Over thirty-five years after Bing Crosby’s death, the California Court of Appeal put an end to the continuing battle over the Crooner’s right of publicity.
I Can’t Begin to Tell You
In 1930, Harry Lillis Crosby—nicknamed Bing for his love of a newspaper parody, “The Bingville Bugle”—married first wife, Wilma Wyatt (known professionally as Dixie Lee). The mother of his first four sons, Wilma died in 1952. In her Will, Wilma gave her community property to her two sons, which was held for their benefit in a trust known as the Wilma Wyatt Crosby Trust (the “Wilma Trust”).
Over the next several years, Bing was regularly the topic of gossip as he romanced several of Hollywood’s most beautiful women. In 1957, Bing married Kathryn Grant, a young actress and singer that Bing met on the Paramount lot. Together they had three children and remained married until Bing’s death on October 14, 1977 on a golf course in Madrid.
Bing left the residue of his estate to a trust for the benefit of his wife, Kathryn. Subsequent to Bing’s death, HLC Properties, Limited (“HLC”) was formed for the purpose of managing Bing’s interests, including his right of publicity.
Pennies from Heaven
Under the common law of California, there exists a “right of publicity” in a person’s name, likeness and identity. In 1971, the California Legislature established a statutory right of publicity in a person’s “name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness.” After a controversial California Supreme Court decision in 2007, the California Legislature clarified that the right of publicity is freely transferable “by means of trust or testamentary documents.”