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Hollywood & Crime: Byron Allen Facing $35 Million Lawsuit In Sammy Davis, Jr Life Rights Battle

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by Tambay A. Obenson
September 15, 2012 12:05 PM
1 Comment
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I haven't done one of these Hollywood & Crime posts in some time; although I don't know if I'd say that a *crime* has been committed here; that's for a court to decide.

Recalling my early April 50+ Biopic Projects On Black Public Figures "In Limbo" post, there are 3 Sammy projects we know of that are in some stage of development - 1 a feature film; the other 2 stage works.

It was announced last December that Byron Allen's Entertainment Studios acquired rights to his life story from his daughter Tracey Davis, with plans to develop both a feature film AND a stage production.

On his deathbed, one of the last things my father told me as he put my face in his hands was: ‘Tracy, tell my story. Warts and all’,” said Tracey Davis, and, apparently, Byron Allen is/was the man for the job.

And, as a star of stage and screen (big and small), singer, dancer, husband (thrice), children, near-fatal accident, conversion to Judaism, hanging out in the White House with presidents, and much more... what a full, stirring life Sammy Davis Jr led, which could translate into one heck of a film... depending on who else is involved in putting it all together.

Skip ahead about 9 months since that December announcement of the above musical, to a $35+ million lawsuit filed just yesterday, September 14th, in Los Angeles, by independent producer Rick Appling against Byron Allen and his Entertainment Studios, claiming that he (Appling) owns the rights the Sammy Davis Jr's life story, not Allen, and that Allen screwed him over royally!

His 12-page suit (which you can read HERE) is asking for $35 million plus other damages, stating that Allen's interference has prevented him from advancing his plans for a film about Sammy. 

Apparently, Sammy's daughter, Tracey, may have sold the rights (whether accidentally, or not) to her father’s life story to two different production companies; although the lawsuit doesn't name her as a defendant or plaintiff in the case.

Confused? I was.

So I skimmed the lawsuit, and this is what I learned, in summary:

- In February 2011, Appling states that he entered into an exclusive 3-year agreement with Tracey Davis for the life story rights to her father, Sammy Davis Jr.

- Skip ahead to December of 2011, when Byron Allen issued a press release stating that he had entered into an agreement with Tracey Davis, as stated at the beginning of this post, for the life story rights to her father.

- Between February and December, Appling claims that he had begun preparations to move forward with his Sammy Davis Jr project.

- Obviously when he heard about Byron Allen's press release issuance in December, he wondered WTF was going on, since he had a 3-year exclusive with Tracey already. So WTF?

- Appling and Allen got on the phone and had a chat. In the conversation, Appling states that Allen said that he knew about Appling's already-existing agreement with Tracey Davis, but he didn't give a shit (those aren't the words Appling states Allen used, but I'm just summing it up for you). 

- Appling also states that he learned that Tracey Davis initially rejected Allen's offer, because she had already entered into an agreement with Appling. But, that apparently didn't stop Allen, since he REALLY wanted the rights, and, as Appling states in his suit, Allen intentionally interferred with his agreement with Tracey Davis - essentially, Appling states that Allen somehow *convinced* Tracey to reconsider her agreement with Appling, and sign with Allen's company instead (the words in Appling's lawsuit say that Allen "intentionally acted in a tortuous manner to induce..."). Although, I don't understand how that could happen. A legal contract, is a legal contract. She can't just renege on a signed contract, without penalty, unless there was a clause in their agreement that gives her the right to do that. But I don't think Appling would be that stupid. Or maybe there's a lot more going on here than has been made public. And if she did breach her contract with him, shouldn't she be named in the suit as well?

But that's the gist of the suit. Like I said, you can read it HERE if you like.

Appling wants the rights declared his, and $35+ million in damages.

Is Allen the gangsta this lawsuit makes him out to be, or is there much more to this than the lawsuit reveals?

I'm hoping we can get Allen's side of the story; also I want to hear what Tracey Davis has to say about all this.

Meanwhile, a new musical inspired by the life and times of Davis Jr is/was in the works from producers Arlie Cone and Steven Hayes, with a Broadway run on the horizon. 

Sam Scalamoni of Disney's Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, is/was set to direct.

While we wait to hear on the status of the above lawsuit, the musical, titled I Will, I Can, continues to move forward, with some recent crucial crew attachments (four-time Emmy- and two-time Grammy Award-winning composer Patrick WilliamsJules Aaron is writing the book, with Gail Kantor penning the lyrics), and workshopping dates planned for a show the producers are hoping to open on Broadway in 2013. 

No casting or production dates have been announced yet.

The show is only the latest in a string of Davis-themed musicals, including the Old Globe Theatre's 2009 production of Sammy, and Eric Jordan Young's 2006 production, Sammy & Me.

As far as on-screen representation, you may recall that Don Cheadle won a Golden Globe for his performance as Davis in the 1998 HBO film The Rat Pack; also worth noting is that several comedians/actors have impersonated Davis during their careers, like Eddie GriffinGarrett MorrisEddie MurphyTim MeadowsTommy Davidson and even Billy Crystal and others.

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1 Comment

  • Edwina | September 15, 2012 12:23 PMReply

    It's a story that deserves to be told. Will it ever happen? Who knows. But Don Cheadle was pretty spectacular as Sammy. It was a great performance.

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