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Author likely could have written epic on this: his own estate battle

Author John Steinbeck's novels are so highly regarded and widely loved that they were virtually destined from inception to undergo successive reincarnations as plays and films spanning decades.

East of Eden is an obvious case in point, with James Dean rocketing to fame in a starring film. The Grapes of Wrath (think Henry Fonda) is another film adaptation and instant classic screen treatment of an earlier Steinbeck opus.

Steinbeck died prior to seeing further Hollywood renditions of his famed works, but it seems likely that he wouldn't have been much surprised had he lived many more years to see successive attempts to get reworked material back into theaters and other modern formats accessible to mass viewing.

And, indeed, that is precisely what has happened, with big-name media players vying -- as noted in one recent media piece -- to bring "the novelist's masterpieces back to the screen."

A recently dismissed Los Angeles federal jury knows all about that, with its members just last week awarding an impressive $13 million to a litigant in a protracted estate battle centered on rights to Steinbeck's written works.

Waverly Scott Kaffaga -- the daughter of Steinbeck's third wife and executor of her mother's estate -- prevailed in the litigation, with jurors recognizing the estate's control over Steinbeck's novels and the corresponding interference with that control by Steinbeck's now-deceased son and daughter-in-law.

The latter is still alive, with her written communications threatening continuing litigation against the estate featuring prominently at trial and influencing the jury's determination that the defendants had acted unlawfully over many years in interfering with the estate's right to pursue film opportunities.

The defendants vow to appeal. Kaffaga says that she is heartened by the jury's recognition of "the estate's full control of the rights to John Steinbeck's works."

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