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The Cold War of Clancy vs. Clancy

The best-selling author and his wife are mired in divorce proceedings. At stake are custody of fictional hero Jack Ryan and future spoils from the writer's entertainment empire.


Wanda Clancy appears resigned to the idea of losing Tom Clancy, the best-selling author and her husband since 1969.

Letting go of the name Tom Clancy is another issue. And who gets custody of his literary alter ego, Jack Ryan?

Like any pair of divorcing multimillionaires, the Clancys have to divide real estate, stocks, savings accounts, investments and consumer goods, including the Sherman tank that Mrs. Clancy famously gave her husband several years ago.

But, if Mrs. Clancy's lawyers prevail, a judge will have to determine if there's a value to Clancy's name, which sells not only the Jack Ryan novels that made him a rich man, but volumes of military nonfiction books, his "Op-Center" series, young adult books and computer games.

These fruits of Tom Clancy's imagination have become the potential spoils in a complicated case in which family law collides with intellectual property law. The outcome is anyone's guess.

Thorny issues such as child custody, support, visitation--even the cost of the children's first weddings--have been agreed upon, with little apparent wrangling. (Mrs. Clancy did complain to People magazine earlier this month that her estranged husband communicates with her only by e-mail.)

It's the custody of Jack Ryan that's particularly tricky.

So tricky that Mrs. Clancy's attorneys have requested two full months for the case on the Calvert County, Md., court docket, pushing it ahead to April 5, 1999. Clancy's attorneys have countered by asking that the economic issues be separated out and the divorce granted immediately. That would free Clancy to marry Alexandra Llewellyn, a 31-year-old woman who is wealthy in her own right. The two met after the Clancys' separation in November 1996.

Clancy's attorney, Lowell R. Bowen, said earlier this month that his client does not want to comment on any aspect of the divorce. Sheila K. Sachs, Mrs. Clancy's attorney, said that intellectual property and the pending economic settlement are not issues her client can discuss at this point.

But the court papers themselves, as well as the numerous articles written about Clancy over the past 14 years, provide some insight into the unusual case. In fact, it's not unlike reading a Clancy novel--a compelling narrative loaded with technical jargon.

The Clancy divorce is not the first dispute over fictional hero Jack Ryan.

The CIA official--who eventually would become president--first appeared in 1984's "The Hunt for Red October." Clancy had begun another Jack Ryan book in the late 1970s but put it aside to develop the story of a Soviet submarine whose commander is determined to defect.

"Red October," purchased for $5,000 by Annapolis' Naval Institute Press, did exceptionally well for a first novel, selling 45,000 copies. Then an endorsement from President Reagan made it a huge national bestseller.

Clancy then moved to G.P. Putnam's Sons, triggering a legal battle with his first publisher, which claimed it owned a piece of Jack Ryan. The two parties reached a settlement through arbitration in 1989, the terms of which were not disclosed.

The Cold War ended, but Clancy--and Ryan--kept going, getting bigger and bigger book contracts. Clancy proved, though, with 1995's "Without Reason," that he could rise to the top of bestseller lists without Jack Ryan.

In July, already separated from his wife, Clancy signed a two-book contract with Putnam's for $19 million--per book. "Rainbow Six," his latest novel, will be published this summer.


These hardcover "techno-thrillers" are only one piece of the Clancy entertainment empire, which includes the "Op-Center" books (about a crisis management team that takes on global tasks); nonfiction books; computer games; young adult novels; television and film spinoffs of various works; and potential toy and comic book deals. In the divorce papers, Mrs. Clancy has estimated the total value of the contracts for these properties at more than $100 million. (This does not include the couple's limited partnership in the Baltimore Orioles.)

Counter Clancy's lawyers: "He admits that there is substantial marital property [but] denies that Mrs. Clancy contributed to its creation. He admits that the value of existing books and other properties derives from work efforts expended during the marriage, but says that the value of future books and other properties depends on his future efforts and those of others."

Legal experts point out the case's myriad complexities. First, it involves intellectual property law, which turns on copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets. All Clancy's Putnam's novels published to date have been copyrighted to Jack Ryan Limited Partnership or to Jack Ryan Enterprises, in which Mrs. Clancy holds an equal share. His new books, however, are assigned to different corporations in which she has no interest.

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