Lon Chaney Jr. became a Hollywood icon by playing some of the most famous ghouls ever to lurch across movie screens, including Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolf Man and The Mummy. His films, most of which premiered in the 1930s and 1940s, are considered to be some of the finest and most classic examples of monster movies ever produced during Hollywood's Golden Era.
Chaney died in 1973, but recently, a company run by the actor's heirs sued Universal Studios, the movie studio behind many of Chaney's biggest films, alleging that it was exploiting Chaney's likeness.
In its filing in Los Angeles Superior Court, Chaney Entertainment claims that Universal was allowed to use Chaney's name and likeness per an agreement struck in 1984, but that agreement expired in 2008.
According to Chaney Entertainment, Universal should have inked a new deal if it wanted to continue to use Chaney's image and likeness. Instead, it alleges Universal went ahead and struck licensing deals with companies by giving those companies the false impression that it owned more rights with respect to Chaney's image and likeness than it actually did.
That practice, Chaney entertainment alleges, led to Chaney Entertainment being cut out of possibly lucrative deals with those companies.
Chaney entertainment is asking for $1 million in damages.
Chaney is not the only deceased celebrity to have issues with the legal rights to his or her image. The estates of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, for example, have been involved in several high-profile disputes over the rights they have to control the image of the respective stars.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Universal Sued by 'Frankenstein' Actor's Heirs," Eriq Gardner, June 4, 2013