November 22, 2011

“Revolutionary Road” lawsuit


Richard Yates

Helen Abdouch, 84, of Omaha, Nebraska is suing Hadley, Massachusetts bookseller Ken Lopez for selling an autographed copy of Richard Yates’ 1961 novel Revolutionary Road that was inscribed to her, according to this report in the Washington Post. Abdouch was the executive secretary for John F. Kennedy’s 1960 Nebraska campaign. Yates worked as a speechwriter for then-U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who managed JFK’s presidential campaign.

According to the Post:

Abdouch’s invasion of privacy lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court of Nebraska, alleges Hadley, Mass.-based Ken Lopez Bookseller used her name and position in the Kennedy campaign to sell the book. The lawsuit cites a 1979 Nebraska state law that allows people to sue if their names or images are exploited for commercial gain.

“Someone took the book from Abdouch in the 1960s,” Mary Kay Green, her attorney, told the Post, “Abdouch does not own a computer and didn’t know about the online ad for the book until she received a printout from a friend.” They are seeking $75,000 in damages.

“She’s been a private person by choice,” said Green, a longtime friend of Abdouch’s and the daughter of James F. Green, Kennedy’s state campaign manager in Nebraska. “His [Lopez’s] defense was that she’s a historical figure, which is not true.”

The novel was offered for sale on the Ken Lopez Bookseller website which, according to the site, specializes in rare books, particularly modern literary first editions. The book was advertised as a “very good copy” with stained covers and a slanted spine, but clean text.

Part of the description on the site stated: “Given the date of the inscription — that is, during JFK’s presidency — and the connection between the writer and recipient, it’s reasonable to suppose this was an author’s copy, presented to Abdouch by Yates.”

According to the Post:

Green said she contacted Lopez in June, and was told he bought it from an unidentified seller in Atlanta. The book had also made its way to Canada and Australia before he bought it, Green said. Lopez told her he sold the book three years ago but refused to identify the customer, according to the lawsuit.

Lopez based his advertisement on an Oct. 10, 1960, Time Magazine article that he found online, according to the lawsuit. The article included a brief mention of Abdouch riding next to Democratic Senate nominee Bob Conrad on a rainy drive to Lincoln. Lopez found Abdouch’s campaign title through an Internet search, but assumed she was dead and made no effort to confirm otherwise, according to the lawsuit.

Caveat emptor.


Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.