"Elementary, my dear Watson! Er...no homo."

My agent Mitchell sent me a link to this recent news story, about how Andrea Plunket, who holds the copyright to the Sherlock Holmes stories (more on this claim later) has threatened to revoke the rights for the sequel to Guy Ritchie's film unless he tones down the "homoerotic subtext." Plunket is quoted as saying:

"It would be drastic, but I would withdraw permission for more films to be made if they feel that is a theme they wish to bring out in the future. I am not hostile to homosexuals, but I am to anyone who is not true to the spirit of the books."

I had to roll my eyes at the thought that apparently Ms. Plunket had no problem with seeing Holmes addicted to cocaine and Freudian analysis, transported to the 1980s, or battling the Joker with Batman--but gay? Now that would be against "the spirit of the books!"

But aside from your standard po-mo "Death of the Author" Roland Barthes theory and intellectual justifications for pastiche, slash fan-fiction, and the entire genre of intertextual fiction from Tristram Shandy through Wicked (with, of course, a brief plug for my bookalong the way) I didn't really feel like I had enough to add to the discussion. My only real questions about the story were: 1)Isn't Sherlock Holmes in the public domain yet? 2)Could Andrea Plunket really withdraw permission for more films? and 3)Who is this Andrea Plunket person anyway?

So, like any good Holmes fan, I did a little internet sleuthing. And the answers I discovered were: 1)Sort of, 2)Not really, and 3)Ohmygod, you wouldn't even believe.

Andrea Plunket seems to be an Orly Taitz-type character, whose convoluted claims to the Holmes story, passionately asserted on her website and in the media, are legally questionable at best. A Hungarian-born socialite, she has no connection to the estate of Conan Doyle, with whom she is engaged in frequent litigation over rights to the stories---litigation she has always lost. Her attempts to trademark the name "Sherlock Holmes" have been similarly denied.

Plunket's claims stem from her deceased ex-husband, Sheldon Reynolds, a television producer who had developed a Sherlock Holmes series in the 1950s starring Ronald Howard (not Opie, but the son of "Ashley Wilkes" Leslie Howard). He purchased the rights to the stories at a bank auction after one of Conan Doyle's heirs defaulted on a loan.

Fun fact: after her divorce from Reynolds, Andrea became the mistress to Claus von B├╝low, the accused wife-murderer upon whose trial the film Reversal of Fortune was based. (Andrea Plunket's role in the film was played by Christine Baranski, which may tell you all you need to know about her.)

Attempts by the Conan Doyle estate to recoup the more than $100,000 in legal fees they have accrued battling her in these frivolous lawsuits have been unsuccessful, as Plunket claims she cannot afford to pay. The 40-acre Catskills estate--complete with tennis court, heated pool, and hot-tub---where she now resides with her fourth husband, Shaun Plunket (himself the heir presumptive to an Irish barony) and operates an upscale Bed-and-Breakfast, is in held in her daughter's name. "I'm just the babysitter," she claims.

A good synopsis of the entire mess can be found in the archives of the hilarious Grumpy Old Bookman blog (now sadly defunct).

At any rate, the battle between Ms. Plunket and the Conan Doyle estate, the legal system, and the hopes of Holmes/Watson slash fans everywhere can't go on for much longer: the work is already in the public domain in the UK and Canada, and the last U.S. copyright is set to expire between 2016 and 2023.