Onetime NASA engineer Homer H. Hickam Jr. filed suit June 2 in Los Angeles Superior Court seeking more than $20 million from movie giant Universal Pictures for interfering with his plans to turn his memoir, Rocket Boys, into the musical October Sky.
October Sky follows a teenage boy living in a small, coal-mining town who is determined to not end up like the generations before him. With his friends, they build homemade rockets and release them, along with their dreams and aspirations, into the sky.
With a book by Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman and Aaron Thielen, and a score by Michael Mahler, the October Sky musical had its world premiere at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, IL, last summer and was produced at the Old Globe in San Diego last fall.
Universal, which filmed the memoir under the October Sky title in 1999, believes Hickam sold them all rights to the story, including the rights to turn it into a musical. Hickam disputes that.
Hickam's complaint charges Universal with breach of contract, fraud, misappropriation of name and identity, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, and other mischief.
The complaint asserts that the regional productions were originally created with the approval of Universal and were ”always aimed at eventual performances on Broadway, the international stage and national tours.” However, because Universal subsequently “decided to create and produce its own musical called October Sky,” the company “has shut down Hickam's musical and has used, without permission, authorization or consent, the name and identity of Hickam...[and] included scenes and dialog from the memoir that are the same as those used in Hickam's musical, too many times to be coincidental....”
Hickam’s suit arises from the alleged threat from Universal to “punish him if he ever said a word about Universal’s wrongful and improper conduct....” and “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.”
Deadline, which first reported this story, quoted Universal saying they do not comment on ongoing litigation.
“This is a story set in a town that lives and dies by the coal mine, with real struggles and real triumphs,” Lincolnshire director Rachel Rockwell said last summer. “These boys were intrigued by something that most people in America had no experience with and somewhat feared—rockets going into space. We want to make audiences feel like they are part of this community as they experience this volatile time in small town America. It is a really inspirational story.”