What Archie and Goodnight Moon Have in Common

While courtroom dramas often make for great TV and movies, in real life, legal wrangling can be a snooze. Sometimes, though, they’re even better than television and movies—or at least stranger. Recently, two such cases came to mind in our area: one at Archie Comics and one with the beloved children’s book Goodnight Moon.

Right now, a huge dispute going on for control of Archie Comics in Mamaroneck. I know we most often associate Archie with Riverdale, but, in the early 1980s, the office was moved to Westchester by two lifelong pals, Richard Goldwater and Michael Silberkleit, the sons of the original founders, who ruled the company hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, both of them died within a short time of each other. Now, power is shared by Jonathan Goldwater, Richard’s half-brother, and Nancy Silberkleit, Michael’s widow. (It’s interesting to note that neither set out to be in the comic-book biz. Goldwater was in the music industry, and Silberkleit was a teacher.) The New York Times has the full story, including the claims the two are making each other.

“He punctured her car tires, destroyed her Web site and claimed that she sexually harassed employees. She ordered him to fire several longtime employees because they were too old, too fat or too buxom, and let her dog, Willow, roam the offices and defecate in the art department.”

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Yikes. Jughead and the gang would never approve of this type of activity.

As it stands now, Silberkleit is under court order to stay away from the company while they go into mediation. Claims against her only get weirder from there. According to the Times, she’s already been fined “for violating the temporary restraining order by twice showing up at the office in mid-December with a former football player in tow.” Also, Goldwater and Victor Gorelick, the editor-in-chief, told the paper about “an episode in 2011 where she walked into a meeting, pointed in turn at each of the male editors present and said, ‘Penis, penis, penis.’” (And we thought our Best of Westchester meetings were contentious!)

It’s a shame because, as the Times notes, Archie is a unique company. Its location in Westchester is part of what make it distinct—it remains independent from the mega-publishing franchises out there. There’s something quaint about the fact that it’s run by a family and still can trace a direct connection to the comic’s founders (though tire-slashing isn’t so quaint). And it hasn’t been gobbled up by Paramount or Fox yet—except Sony, regrettably, has the rights to the earworm “Sugar Sugar”—so you won’t see Archie running around with other branded superheros in some kind of movie where he’s motion-captured by Andy Serkis. Here’s hoping mediation can work it out so we don’t have to deal with Archie vs. Casper in the theaters anytime soon.

The second bizzaro rights situation I came across recently is much older. In fact, it’s so old you might’ve grown up with the intellectual property in question. But a friend clued me in to this Wall Street Journal article from 2000 about the rights to Goodnight Moon, and it’s fascinating.

We all know Goodnight Moon. We’ve heard it as kids, read it to kids, given it as gifts at baby showers. And do we know who gets the cash every time we purchase it for a new baby? Albert Edward Clarke III, who grew up in Yorktown and lived in South Salem.

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According to the article, Albert Edward Clarke III, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, is not the serene storybook character that Goodnight Moon is inspired by. The Wall Street Journal writes:

“Ever since, as ‘Goodnight Moon‘ has drifted toward the center of America’s collective consciousness, he has floated on the fringes of society. No steady job. No fixed place of abode. Dozens of arrests. Rarely has his life traced a path through terrain even remotely resembling the world of Ms. Brown’s stories. Over the years, that world has yielded to him nearly $5 million. Today, he has $27,000 in cash.”

They’re not kidding about the “dozens of arrests” part, either:

“Arrests followed for grand larceny, menacing, resisting arrest, criminal possession of a weapon, criminal trespass, assault. According to police records, he usually got off with fines, though he once served six months in Westchester County Penitentiary for disorderly conduct after a fight in a parking lot. (The sentence was extended for getting into another fight while in jail.)”

So, how did such a rough character end up with the rights to such a gentle book? The writer, Margaret Wise Brown, willed it to him. She was close to his family, starting when she struck up a friendship with Clarke’s mother when they were students at the Bank Street College of Education. Then:

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“The ties drew closer in the 1940s, when Joan MacCormick married Albert Clarke Jr. and moved to a ground-floor apartment on East 71st Street. Ms. Brown had to walk through the Clarkes’ building to get to her own house, a place she called Cobble Court…They weren’t aware of Ms. Brown’s succession of lovers male and female, including Michael Strange, former wife of actor John Barrymore. Not that the Clarke family was conventional. Mrs. Clarke espoused communism. Her husband, who had attended Yale University on a music scholarship, played the trombone with a traveling ballet company.”

Even so, why would Brown will only one of her neighbors with the rights to her books? The answer might be found in the title of another children’s tome: Are You My Mother? According to the paper, Clarke overheard his mother saying that Brown was his biological mother; others, including Brown’s biographer, are skeptical.

The article has more interesting details, like the fact that, in 1951, Goodnight Moon almost fell out of print (can you imagine?), and how Clarke blew his allowance checks on alligator shoes.

Sometimes, the real-life goings-on behind these crazy stories seem like more unbelievable fiction.

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