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Profit dispute over Anne of Green Gables

One hundred years ago, Anne of Green Gables introduced readers to one of the most enduring characters in fiction and launched Canada's most lucrative literary franchise. The heartwarming story of the plucky red-headed orphan has gone on to sell hundreds of millions of copies and become the basis for an unprecedented television phenomenon. But behind the fictional and feisty Anne Shirley lurked the often-tormented life of author Lucy Maud Montgomery. CBC Archives takes a look at the life, death and lasting legacy of the woman who created Anne.

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After nearly a decade, a nasty legal fight between L.M. Montgomery's heirs and producer Kevin Sullivan goes public at a July 1999 press conference. In front of television cameras, Montgomery's 88-year-old daughter-in-law and her granddaughter claim the upstart producer is withholding profits from his successful string of TV movies and series based on Montgomery's works.
This CBC Television report looks at the claims and counterclaims in this legal tug-of-war that will eventually land both in court. 
• A 1984 contract signed by Sullivan Entertainment and Montgomery's heirs saw the family receive $425,000 in exchange for the exclusive rights to produce a miniseries of Anne Of Green Gables. They were paid another $100,000 for a sequel a few years later.
• The contract also stipulated that the heirs would be paid 10 per cent of the net profits in perpetuity on all rights from any adaptations. It stated that the Macdonalds would be permitted to audit the company's books.

• The family, led by daughter-in-law Ruth Macdonald and granddaughter Kate Butler Macdonald, claim they made more than 40 requests for an independent audit of Sullivan Entertainment's books throughout the 1990s and were turned down each time. In July 1999 they held a news conference in Toronto where they publicly expressed their frustration and provided details of their fight.
• "We've been stonewalled too long," Macdonald Butler told the Globe and Mail.

• Kevin Sullivan rejected the family's accusations and launched a $55-million defamation suit against the heirs and their lawyer, Marian Hebb.
• A lawyer for Sullivan said his client had offered to take the dispute to an independent arbitrator, but the family "pulled the plug on that process and went public."

• Sullivan insisted that although the films were a hit, he had yet to make a profit from them, citing a complex system of co-producers and investors. In fact, in the early 1990s he sued a number of PBS stations in the United States for $2.5 million in unpaid broadcasting fees.
• Sullivan claimed the family's press conference forced him to postpone a plan to take his entertainment company public, costing him millions of dollars.

• During the five-year court battle that resulted, accusations flew, including one that claimed Sullivan challenged the relationship of Ruth Macdonald to L.M. Montgomery.
• In January 2004 the defamation lawsuit was thrown out of court by a Toronto judge.

• In a 38-page ruling, Justice Jean MacFarland called Sullivan "one of the most evasive witnesses I have encountered ... When cross-examined, he could not answer a question directly. The most simple of questions elicited a long, complex and essentially evasive response in many, many instances."
• In September 2004 Sullivan appealed the ruling, claiming that the judge had made more than dozen errors in her ruling. The application has yet to go to before a court (2005).
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: July 6, 1999
Guest(s): Marian Hebb, Kate Macdonald Butler
Host: Diana Swain
Reporter: Norman Hermant
Duration: 2:27

Last updated: October 29, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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