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E. Lynn Harris Film Projects Move Forward After Legal Drama

643949_10151825295094974_612526958_nProducer Proteus Spann had big plans for the 14 books whose rights he had purchase from E. Lynn Harris--his friend and the bestselling author of the book Invisible Life--when the two sat down for a celebration dinner in Los Angeles.  

He didn't know that that very night, his friend would suffer a heart attack at his Beverly Hills hotel and pass away, and that Harris's mother Etta would soon sue him, claiming he did not have the rights to her son's novels.  The Hollywood Reporter tells the story of what followed after the fateful dinner:

Despite the loss of his friend, Spann continued on with the production of Invisible Life, the first of the books he planned to bring to the big screen. He finally secured an investor through a personal relationship he had.

Then Harris’s mother, Etta Harris, sued Spann claiming that he did not have the legal rights to the books. "Spann implemented his plan to take control of the E. Lynn Harris Works,” reads the complaint filed in Oct. 201, “by forging the signature of E. Lynn Harris on each of the Assignments.”

The lawsuit took an enormous toll on Spann. “It put a stop to everything. I went through a very deep depression. I was fighting for survival.” The suit also brought tremendous financial strain as Spann had to pay over $200,000 in legal fees.

Furthermore, Spann’s backers pulled out during the legal battle. “He didn’t want any of the publicity,” Spann explains why the investor, whom he describes as a conservative multi-millionaire, backed out.

In late July, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that Spann did indeed own exclusive film, TV and theater rights to Harris's works.  "I feel like a new man," Spann told the Hollywood Reporter, "like I have something to live for again.

The producer is pushing to begin filming for his Invisible Life script, and hopes to continue work on a musical based on the novel.  He's also in the early stages of production on Harris's second bestseller, Not A Day Goes By.

Spann credits Harris's work on closeted, African-American gay men--and Invisible Life in particular--for helping him come into his own sexuality.  "It answered a lot of questions that I couldn’t answer,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “Being a bisexual or gay man, it was difficult to figure out who to go to."

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Author E. Lynn Harris Dies at 54

Author E. Lynn Harris has died while on a west coast book tour, Arkansas Sports reports:

Elynnharrris "Harris, a best-seller whose work dealt with black, gay culture and delved into athletics, was a passionate Razorbacks fan. For the past eight semesters, Harris served as a 'visiting' professor for the English department...Most recently, Harris' wrote his 11th novel, 'Basketball Jones', which involved an NBA player and the player's gay lover. Before 'Basketball Jones,' Harris penned 'Just Too Good To Be True,' a novel detailing the life of Heisman Trophy candidate Brady Manning. Harris' novel focused on the pressures surrounding Manning and the support system the star athlete leaned on to help him through dark and troubling times."

A Random House executive confirmed the death to BV Newswire. There are no further details about the cause of death, though the Arkansas Times reported hearing the author suffered a "serious health setback" earlier today.

The Arkansas Sports site did not name a source. I will publish any updates that come in here.

Patrik Ian Polk, the creator of Noah's Arc, was scheduled to see Harris today, and reported via Twitter that Harris went into cardiac arrest last night after dinner at his hotel in Beverly Hills.

UPDATE: "Publicist Laura Gilmore says Harris died Thursday night after being stricken while at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. Gilmore says a cause of death had not yet been determined. A coroners' official in Los Angeles said only that a man matching Harris' name and date of birth had died Thursday night at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center."

UPDATE II: New York Times obituary - "Mr. Harris clearly tapped a rich vein of reader interest with his racy and sometimes graphic tales of affluent, ambitious, powerful black men — athletes, businessmen, lawyers and the like — who nonetheless struggled with their attraction to both men and women. His books married the superficial glamour of jet-setting potboilers with an emotional candor that shed light on a segment of society that had received little attention: black men on the down low — that is, men who are publicly heterosexual but secretly have sex with men. Mr. Harris, who was openly gay but who lived for many years in denial or shame or both over that fact, was able to draw on his own experiences to make credible the emotional conflicts of his characters, and his readers, many of them women, were drawn to his books because they addressed issues that were often surreptitiously pertinent to their own lives."

Harris was the author of 12 novels, a memoir, and many stories.

Harris in a 2006 interview with CBS News Julie Chen, AFTER THE JUMP...

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