The widow of best-selling thriller author Tom Clancy is going to court over the rights to his most famous creation, CIA operative Jack Ryan.
Alexandra Clancy claims that when her husband died in 2013, the rights to Ryan – made famous in the movies The Hunt for the Red October and Patriot Games – rested with his estate.
Instead, she says, a pair of companies set up by Clancy before his death, exploited the character for massive amounts of money – and now she wants that money back.
The widow of thriller writer Tom Clancy (left) is going to court to take control of the rights to his most famous character, CIA agent Jack Ryan (right, played by Alec Baldwin)
Alexandra Clancy (left, with Tom Clancy at their wedding in 1999) says that he retained the rights to Ryan’s character until his death – and now they belong to his estate
‘It isn’t just about the money,’ attorney Lansing R Palmer, who represents Alexandra Clancy, said.
‘It’s about doing the right thing. Jack Ryan was Tom Clancy’s most prized possession. Tom Clancy made Jack Ryan; and in a sense Jack Ryan made Tom Clancy’
Nevertheless, a great deal of money is at stake; while the suit doesn’t give a figure, it’s somewhere in the ‘serious seven figures’ according to the Baltimore Sun.
The root of the dispute lies in a legal wrangle that came about after the publication of Clancy’s first novel, Hunt.
That book was later to become 1990’s The Hunt for the Red October, a blockbuster movie starring Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan, and co-starring Sean Connery.
The United States Naval Institute (USNI) bought Hunt for $5,000 and published it in 1983 – it then went on to sell over two million copies.
But the USNI claimed it owned the rights to the characters in the book – including Jack Ryan – and threatened to sue Clancy if he tried to use them elsewhere.
In 1988 Clancy took them to court and won back the rights, setting up Jack Ryan Enterprises Ltd (JRE) to hold the copyrights to Hunt and several other novels.
Those books include four other Jack Ryan yarns that later became movies: Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears.
Another business, Jack Ryan Partnership Ltd (JPL), was set up to hold the rights to another series of books published from 1993 onwards, including the Jack Ryan stories Debt of Honor and Executive Orders.
A legal wrangle from 1988 regarding the rights to the first Ryan book, Hunt (filmed in 1990 as The Hunt for the Red October), led to confusion over who owns the rights. Pictured: Baldwin as Ryan, with Sean Connery, in 1990’s The Hunt for the Red October
Before his death in 2013, Clancy set up two companies that each own different Jack Ryan books, among others. Those profits are partly shared with his ex-wife Wanda King
But Alexandra Clancy says neither of those companies were expressly given the rights to the Jack Ryan character.
Instead, she claims, those rights remained with her husband until his death in 2013, then passed on to his estate.
If that’s the case, she says, then the money made by those companies from the Jack Ryan character should go entirely to his estate – of which she receives over a third of the royalties, with the rest going to Clancy’s five children.
Right now, the suit says, the estate’s money is being routed through JRE and JPL – of which Clancy’s first wife, Wanda King, owns 40 per cent and 50 per cent, respectively.
The other 20 per cent of JRE goes to a fund for the four children King and Clancy had together.
‘Mrs Clancy is attempting to divest Ms King of anything that arose in her marriage of Tom Clancy of nearly 30 years,’ King’s attorney, Sheila Sachs,’ told the Baltimore Sun.
‘Some people are happy to work things out, and some people are greedy.’
Things get even more complicated from there, however, as the suit has also named JW Thompson Webb – the executor of the estate – as a defendant.
In 2014 and 2015, the suit says, Webb signed off on a new series of books written by other authors in Clancy’s style, and starring Jack Ryan.
Alexandra Clancy contests that the companies only deserve the rights to the royalties from those books, not from a series of Jack Ryan novels published after Clancy’s death and written by other authors in his style. Pictured: Harrison Ford as Ryan in 1992’s Patriot Games
He also agreed to the publication of books starring Ryan’s son, Jack Ryan Jr; nephew Dominic Caruso; and characters created by Clancy for the Campus series of thrillers – the rights for all of whom belong to the estate, the suit says.
It claims that he has ‘inexplicably favored’ JRE and JPL when signing off on these books, letting money go to them rather than to the estate itself.
Since they only own the rights to the books featuring Ryan, and not his character or the others (which belong to a third organization, Rubicon, which is wholly owned by the estate), they shouldn’t be cashing in, the suit claims.
Alexandra Clancy now wants full control of the estate – something she tried, and failed, to wrest from Webb in 2014.
In that suit she complained that he demanded the estate pay $4 million in taxes – the court said the estate wasn’t liable, but allowed Webb to retain the reins.
‘Mr Webb has acted at all times in a manner consistent with his obligations as personal representative of Mr. Clancy’s estate,’ his lawyer, Robert Brennan, said.
The suit also says that the estate has the rights to other characters including Jack Ryan’s son and nephew, who have their own novels. Pictured: Ben Affleck as Ryan in 2002’s The Sum of All Fears (left) and Chris Pine in the role from 2014’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
‘As explained in submissions made by Mr Webb in the Orphans’ Court for Baltimore City, Mr Webb believes the copyright to the character Jack Ryan is owned by Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd, a conclusion shared by Mr Clancy’s longtime copyright lawyer.
‘He disagrees with the assertions made by Mrs Clancy’s attorneys in the recently filed complaint. Mr Webb looks forward to the court’s resolution of the matter and will act on behalf of Mr Clancy’s estate in accordance with the court’s decision.’
Jack Ryan has appeared in five films since The Hunt for the Red October, and has been played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine.
Next year Amazon will release a Jack Ryan TV series starring The Office’s John Krasinski in the starring role.