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Gene Kelly’s Widow Sues Over Trading Cards

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The widow of "Singing in the Rain" star Gene Kelly claims an entertainment company forged her signature on an agreement to create a Gene Kelly trading card as part of a series of "Cinema Stars" trading cards. Patricia Ward Kelly says she saw the cards online one month after Stephen Bogart, the son of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, approached her about the deal.

Bogart, then president of Moda Entertainment, proposed that Kelly license her late husband's likeness to trading card company Donruss Playoff, now owned by Panini America, according to Kelly's complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Bogart is not a party to the lawsuit.

Kelly, trustee of the Gene Kelly Image Trust, says she signed a one-page memo on March 11, 2008 that required Moda and Donruss to get her full approval on the final image and text used on the card.

But Kelly says she heard nothing from Moda or Donruss for five weeks.

On April 23, Kelly says she wrote to Moda, but its employees refused to answer her questions.

Two days later, Kelly says she found unauthorized Gene Kelly trading cards online. Some of the cards purported to come with a swatch of fabric "cut from an authentic item personally worn by Gene Kelly," the lawsuit states.

This time, Bogart and Moda allegedly blamed the problem on Donruss and insisted that Moda "did nothing wrong." Kelly says her lawyer wrote to Donruss, informing it that its cards were unauthorized, and that Kelly and the trust found the fabric swatches "offensive."

Donruss' chief financial officer allegedly claimed the company was confused by the allegations and sent Kelly a copy of a long-form contract dated March 11, 2008 and bearing Kelly's forged signature.

Kelly says the memo she signed on March 11 "specifically anticipated the execution of a long-form trading card license agreement and requires the Trust's approval of all images and text. It defies reason to suppose that she would on the very same day also sign a contradictory license agreement containing, inter alia, a different contractual term, different payment provisions, the wrong federal identification number, a broader grant of rights and no approval requirements."

Donruss refused to stop manufacturing the cards, Kelly says, even after she told it the agreement was forged.

"As if to add insult to injury," Kelly claims Moda never sent the trust its share of the license fee and used Gene Kelly's image without permission on its Web site and elsewhere to promote itself.

In December 2008, Stephen Bogart sued Moda in New Jersey Federal Court, claiming Moda CEO Richard Zampella assaulted him after Bogart overheard Zampella bragging that Moda's chairwoman "had forged the signature of the widow of a Hollywood dancing icon" to a lucrative contract, the lawsuit states.

The court entered a default judgment against Moda and its chairwoman that month.

Kelly claims her late husband is the "Hollywood dancing icon" to which the complaint referred.

Kelly has sued Panini, Donruss, Moda and Sunset Island Group, demanding damages, an order barring the manufacture and sale of the cards, and all revenue from past sales.

She is represented by Martin Singer and Henry Self with Lavely & Singer.

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