A novel battle over books

Clancy in court to regain control of `Op-Center' series

April 04, 2008|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN REPORTER

In the novels of Tom Clancy, heroic American intelligence officer Jack Ryan saves the world from catastrophe several times over before eventually becoming president of the United States and averting a nuclear strike on Washington.

But today in Annapolis, Jack Ryan is a corporate entity that Clancy will try to wrest from the custody of his former wife as the state's highest court hears oral arguments in a bitter post-marital squabble with more echoes of The War of the Roses than The Hunt for Red October.

Clancy's lawyers will fight to overturn a 2005 decision by a Calvert County Circuit Court judge giving Wanda T. King, formerly Wanda Clancy, control of a series of books marketed under the author's name but written by others. In that order, upheld by the Court of Special Appeals in September, the judge removed Clancy as managing partner of Jack Ryan Ltd. Partnership and installed King in his place - at least where the pseudo-Clancy books are concerned.

The Baltimore-born author of Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and other best-sellers turned to the state Court of Appeals, which decided in December to hear the case.

At issue is a lucrative series of a dozen books called Tom Clancy's Op-Center - a fictional U.S. anti-terrorist agency written in a Clancy-esque style and given muscular titles such as Op-Center: Acts of War and Op-Center: State of Siege.

While Clancy and former-friend-turned-business-adversary Steve Pieczenik are credited with creating the series, the bulk of the writing has fallen to a less exalted author named Jeff Rovin - whose name can generally be found on the covers in much smaller print than Clancy's.

The Op-Center franchise became a potent moneymaker for Clancy and his partners during the 1990s - earning an estimated profit of $25 million, according to court papers.

However, the famous writer apparently became disenchanted with the series after King walked away with an equal share of the Jack Ryan Limited Partnership as part of the couple's divorce settlement.

In an e-mail introduced as evidence in the case, Clancy said of the Op-Center books: "I don't even read them."

King's suit charges that Clancy's 2001 decision as managing partner to remove his name from the novels was a breach of his fiduciary duty, because it diminished the value of the asset.

The judge in Calvert County, where Clancy lives in a sprawling home overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, agreed with King and put her in charge of the partnership on all matters involving the Op-Center line. He ruled that Clancy not only violated the agreement creating the Jack Ryan partnership but also failed to live up to the terms of his 1998 marital separation agreement with King.

Clancy's lawyers will urge the Court of Appeals to overturn that decision, claiming in their petition that Clancy alone "controls the exploitation of the Op-Center property, including the use of his name."

But King's lawyers countered that under federal trademark law, Clancy gave up the rights to his name once the partnership acquired goodwill in its use. They cited a case in which Donald Trump tried but failed to take his name off the Trump Casino Hotel in Atlantic City over the objections of a partner.

In 1969, after his graduation from Loyola College in Baltimore, Clancy married Wanda Thomas. They had four children and remained married through the many years he spent in the insurance business before The Hunt for Red October was published by the Naval Institute Press in 1984.

The tightly plotted thriller about a renegade Soviet submarine captain's bold attempt to defect became a surprise best-seller. Besides making Clancy a well-known author, it introduced as its hero a clean-cut, amazingly competent Marine veteran, Naval Academy professor and intelligence whiz named Jack Ryan.

Ryan would appear again as the hero in many of Clancy's novels, but in 1992 he took on a new role as a limited partnership set up by Tom and Wanda Clancy. It was to the partnership that the Clancys decided to direct the profits of Op-Center, a failed television show concept that enjoyed more success as a line of faux Clancy "techno-thriller" paperback novels.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, Clancy continued to churn out best-sellers - several of which became movies - and became wealthy enough to buy a share of the Baltimore Orioles.

Tom and Wanda Clancy's marriage of more than 25 years apparently began falling apart in 1995, when she filed for divorce charging that her husband had committed adultery with a New York woman nicknamed "Ping-Ping" whom he met over the Internet.

The couple briefly reconciled in 1996, but in 1997 Tom Clancy filed for a divorce that was made final in 1999. That same year, Clancy, then 52, married 32-year-old Alexandra Llewellyn. The former Wanda Clancy has since remarried as well.

In the Calvert County trial, Clancy claimed he wanted to take his name off the Op-Center novels for business reasons. Among other things, he claimed that the books were not making money and were hurting his "literary reputation."

But Pieczenik, Clancy's former collaborator and a partner in the joint venture that controls Op-Center, testified that rancor toward Clancy's ex-wife drove the author's decision.

Pieczenik quoted Clancy as vowing to kill the Op-Center series before he would give "another dollar" to King and describing her in terms that devoted family man Jack Ryan would never have uttered about the mother of his children.

Calls to Clancy's office and to his lawyer, Lowell R. Bowen of Miles and Stockbridge, were not returned. Jerrold Thrope, a lawyer for King from the Gordon, Feinblatt firm, declined to comment, because the case is pending.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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