Another Three Stooges pie fight has broken out with the heirs of the legendary comedy troupe and Sony Signatures over the hawking of Stooge merchandise.

The heirs, under the corporation banner Comedy III Prods., have sued Sony Signatures for breach of contract, negligence, misappropriation of funds and theft, among other forms of misconduct.

Sony and the Stooges had a deal to license and merchandise Stooge clothes, dolls and paraphernalia, which the Stooge contingent maintains was breached. The suit was filed Nov. 27 in Los Angeles Superior Court in downtown L.A..

A day later Sony filed a cross-complaint also in L.A. Superior Court in Burbank to uphold the contract, which has been in effect since March 30, 1995. Comedy III had no comment on the suit. Benjamin, Lugosi & Benjamin law firm is repping the Stooges family.

A Sony spokeswoman commented: “We have absolute confidence in our position. Beyond that we do not comment on pending litigation.” Troop, Meisinger, Steuber & Pasich are handling Sony’s legal side.

A hearing in Burbank is slated for later this week.

The suit was filed after Comedy III sent Sony a letter terminating the pact between them, which Comedy III spokesman Eddie Michaels confirmed. Comedy III alleges that Sony breached its partnership with the company by failing to disclose “secret deals” it had made for Stooge property with Cronies T-Shirts and Celebrity Cellars.

Comedy III’s complaint also charges that Sony improperly accounted for money that Sony collected for Comedy III, a figure that it claims exceeds $10 million.

Plaintiffs also alleged that Sony reps ran up $300,000 in expenses, while only bringing in $1.7 million in revenue and accused Sony of mishandling the line.

Sony, meanwhile, argued that Comedy III was given a seven-figure advance and was now reneging by attempting to nullify the contract. In its cross-complaint, Sony said it paid Comedy III $1 million to close the deal, along with an additional $250,000. It also said that Comedy III was promised at least $1.85 million over the life of the contract.

Sony also argued that Comedy III went behind Sony’s back to negotiate deals with Stroh’s Beer and Hasbro Toys and that it wrongfully withheld approval of marketing budgets.

Sony also charged that the Stooge group was charged with frustrating efforts to broker a film clip license agreement with Columbia Pictures Industries.

Comedy III was formed in 1959 by Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Joe De Rita. The company was set up to provide for the Stooges and their heirs. All the rights to the Stooges’ material were put into the corporation and they all became shareholders.

In 1995, a court awarded the heirs of Fine and DeRita the film and merchandising rights to the troupe’s material after years of litigation with Howard’s heirs.

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