Author and former NASA engineer Homer Hickam is suing Universal for north of $20M over its October Sky musical. In a breach of contract, fraud and multi-claim jury-seeking complaint filed today, the Rocket Boys memoirist claims that Universal Pictures “has taken the completely fallacious position” that Hickam gave over all the rights to the source material to the studio. Its 1999 film October Sky was based on Rocket Boys, and the musical premiered onstage last year.
“Universal has demanded that Hickam cease and desist in developing, producing and performing the Rocket Boys musical [which is titled October Boys] and accept a complete gag order that would punish him if he ever said a word about Universal’s wrongful and improper conduct,” says the deeply detailed 39-page complaint filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court (read it here). “In order to induce Hickam to do so, Universal has taken the completely fallacious position that Hickam has optioned all the rights to Universal to make any and all motion pictures or live stage productions arising from any and all stories he may write about his life, no matter when they happen or even if they happened not to him but to family members and other characters portrayed in his memoir Rocket Boys, in order to serve as a veiled threat to Hickam that if he continues with the Rocket Boys musical or opposes Universal’s musical in any way, Universal will put a cloud on title and seek to tie up his ability to option all his other novels and memoirs for use in motion picture, television or stage productions, and hinder his ability to reap the financial rewards of his life’s work.”
The suit adds: “After witnessing the success of the Rocket Boys musical, as well as sending its executives to view and experience Hickam’s musical first hand, Universal decided to create and produce its own musical called October Sky, purportedly based upon the motion picture and Hickam’s memoir.” It claims the studio has attempted to shut down his musical and has used Hickam’s name and Rocket Boys characters along with “motifs and patterns of the music from the Rocket Boys musical” for its project without his consent.
A Universal spokesperson told Deadline they do not comment on ongoing litigation.
Hickam also has written several other memoirs and novels, but October Sky is his only film credit. It told the story of Hickam, a coal miner’s son who was inspired by the 1957 Sputnik launch to take up rocketry against his father’s wishes. The October Sky musical, based on Hickam’s Rocket Boys and the feature film, had its world premiere last year at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, IL, and will make its West Coast debut as the 2016-17 season-opening production at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.
Hickam is repped in the suit by attorneys David Tarlow and Alexandra Gilinsky of Ervin Cohen & Jessup of Beverly Hills.