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Kelly v. Loew’s Inc.
United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts
76 F. Supp. 473 (1948)
Lieutenant Robert Kelly (plaintiff) was an officer in the US Navy during World War II. Kelly was assigned by his superior, Lieutenant Bulkeley, to command a torpedo-boat squadron in the Philippines. Kelly’s time in Philippines included many risky operations and heroic actions by Kelly, as well as a friendship that Kelly developed with a US Army nurse who cared for him when he was injured. In 1942, while in the US for training, Kelly was interviewed by a reporter, William L. White, who wrote and published an article and book about the historical events of torpedo-boat squadrons during the war. The narrative was largely based on the information Kelly provided to White in the interviews and portrayed Kelly as a courageous and honorable man. The book’s foreword acknowledged Kelly’s contributions. Thereafter, Kelly gave his consent to Loew’s Incorporated (defendant) to produce a motion picture depicting Kelly or a character based on Kelly. In 1946, Loew’s movie, They Were Expendable, was exhibited in theaters in Boston, where many naval officers were permanently stationed. The movie depicted characters based on Kelly and Bulkeley. Although the Kelly character was depicted as mostly honorable, there were scenes in the movie in which the Kelly character displayed impatience, a lack of respect for authority, and lack of self-control. This conduct was not commensurate with the traditional standards of a US Navy officer, and the Kelly character, overall, was portrayed less favorably than the Bulkeley character. Kelly filed suit against Loew’s for libel, arguing that the Kelly character portrayed Kelly in a negative light that had harmed his professional reputation and caused him had embarrassment and mental anguish.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Wyzanski, J.)
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