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Last Updated: Friday, 16 July, 2004, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Steinbeck 9m royalty case starts
Elaine Steinbeck
Elaine Steinbeck died last year
Relatives of US author John Steinbeck are suing the estate of his third wife alleging a conspiracy to cheat them of royalties and copyright control.

In a feud worthy of one of his novels, they are suing Elaine Steinbeck's estate for at least $18m (9.7m).

Steinbeck's son, Thomas Steinbeck, and granddaughter Blake Smyle are seeking greater ownership of The Grapes of Wrath and other classic novels. Steinbeck, who married Elaine in 1950, died in 1968. She died last year.

The relatives filed their legal case on Thursday in the US District Court in New York.

Elaine Steinbeck
Mrs Steinbeck is admired by many fans of the author
Defendants include two sisters of Elaine Steinbeck, her daughter from a previous marriage, and four grandchildren.

Steinbeck's estate was originally bequeathed to Elaine on their marriage. In the early 1980s the author's sons from a previous marriage sued for partial control and the case was settled out of court.

The current suit alleges several acts of wrongdoing since that settlement, including undermining a TV mini-series deal for Steinbeck's Travels With Charley.

Elaine Steinbeck has long been admired by many Steinbeck fans, including Edward Albee, Bruce Springsteen and Julie Andrews, as a tireless champion of his legacy.

But she is portrayed in the court papers as jealous and vindictive, cruelly putting distance between John Steinbeck and his two sons.

Describing a "below market" deal with a theatre company for film rights to Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent, plaintiffs define the transaction as merely "satisfying to Elaine's ego".

"This is not a happy day for my clients," said the plaintiffs' lawyer, Mark S Lee. "This is an unfortunate but necessary step in retrieving rights my clients believe belong to them."

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