McCourt Brothers Sued Over Royalties

Wednesday, June 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) — Frank McCourt and his brother, Malachy, have turned their grim yet hilarious experiences of growing up Irish into a pot of gold. Now someone wants a piece of it.

Actor-playwright Mike Houlihan sued the brothers Monday in U.S. District Court in Chicago, saying they have largely ignored their 1984 agreement to pay him royalties for their autobiographical works.

``In a word, they stiffed him,'' said Edmund Scanlan, Houlihan's attorney.

Frank McCourt, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book ``Angela's Ashes,'' which was made into a Hollywood film, and brother Malachy, who penned the best-selling ``A Monk Swimming,'' deny that they have shortchanged Houlihan.

The claim goes back to 1984 and the McCourts' play, ``A Couple of Blaguards,'' about their childhood in Limerick, Ireland. The play featured gossiping old women, a scolding grandmother, a kindly priest and various eccentrics.

Houlihan said he put up $20,750 to produce the play and enlisted other investors to help. The brothers signed a contract guaranteeing Houlihan a share of the royalties and subsidiary rights, he said.

The play wasn't performed much until ``Angela's Ashes'' hit it big. Since then it has been in production all over the world and Houlihan claims the subsidiary rights cover not only ``Angela's Ashes'' but Frank's ``Tis'' and Malachy's ``A Monk Swimming,'' too.

Houlihan says all those works are based on ``A Couple of Blaguards.''

``They just put on a different name and put it out there,'' Scanlan said. ``They really are a couple of blaguards.''

Scanlan said the suit could run into the millions of dollars once the revenues from the McCourts' various projects are tabulated. No court date has been set.

Malachy McCourt said Tuesday he hadn't seen a copy of the lawsuit, ``so the nature of it sort of escapes me.''

``But if you write the words, 'Good morning' in a script, does that mean that you can never say it again without paying royalties?'' he asked. ``The man is a parasite, he always has been. They come out of the earth when the lust and greed gets to them.''