April 12, 2010 / 3:56 AM / 9 years ago

Gene Kelly widow claims forgery in card lawsuit

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The widow of “Singin’ in the Rain” star Gene Kelly has filed a lawsuit claiming a company once run by the son of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall used a forged license to put her late husband’s name and image on trading cards and other merchandise.

Patricia Ward Kelly filed suit Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court. She says she was approached in 2008 by Stephen Bogart, then president of a company called MODA, to license Kelly’s image for a planned line of Donruss trading cards called “Americana Cinema Stars.” The one-page deal allegedly required Patricia Kelly’s approval of any images or text used on the cards.

But Kelly says she soon discovered that cards and other merchandise were being made by Donruss without her approval and contained a “swatch of material ... cut from an authentic item personally worn by Gene Kelly” that was “highly offensive and never would have been approved by the Trust,” according to the complaint.

When she complained, Kelly was told by Donruss that the company did have a signed deal with the Gene Kelly Trust that allowed it to make the cards without her approval.

That contract is a forgery, she says. It “defies reason” that Kelly, as the trustee, would sign a contradictory deal with “a different contractual term, different payment provisions, the wrong federal identification number, a broader grant of rights and no approval requirements,” the complaint states.

In another wrinkle, Stephen Bogart is said to have sued his former company in 2008 claiming the CEO assaulted him after Bogart overheard him saying the chairwoman of MODA “had forged the signature of the widow of a Hollywood dancing icon.” A default judgment is alleged to have been issued against the company in November.

Defendants are MODA (and successor Sunset Island Group) and Donruss (since bought and renamed Panini America). The card company is being sued because it allegedly won’t discontinue the Kelly merchandise despite being told its license is a forgery. A call to Texas-based Panini wasn’t immediately returned.

The suit, filed by Marty Singer and Henry Self at L.A.’s Lavely & Singer, alleges causes of action for violation of California’s right of publicity statute, breach of contract, fraud and deceit, conversion, unjust enrichment and accounting.

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