January 24, 2011 – update: it was reported this morning that no letters were sold. There is a book to be published but no publishing contract has been obtained. Yoko Ono clarifies that she owns the content of the letters and that no copyrights have been sold either. Please see new article.
January 20, 2011 – 150 of John Lennon’s private letters, comprising hundreds of pages of Lennon’s musings and drawings, have been sold by his widow Yoko Ono to Alan Samson of the Orion Publishing Group, according to the Guardian. The letters were written over many years to friends and associates and contain vast insight into John’s “daily life and character.” Hunter Davies,Beatles biographer has been in possession of the letters and has convinced Yoko to sell them. But the fact that the letters themselves will be publicized does not change ownership of the intellectual property rights to them, which will remain legal property of Yoko Ono.
“For the most part they have never been seen before,” Orion Publishing Group executive Alan Samson was quoted as saying. “There are half a dozen icons of the 20th century –- Marilyn Monroe, Kennedy, Elvis –- and Lennon is one of them.”
The letters will be published in October 2012 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ first hit single, “Love Me Do.” The price for Lennon’s thoughts? Rumor has it that it was be between 500,000 and 1 million pounds, or between $800,000 and $1.6 million U.S. dollars.
Was Yoko right to sell off her husband’s letters and made available to the public? Fans have been angered over the years at some of Yoko’s “exploits” of her husband’s name, and may say that this is just another way to make money off her slain husband’s name. As the article at “Death and Taxes” says, Courtney Love was lambasted for selling Kurt Cobain’s diaries. Disgust at musician’s widows is no new thing. In the late 18th century Constanze Mozart was also criticized for selling Wolfgang Mozart’s sheet music and for selling tickets to tributes.
But history was better for the actions of these widows. In our generation, we couldn’t wait to read Kurt’s diaries. And we can’t wait to read Lennon’s letters either. Samson is right–Lennon is an icon that millions looked up to and have struggled to know more about and to understand. These letters may open a gate to the private side of Lennon when he was being most himself, talking to friends.