Real-life drama playing out in fight radio pioneer's fortune

AP News
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Posted: Jan 24, 2016 11:23 AM
Real-life drama playing out in fight radio pioneer's fortune

Himan Brown might have titled it: "The Brouhaha Over the $100 Million Estate."

A lawsuit claims the late creator of such legendary radio dramas as "Dick Tracy" and "The Adventures of the Thin Man" was duped into putting the bulk of his $100 million fortune into a charitable trust controlled solely by his longtime lawyer.

Brown, a radio producer who died in New York City in 2010 at the age of 99, instead wanted the money go to an organization he founded to promote radio theater, according to court papers.

It claims attorney Richard L. Kay exploited Brown, who was 94 when he signed documents now being contested in Manhattan surrogate's court. It says Kay used the trust "for his personal benefit, in disregard of the express intent of Mr. Brown's will and prior estate plan."

The lawsuit was filed by Radio Drama Network, Inc., a private foundation started by Brown in 1984 to foster his love and appreciation for the radio serials that popularized the airwaves in the 1930s and 1940s. Several members of his family serve on its board of directors.

Kay's attorney, Michael B. Kramer, disputed that Brown was hoodwinked by anyone, and said the lawsuit is the latest in a series of court challenges by members of the Brown family over the fortune. He insisted Brown was mentally sharp in October 2004 when he signed papers for the newly created Himan Brown Charitable Trust, rather than leave it to the Radio Drama Network.

"He was beyond sharp as a tack," Kramer said. "The last thing he was was mentally frail."

Kay is the sole trustee of the Himan Brown Charitable Trust. The lawsuit claims that as trustee he has made donations to entities with no connections to Brown, including $3 million to the 92nd Street Y, where Kay is a member of the board of directors, and over $1 million to Cornell University, as well as gifts to the University of Michigan Law School, from which he graduated, and a Montessori school where Kay's grandchild attended.

"While arguably worthy recipients, none of these has any particular connection to Mr. Brown or his interests during his lifetime," the lawsuit claims. "Kay has been motivated by the personal benefits, access and preferential treatment that accrue from leadership positions at charitable institutions."

Kramer said Brown also had donated to charities and entities having nothing to do with the radio industry.

Pamela A. Mann, a lawyer for Radio Drama Network, did not challenge whether Brown, who attended law school, was capable of signing. But she insists: "He was tricked, he was defrauded." A family spokesman said none of Brown's relatives wanted to comment on the case, citing the pending litigation where they potentially could testify as witnesses.

The lawsuit, which was filed in December and made public last week, is next scheduled for a March 1 court date, but it could be years before it goes to trial.

Brown produced more than 30,000 radio shows in a career that spanned from the 1930s into the 1980s. He studied law at Brooklyn College but never practiced, instead using his education to secure the radio rights to such characters as Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon and the Thin Man.

Other notable Brown productions included "Grand Central Station," and "Inner Sanctum Mysteries" and the "CBS Radio Mystery Theater." He worked with performers including Orson Welles, Helen Hayes, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Frank Sinatra and Gregory Peck.

Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media, calls Brown "one of radio's great storytellers." He was well-known for using sound effects such as a creaking door and a steam engine to enthrall listeners during the golden age of radio.

"I am firmly convinced that nothing visual can touch audio," Brown said in a 2003 interview with The New York Times. "I don't need 200 orchestra players doing the "Ride of the Valkyries." I don't need car chases. I don't need mayhem. All I need to do is creak the door open, and visually your head begins to go. The magic word is imagination."

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Associated Press researcher Barbara Sambriski contributed to this report. Eltman reported from Mineola, New York.