(Alexandra Alter’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/10; via Pam Green; photo: In 1969, Harper Lee and Dramatic Publishing agreed on a contract that authorized the company to license a stage adaptation of her novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”Credit…Donald Uhrbrock/Getty Images.)
The estate is contesting an arbitrator’s ruling that it had been too aggressive in limiting productions of a 1970 adaptation of the novel as Aaron Sorkin’s new staged version came to Broadway.
The ruling found that under pressure from Scott Rudin, then lead producer of a different adaptation of the book, which was intended for Broadway, the estate interfered with Dramatic’s contracts, and tried to prevent some productions of the work.
The ruling, made in January, comes nearly three years after Dramatic invoked an arbitration clause in its contract to prevent limits on productions of its adaptation.
Dramatic’s adaptation, by the playwright Christopher Sergel, has long been a staple at schools and community theaters around the country. It’s the version of that has been staged every year in Lee’s hometown, Monroeville, Ala. And for decades, Dramatic was the only publisher Lee had authorized to license a theatrical adaptation of her beloved 1960 novel about a crusading lawyer named Atticus Finch who represents a Black man who is unjustly accused of rape in a small town in Alabama.
Then, in 2018, Rudin brought the new Aaron Sorkin adaptation to Broadway, where it became a box office hit.
Christopher Sergel III, president of Dramatic Publishing Company and the grandson of the author of the first adaptation, claimed that the Lee estate acted in concert with Rudin to prevent some local productions of the play from going forward. In cease-and-desist letters to local theaters, Rudin’s lawyers claimed that those productions were no longer permissible because of the Sorkin adaptation. As a result, at least eight theaters canceled productions of Dramatic’s version of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”