The Sad, Strange Legal Battles of 'Last Unicorn' Author Peter S. Beagle
Peter S. Beagle claims his manager stole revenue, dragged him through exhausting publicity tours, and once made him personally sign 5,000 apology notes when he cancelled a series of appearances.
Last November, novelist Peter S. Beagle—best known for writing The Last Unicorn, which would go on to become a cult classic cartoon—filed a lawsuit against his longtime manager, Connor Cochran. The suit included incredible allegations of elder abuse (both financial and physical), fraud, and defamation, among other charges. Shortly after, Cochran released a public statement calling the suit "frivolous" and "self-contradictory," and then filed a counterclaim, suggesting Beagle's allegations are meaningless because the man is losing his wits.
Beagle claims that Cochran is capitalizing on the lasting popularity of The Last Unicorn and defaming the 76-year-old author by suggesting his mental state was "deteriorating." Cochran shot back in Oakland court last week, saying Beagle's girlfriend, Peggy Carlisle, has been abusing him for years and that attorney Kathleen Hunt is trying to usurp Cochran as Beagle's manager. No matter who's right, it seems someone is exploiting Beagle.
Beagle grew up in the Bronx and published his first novel, A Fine and Private Place, in 1960, when he was 21. His second book, I See By My Outfit, chronicled his cross-country road trip to move in with his girlfriend in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Last Unicorn, about a unicorn's cross-country quest to find the rest of her kind, followed in 1968.
Since then, Beagle has published more than 20 books and wrote an episode ofStar Trek: The Next Generation. In 1982,The Last Unicornwas made into a Rankin/Bass animated film voiced by Mia Farrow, Christopher Lee, Jeff Bridges,and others. It has become a cult favorite.
Cochran started managing the author in 2001, when Beagle was $200,000 in the hole, going through a nasty divorce, and earning less than $20,000 a year in royalties. "When we first started business together, he said, 'I can't rip you off, because you don't have any money. I have to make you lots of money and then I can rip you off.' At the time, it was a joke," Beagle told me by phone.
Beagle's suit says that Cochran formed Conlan Press, a specialty publishing house, in 2005 to "make more money personally from Beagle's works." Although Cochran's countersuit includes an exhaustive list of new and spin-off deals he brokered, including a fragrance and clothing line based on The Last Unicorn, it doesn't spell out where the money went.
Beagle claims Cochran has pocketed most of that revenue and won't let him see the accounting books. Cochran also allegedly dragged Beagle on a death march of a publicity tour in 2013 to support a revival of the Last Unicorn film. During one 29-day stretch, Beagle says he only got one 35-hour break. When Beagle's health forced him to cancel a string of appearances in 2015, he says Cochran forced him to personally sign 5,000 apology notes to his fans, leaving him exhausted and in pain.
But Cochran's countersuit says he structured those tours so Beagle could get a break from Carlisle, whom Cochran claims is verbally and physically abusive. He says Beagle was "much happier and more energetic" on the road, and even admitted as much in a 2014 draft of a letter: "[Connor] never suggests that it might be because I'm free of [Carlisle] for a few days, but it's silently there—and of course he's right. He knows it, and I know it."
While touring with Beagle for the film revival of The Last Unicorn, Cochran claims he noticed signs that the author's mental abilities were failing. Beagle would allegedly ask fans' names at book signings and then write something "radically different" in their books. He once told the same story three times during an audience question-and-answer session last year, Cochran claims.
Cochran says his countersuit is aimed at showing that Beagle's abuse and defamation allegations are nonsense. "Peter's false assertions just prove how problematic his memory now is, and how susceptible he has become to undue influence from his girlfriend [and] his attorney," he told me in an email.
While Cochran says he expects the litigation will blow over quickly, Beagle is readying himself for a long legal road. If nothing else, he hopes at the end to reclaim the copyright to his work and restore his reputation.
"Beyond that, I just want a clear head, peace of mind," he said, "and for heaven's sake, to get back to work."
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