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Levey v. Warner Brothers Pictures
United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
57 F. Supp. 40 (1944)
In 1898, Ethel Levey (plaintiff), an aspiring actress and singer, met George M. Cohan, a composer and playwright, and they married the next year. Thereafter, Levey played leading roles in plays written and produced by Cohan. In 1907, Levey and Cohan divorced, and Cohan remarried a woman to whom he remained married until his death in 1942. In 1942, Warner Brothers Pictures (defendant), with Cohan’s written consent, exhibited a film entitled Yankee Doodle Dandy (the movie) and related advertisements, which depicted a fictionalized version of Cohan’s life story. The movie shows Cohan’s wife as a character named Mary and never mentions that Cohan was ever divorced. The actress that played the Mary character did not look like Levey, and the actress did not reenact any characters originally played by Levey. Furthermore, Levey’s name was not used in the movie. Nonetheless, Levey filed suit, claiming that the movie was an invasion of her right to privacy in violation of New York law. Levey asserted that the movie depicted her life story in a way that made her clearly identifiable as being portrayed by the Mary character.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Bondy, J.)
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