After years of legal wrangling, the McCourt brothers – Frank and Malachy, that is – can finally lay full claim to their miserable Irish childhood. A federal district court in Chicago has decreed that the Limerick-born writers do not owe any of their book or movie earnings to a former business partner.
Back before the brothers were household names, they were something of an underground hit with their Off-Off Broadway play, “A Couple of Blaguards.” The play was a loosely constructed series of reminiscences, skits and songs based on their impoverished youth, and featured Malachy, a soap opera actor, and Frank, a high school teacher.
In 1984, the McCourts teamed up with Chicago-based actor/playwright Michael Houlihan, who raised just over $20,000 to mount the play in Chicago. The brothers signed an agreement that gave Houlihan a percentage of the profits from any subsidiary earnings for 15 years. Since some of the material from “Blaguards” eventually found its way into Frank’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Angela’s Ashes” and Malachy’s “A Monk Swimming,” Houlihan felt he was entitled to a share.
Not so fast, said the judge.
“This court cannot endorse the idea that granting rights to one incarnation of part of a life story automatically grants away rights to all conceivable tellings of that life story,” declared Judge Ronald Guzman.
As might be expected, the brothers were delighted with the ruling. Malachy McCourt crowed to the New York Post’s Keith Kelly, “I feel that Abraham Lincoln did not die in vain and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is fully effective.” It’s nice to know that Malachy takes such an interest in history . . .
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