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The Final Letter of ‘Lois Lane’ Joanne Siegel to Time Warner


Joanne Siegel, the wife of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and the original model for Lois Lane, recently passed away at the age of 93. After her death, Joanne was widely remembered not only for her physical beauty and the inspiration it provided for the classic Superman love interest, but for her tireless determination to reclaim the rights to the Superman character, originally sold for $130 but now a billion-dollar franchise for Time Warner, which owns DC Comics.

Deadline has posted the final letter of Joanne Siegel to Time Warner, composed only two months before her death, where she appeals to CEO Jeffrey Bewkes to pay the share of Superman profits since 1999 that the Siegels are legally owed, and end the “mean-spirited tactics” of the Time Warner legal team that clearly aggrieved her in her final months. The letter exemplifies all the qualities she — and the intrepid reporter she inspired — were known for: fearlessness, grace, and a dogged pursuit of justice that never wavered, even to the very end:

On December 1st I turned 93. I am old enough to be your mother. I have grown grandchildren. Unfortunately I am not in the best of health. My cardiologist provided a letter to your attorneys informing them that I suffer from a serious heart condition and that forcing me to go through yet another stressful deposition could put me in danger of a heart attack or stroke. I am also on medications that have side effects which force me to stay close to home and restrooms. Nonetheless your attorneys are forcing me to endure a second deposition even though I have already undergone a deposition for a full day in this matter. As clearly they would be covering the same ground, their intention is to harass me…

So I ask you to please consider – do these mean spirited tactics meet with your approval? Do you really think the families of Superman’s creators should be treated this way?

For those unfamiliar with the legal battle between Time Warner and the heirs of Jerry Siegel, much of it hinges on a 2008 ruling that the Siegel heirs are entitled to half of the Superman copyright, and that they were owed money for the use of the Superman character since 1999. It also meant that the rest of the Superman rights could revert wholly to the heirs of the co-creators in 2013 — if the ruling survived a legal challenge.

While the upcoming Superman movie continues its casting process, Time Warner has battled on to retain its rights to the highly lucrative Superman franchise, often with hardball tactics like filing suit against the Siegels’ lawyer, Marc Toberoff, as well as the “harassment” that Joanne describes below:

December 10, 2010

Jeffrey L. Bewkes
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Time Warner Inc.

Dear Jeff,

I am Joanne Siegel widow of Jerry Siegel, creator of Superboy and co-creator of Superman with Joe Shuster. It has always been my policy to be in touch with the Chairmen of the Board of your company going back to when Steve Ross formed Warner Communications.

Steve Ross knew how to take care of large vexing problems. He paid the price, whatever it was, then went on, and the company prospered. He was gracious and friendly when my late husband Jerry and I met him at a stockholders meeting after he sent Jerry, Joe, my daughter Laura and me company stock. He also phoned me to say if we needed anything I should just pick up the phone and call him. He said if he could not be reached for some reason, one of the top officers in the company, Deane Johnson, would handle things personally. Laura and I believe if Steve were alive our copyright ownership matter would have been successfully resolved long ago.

Jerry Levin was also reachable and thoughtful. He sent my husband and later me, cases of grapefruit at the holiday season. He remembered Jerry’s birthday with a Superman sculpture. When my Jerry passed away, Jerry Levin told Laura and me that we are part of the Time Warner family, part of its history. Unfortunately he retired before our rights issues were resolved. He had given his attorneys too much power so that negotiations were unsatisfactory and a settlement was impossible. Dick Parsons, on the other hand, was not friendly and, under him, the attorneys hired by the company were arrogant and pro-litigation.

Now you are Chairman and CEO. Because we are in litigation I held off writing to you. I now believe had we had contact early on, things might not have gone so far off track.

My daughter Laura and I, as well as the Shuster estate, have done nothing more than exercise our rights under the Copyright Act. Yet, your company has chosen to sue us and our long-time attorney for protecting our rights.

On December 1st I turned 93. I am old enough to be your mother. I have grown grandchildren. Unfortunately I am not in the best of health. My cardiologist provided a letter to your attorneys informing them that I suffer from a serious heart condition and that forcing me to go through yet another stressful deposition could put me in danger of a heart attack or stroke. I am also on medications that have side effects which force me to stay close to home and restrooms. Nonetheless your attorneys are forcing me to endure a second deposition even though I have already undergone a deposition for a full day in this matter. As clearly they would be covering the same ground, their intention is to harass me.

My dear daughter Laura too has painful medical conditions including multiple sclerosis, arthritis, glaucoma, spine disorders, and fibromyalgia. She has already had her deposition taken twice by your attorneys while in pain. Her doctors have given written statements saying she should not be subjected to a third deposition, yet your attorneys are insisting on re-taking her deposition in an effort to harass her as well.

So I ask you to please consider – do these mean spirited tactics meet with your approval? Do you really think the families of Superman’s creators should be treated this way?

As you know, DC and Warner Bros. have profited enormously from 72 years of exploiting Jerry and Joe’s wonderful creation. Superman is now a billion dollar franchise and has been DC’s flagship property for all this time.

As for this letter, the purpose is three-fold:

To protest harassment of us that will gain you nothing but bad blood and a continued fight.

To protest harassment of our attorney by falsely accusing him of improper conduct in an attempt to deprive us of legal counsel.

To make you aware that in reality this is a business matter and that continuing with litigation for many more years will only benefit your attorneys.

This is not just another case. The public and press are interested in Superman and us and are aware of our and your litigations.

The solution to saving time, trouble, and expense is a change of viewpoint. Laura and I are legally owed our share of Superman profits since 1999. By paying the owed bill in full, as you pay other business bills, it would be handled as a business matter, instead of a lawsuit going into its 5th year.

Even though you will no doubt pass this letter on to your attorneys, the final decision is yours. Your image as well as the company’s reputation rests on a respectable and acceptable outcome, and I hope you will get personally involved to insure this matter is handled properly.

The courtesy of a friendly and meaningful reply from you will be most appreciated.

Sincerely,
Joanne Siegel

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