Stooges heirs move to end pact with Col

The owners of the “Three Stooges” trademark and merchandising want to part ways with Columbia Pictures.

On Tuesday, attorneys for Norman Maurer Prods. and Jeffrey Scott Prods. filed a complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court seeking to invalidate a 1988 agreement for Columbia to develop a possible series of feature films using the Three Stooges characters.

Joan Maurer, Norman’s wife, is the daughter of the Stooges’ Moe Howard. Jeffrey Scott is Howard’s grandson.

The initial agreement called for a two-year option, but was extended beyond that period per Columbia’s request.

In 1992, NMP and Scott Prods. refused any further extensions and told Columbia execs that they would have to exercise the rights or relinquish them, court papers said. At that time, they also terminated the studio’s rights to act as a licensing agent for NMP related to Three Stooges merchandising, saying that revenue was continuing to fall under Columbia’s guidance.

Columbia agreed to exercise therights with a one-year production window, promising that production on a “Stooges” film would begin within that year.

Yet court papers say that the studio violated that agreement by distributing a “60th Anniversary” Stooges video, a video of “The Edge” and a “Curly Shuffle” video.

Studio spokesman Mark Gill said Columbia had no comment.

Additionally, studio execs told Maurer and Scott that if they were not given merchandising rights for all Three Stooges material, no film would ever get made , court papers say.

This statement, made last month, was in direct contradiction to assurances given by executive VP of production Michael Nathanson, according to a letter sent to Columbia by Maurer’s attorney, Gregg Homer.

“A few month ago, frustrated by the inactivity on the picture, Jeffrey, Jeffrey’s agent (Chris Barrett) and David Madden met with Michael Nathanson,” that letter said. “At that meeting, Michael reassured all present that Columbia was making this picture and guaranteed that Columbia ‘will have it in front of the camera within nine months.’ ”

Yet Homer’s letter said that Columbia exec Teddy Zee called Scott last week to “advise him that if the Columbia merchandising arrangement was not renewed, the picture would not be made.”

“Jeffrey considers this threat the pinnacle of bad faith between contracting parties, a breach of several other express and implied covenants, an unfair trade practice and a violation of other applicable law,” Homer’s letter said.

The complaint seeks a judicial determination concerning the validity of the agreement in the face of this alleged breach, which would allow them to cancel the pact.

Ironically, relatives of Larry Fine and Curly Joe DeRita, two of the Stooges, are currently suing Norman Maurer Prods., Joan Maurer and Jeffrey Scott, alleging that they are owed up to $ 5 million in merchandising and marketing profits from the Three Stooges trademark.

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