Jack Haley Jr.'s Estate Sues Warner Bros. Over 'Wizard of Oz' TV Special

The suit in federal court says after the estate refused to sell its half interest to Warners', the special was “mothballed.”

The estate of producer Jack Haley Jr. has filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. charging that a 1994 TV special about the making of The Wizard of Oz, in which Haley’s father played the Tin Man, has been “mothballed” because the estate refused to sell the studio its half interest.

The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta by Kelly Brandt, trustee for the estate, over the one hour special The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Classic, which was originally a joint venture with Turner Entertainment. Haley died in 2001.

Warners' home video division acquired the rights when it absorbed Turner and its library and over the years did distribute the show, paying Haley’s estate a total of just over $2 million. The most recent payment, for $60,848, was made this past August.

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The suit says that in 2011, Warner Bros. said it wanted to buy out the Haley estate’s 50 percent interest for $150,000; or else it would no longer distribute the special at all.

The estate points out that there have been many Oz related movies, TV specials, books and other projects related to the classic 1939 movie – including Disney's March hit movie Oz The Great and Powerful -- which shows that their special continues to be valuable. They say Warners has an implicit obligation to continue to exploit the property, but instead has put it on the shelf over the ownership dispute.

Warner Bros.' actions, says the suit, “have violated the common sense admonition not to ‘cut off your nose to spite your face’ as The Wizard of Oz has enjoyed renewed interest and popularity recent and a number of derivative works have recently enjoyed great success.”

Warners has launched a marketing campaign to celebrate the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, says the suit, and has marketed as an “All-New Feature Length Documentary The Making of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz that uses some of the same footage from Haley’s documentary.

The creation of the new documentary, charges the suit, “was merely a means to avoid the joint adventurers’ agreement and the corresponding 50/50 profit share.”

“Every day that passes leads to dollars lost,” says the suit, due to Warners' “unilateral and unlawful decision to both mothball the [Haley special] and exclude [the Haley estate] from the competing derivative work and joint venture opportunity.”

The estate is asking for a temporary restraining order and a ruling that it is half owner of the special and the right to control future distribution because Warners has acted in “bad faith.”

The suit also asks for the appointment of a receiver and that the master recording of the special be turned over to the estate. It wants to be paid for expenses, legal fees and other damages.

On Friday a spokesman for Warner Bros. declined comment. He said the studio has not yet been served with the lawsuit.