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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Bing Crosby’s Rights Won’t Go to First Wife

(CN) - The estate of Bing Crosby's first wife is not entitled to a share in the singer's right to his name and likeness, a California appeals court ruled.

Harris Lillis "Bing" Crosby's smooth baritone voice is heard every holiday season in the song "White Christmas," and he also won an Oscar for Best Actor in the 1944 film "Going My Way."

Crosby and his wife, Wilma, had four sons. Wilma, who acted under the name Dixie Lee, died in 1952. Crosby was married to his second wife, Kathryn, until he passed away in 1977.

Wilma's trust sued Kathryn and HLC Properties Ltd., the company formed to manage Bing's interests, for a declaratory judgment of its share in Bing's royalties and other income.

Though the parties settled in 1999 for $1.5 million, Wilma's trust then expressed an interest some six years later in Bing's "right of publicity," which is the right to a celebrity's name and likeness.

In 2008, the California Legislature amended Senate Bill 771, which made the right of publicity descendible. The change made the law retroactive for celebrities who died before 1985.

Wilma's estate filed a petition to declare that it had an interest in Bing's right of publicity, and that Wilma's interest passed down to her heirs through her will.

A Los Angeles county judge granted the petition, leading Kathryn and HLC to argue on appeal that the 1999 settlement barred the petition of Wilma's trust.

Agreeing woth Kathryn, a three-judge panel of the Second Appellate Disrtict reversed Wednesday.

"Since we conclude that SB 771 only clarified existing law, the amendment did not create any new rights that fell outside of the 1999 settlement's release of all claims to community property, the argument of Wilma's Estate that Bing's right of publicity did not exist in 1999 and thus could not be the subject of the settlement agreement must fail," Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote for the court.

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