Of Matzoh Balls, Lawyers and Fringe Theatre Artists

I’m often amazed at the stealthiness and cutthroat efficiency of dead artists’ estates. Even the most little-known entertainers seem to have incredibly efficient spy networks working for them beyond the grave and even elementary schools and fringe theatres aren’t safe from the eagle eyes of lawyers.

In the latest news from the world of cease and desist orders, Matzoball Entertainment LLC of West Hollywood, California, has sent San Francisco’s fringey Exit Theatre a letter banning local playwright-performer Sean Owens (pictured in drag, left) from performing a staged reading of his new solo show about the late comedian Paul Lynde. Lynde, (pictured above, right) an American character actor who died in the early 1980s, was best known for his roles and appearances in such television shows as Bewitched, Bye Bye Birdie and Hollywood Squares.

Matzoball, the current licensee of The Estate of Paul Lynde, controls and owns the rights, image and likeness of the late actor. The estate, the letter states, does not give permission of the trademarked and copyrighted name Paul Lynde to anyone other than Matzoball Entertainment. “The family is adamant about the portrayal of Mr. Lynde and asks that you cease and desist from performing any and all performances and using the name Paul Lynde in any and all Advertising immediately,” the letter concludes.

Owens’ now-verboten play Stealth Diva was to have received a staged reading on April 11 and 25 at the Exit Theatre as part of the company’s annual DIVAfest festival of plays by women dramatists, performers and directors. (Owens, though male, is a flamboyant staple of the festival each year.)

The Exit’s artistic director Christina Augello says the EXIT has not yet picked a replacement for the Owens show.

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  1. Friends of PAUL says

    People should seriously do their homework before infringing on Someone elses copyrighted property. The Theater should have done due diligence as the other production did.

  2. says

    I have to agree. Particularly for anyone who has died in the later half of the twentieth century and on. And is in entertainment.
    Some say it’s better to ask forgiveness rather than ask permission. As a writer who’s had directors change lines, change characters and THEN ask if it’s ok…. I’m never in a forgiving mood. Always ask permission. Then you know before you do all the work.

  3. Kent says

    Paul Lynde is a public figure. Were he alive, there would be no infrigement on his “image.” Satire is permissable under the 1st ammendment Given his celebrity status. I don’t see why that should change because he is dead. As for the comment about changing lines, this is not even remotely the same issue. This has to do with who is allowed to tell what story. Sean is his own writer with his own unique story to tell. In NY right now there is a show which has a character called “Jane Fonda,” which is the Jane Fonda of the 80’s in sweats and a headband urging us to get healthy. Coincidentally, the real life Jane Fonda is doing a play on Broadway. Should the playwright be forced to eliminate the character of “Jane Fonda” from her script? No way!!!!! Sean is using a persona of Paul Lynde, a character if you will, and I am not entirely clear that his estate has a leg to stand on. But unfortunately, a cease and desist is a scary and (potentially) expensive thing.