Background on Martha Hart’s Suit Against Linda McMahon and WWE

Linda McMahon, the well-heeled Senate candidate, and Martha Hart, the resourcefully litigious widow of a performer in Vince and Linda McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment, had a tit-for-tat Sunday. On Face the State on WFSB-TV, Linda tried to debunk the lawsuit over the exploitation of the late Owen Hart’s likeness in a new DVD. In a statement issued by her Hill & Knowlton public relations agency, Martha fired back.

I encourage those of you following this dispute to get the full and unspun story. One of the best resources for this is the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Publisher Dave Meltzer gave me permission to reproduce this extended quote from his current issue:

The much-publicized lawsuit filed on 6/22 by Martha Hart against World Wrestling Entertainment, Vince and Linda McMahon, is really a combination of two things.

The first is an attempt to get WWE to no longer use any footage of Owen Hart, whether it be on television or future DVD releases, and have no links between him with the company. The move would make it impossible to induct him into the Hall of Fame as Martha Hart is claiming that the charity in his name, the Owen Hart Foundation, which started with the money Martha Hart received in her wrongful death lawsuit, feels any association of the name Owen Hart with WWE is a negative they don’t wish. I’m not sure what grounds they would have to keep the WWE from airing the footage, but clearly that is the goal of the suit. No performer in history has attempted or been able to get their footage eliminated from WWE archival DVDs and television offerings. The only examples of things changing are a lot of musical edits due to questions on rights, some changing of ring announcer voices due to a legal issue, eliminations of as much as humanly possible related to Chris Benoit–a company directive based on the taste issue, and as much as possible, eliminating the voice track of Jesse Ventura because he won a lawsuit that granted him higher than usual royalty payment on anything his voice appears on.

The other aspect of the lawsuit is she is asking for royalties based on a number of DVDs that Owen’s matches have appeared in, some of which he is on the cover, that the estate she claimed never received. She claimed it was the marketing of the new Hart Family DVD, with Owen on the cover, and heavily featured, that she was not told of in advance, which prompted her actions. What makes this strange is there would be no need to file such a lawsuit, because WWE pays royalties to people, including those no longer with the company, those who have sued the company, and those with acrimonious relationships with the company. I can’t imagine simply contacting the company, getting an accounting of DVDs that Owen Hart appeared in, that they wouldn’t get such a royalty check.

Then again, one has to question why, if her claims are true, she hasn’t gotten such a check for 11 years. Her whereabouts were not unknown. Owen Hart was far from a minor figure in wrestling history. She is a very public figure in Calgary. If it is an administrative oversight, it was a beyond sloppy one to involve someone who has a history of winning legal action against the company, an intense hatred of the company for very plausible reasons and has the money and perseverance to fight. Regardless of the merits of the first part of the lawsuit, it boggles my mind that somebody’s heads shouldn’t roll if there is truth to the second part of the allegation.

*****

Meanwhile, the larger backstory of the last week of the Linda McMahon campaign has been her reenergized media buys around the theme that while her business was fake, her grasp of public policy, as manifested by that experience, is real.

With what amounts to a revealing immaturity at this stage of the electoral proceedings, bloggers at both The Washington Post and TV Guide used the latest McMahon commercial an an excuse to yuk it up again.

This particular piece of McMahon family prestidigitation is an extension of a tale now in its fourth decade of retelling. Tomorrow I’ll go over it one more time and try to explain it so that everyone can understand — including those continuing to cling to the illusion that either wrestling or politics has a direct relationship to reality.

Journalists covering the boulevard-wide intersection of Connecticut Campaign 2010 and American kitsch need to understand that the McMahons let wrestling fans in on the  joke a long time ago; that they had a specific interest in doing so; and that the crutch of this cliche makes people who take themselves seriously look dumber, not smarter.

Irv Muchnick

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