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November 28, 2021

BL Theater wins rights to “Miracle on 34th Street’

Ben Lomond-based Mountain Community Theater has won the right to put on a play that members of the theater wrote after they lost the rights to publish and put on the show close to a decade ago.
Kathie Kratochvil, one of the founding members of MCT, helped write, in 1983, the heartwarming script of “Miracle on 34th Street,” based on the 1947 novel by Valentine Davies.
MCT had received the rights from Davies’ surviving relatives to write a play based on the novel.
After several productions of the show at Ben Lomond’s Park Hall, MCT took the show’s script to Dramatic Publishing Co., which published it.
“It was done all over the world, and (MCT) was receiving income from it,” Kratochvil said.
The income arrived in the form of royalties to the tune of $6,000 to $12,000 each year that bolstered the community theater’s piecemeal budget, funded mostly by ticket sales and donations.
In 2002, the theater produced “Miracle” for a seventh and final time.
“We got a letter from an attorney at Fox to cease and desist (production) and that it did not belong to us,” Kratochvil said.
Fox, the national company that produced the famous “Miracle on 34th Street” movie in 1947, claimed that the rights to the show belonged to it. Fox had bought the rights from Davies when the company produced the film version.
Dramatic Publishing, the company that printed the script for theaters across the country, was forced to take the play off its list, and MCT’s steady stream of royalties immediately dried up.
“It was about 20 percent of a year’s budget,” said Greg Farrar, publicity manager, who joined the theater in 2003, just after MCT lost rights to the show. “We were having difficulty downsizing to the reality of getting all our money from ticket sales and donations.”
A group of MCT veterans, including W.T. “Mac” McEllwin, Steve Edmonds, Larry Cuprys and Kratochvil, all tried in vain to win back the rights.
It wasn’t until attorney Peter Gelblum moved from Los Angeles to Ben Lomond and joined the theater in 2008 that any progress was made.
“I got involved with the theater, and I heard all these stories about how they put on the show,” Gelblum said.
“There was about a foot-and-a-half stack of files,” he said. “I determined what we needed to do was get the rights back from Fox. The heirs didn’t have the rights.”
In passing, Gelblum mentioned the situation to his brother, Seth Gelblum, an attorney on the east coast who represents Broadway actors and producers. To Peter’s surprise, Seth had a connection.
“He said, ‘Well, I represent Fox, let me see what I can do’,” Peter Gelblum said.
Soon, the correct parties were involved in the negotiations, and Fox passed the rights to produce and publish the show back to MCT.
“We really got lucky,” Peter Gelblum said. “There’s no way we could force (Fox) to give us the rights.”
When the news hit the theater community, planning began for a winter 2010 show. Auditions are this weekend, and performances will run Nov. 26 through Dec. 18 on the weekends.
“We’re pretty excited,” said Kratochvil, who will direct the show. “We finally get to get our play back.”

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