close. To everyone out there who helped Peter get this far, by raising their voices in protest for him — thanks!
DECEMBER 2006 UPDATE: Negotiations continue. Meanwhile, Lionsgate has agreed to let Peter sell their new, improved, digitally-remastered widescreen 25th anniversary DVD of The Last Unicorn through Conlan Press. This means that fans who want the DVD can now buy it from Conlan Press and know that Peter will receive more than half the money. (Unfortunately, sales through any other outlet still won't pay him a cent.)
The Conflict with the Saul Zaentz Company over the 1978 Animated Version of The Lord of the Rings
In 1978, Peter wrote the screenplay for the animated Lord of the Rings. It took draft after draft written under ferocious deadline pressure to make everything work. Producer Saul Zaentz made a lot of promises to Peter in order to get him to do that work in return for no money beyond his original "consulting fee" of only $5,000 ó promises that Zaentz almost immediately reneged on.
The animated movie was only a moderate success at the box office, but the power of Peter's script helped the film work magic on a young Peter Jackson, inspiring him to go read Tolkien's books. (Hear Jackson say so for himself at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, on February 6th, 2004.) Where that led...well, we all know where that led.
But we donít all know that Saul Zaentz has been paid nearly two hundred million dollars out of the earnings of Peter Jackson's films, as payment for Zaentz's Tolkien rights. And we donít all know that the Saul Zaentz Company refuses to use any of their huge income to finally make good on the promises that Zaentz made to Peter, even though (a) they could easily afford to do so, and (b) without Peter's hard work they never would have earned any of that money.
Adding insult to injury, when asked to do the right thing they claim they've never profited from owning the Tolkien rights.
Background Information & Chronology
Frequently Asked Questions
Actions YOU can take
Peter's fans speak out!
A Death in the Family
Peter's mother, Rebecca Soyer Beagle, finally passed away on the evening of Saturday, June 24th, after several years of declining health, increasing medical costs, and financial problems which left her with very little. Peter must now handle all the practical matters that have been generated by her death. She was 100 years old. She went in her sleep, which was good, leaving behind her two sons, Peter and Daniel, and many people who loved her.
If you would like to learn more about this remarkable woman, without whose loving support and childhood influence Peter would never have become a writer, click here.
Messages of condolence should be sent to Peter c/o Conlan Press:PETER S. BEAGLE c/o Conlan Press
Peter has asked that anyone wishing to make donations in Rebecca Beagle's memory do so by giving to one of her favorite institutions, the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley, California. Rebecca was a docent there before she became too frail to continue, and always supported the museum and its mission. Contact information below::
Judah L. Magnes Museum
2911 Russell Street
Berkeley, CA 94705
PH (510) 549-6950
FAX (510) 849-3673
Judah L. Magnes Museum homepage
Judah L. Magnes Museum ó donations & support
How To Help!
Hard as it may be to believe ó given the fame of The Last Unicorn, and its worldwide legion of readers ó Peter has never been financially successful. Royalties from his books are a pittance, and as noted above the big money he should have gotten from film projects has always been denied him. Just like Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster with their creation Superman, Peter's lack of business sense has left him poor and struggling even as other people have made fortunes off his talent and hard work.
You can change that!
You can help by reading the Chronology, FAQ, and "Actions YOU Can Take" pages linked above, then following the steps described in them.
You can help by signing up to become part of the public campaign on Peter's behalf. Whatever you put down will be posted as part of the Peter's fans speak out! page. We'll also automatically notify you of updates to the "take action" lists, and whenever there is a specifically-targeted push being launched that could use your participation.
You can help by making a direct donation, so Peter can pay for the kind of lawyers and forensic accountants that can successfully prosecute these fights. Right now the legal tab that's due is already over $14,000, and it's still way early in the battle. (Some people have wondered why Peter needs a legal support fund at all ó "why not get a pro bono attorney, or someone who will take the case on contingency?" Unfortunately, that's impossible. Check out the FAQs for why.)
You can help by buying Peter's books from Conlan Press, so Peter has more money to pay his legal bills. (Peter gets much more from books sold via Conlan Press than he does from any other sales site or store, and he gets it faster.) Most especially, you can buy the widescreen American DVD re-release of The Last Unicorn from Conlan Press, since Peter gets no money at all if you buy it somewhere else, but more than half the purchase if you buy it from Conlan.
You can help by spreading the word. Cite this page in your blog. Send the URL to your friends by email. Tell anyone and everyone you can. The more people that know the truth, the better. And the more people that get behind Peter, the sooner this story will finally have a happy ending.
If you want to know more about what's going on, and what you can do, send me a personal email.
[Connor Freff Cochran]
illustration from on-line catalog