big business

Just How Many Millions and Movie Deals Will E. Lynn Harris’ Legacy Fetch?

Obit Harris

In life, author E. Lynn Harris mystified us: That a gay black man in America develop such a loyal following among black women writing books about other black men hiding their sexuality was, unarguably, a phenomenon. In death, Harris (the “E.” stands for “Everette”) perplexes us: With 14 books under his belt (two yet to be published), is his estate worth hundreds of millions of dollars?

It’s not necessarily the print royalties that will keep the cash flowing for years (though it won’t hurt), but Harris’ decision to move forward with movie projects based on his books. The Harris brand — DVDs, books, movies, and Broadway musicals (!) — falls into the $100-250 million range, according to unexplained math performed by BET. But even if that estimate is ridiculously generous, Harris’ creations are worth a fortune.

And he was on his way to cashing in just before his death.

So will we finally see Harris’ work on the silver screen? Well, the answer literally was being played out a few weeks ago until the day the bestselling author died. Despite fainting on a train en route to Tinseltown to solidify his book-to-movie dreams, Harris typed that he was “soldiering on” in a text message to an assistant. Once he arrived in Los Angeles, he met with producer Tracey Edmonds just hours before he died.

One insider reports that Harris “basically blessed the project” for the film adaptation of “Invisible Life,” his first novel, which shot Harris to fame in 1994. There are reportedly also two finished scripts, one which focuses on the college years and the other on the New York City years of characters Raymond, Nicole and Basil.

Other finished scripts include “Not A Day Goes By” and “I Say A Little Prayer.” In September, the novel “Mama Dearest,” which is the follow-up to “Not A Day Goes By,” hits bookstores. And the first of a new book series Harris had just created titled, “The Bentley Chronicles,” arrives in 2010.

Except it may not be Harris’ family who decides the fate of his works — but the corporation who bought the rights.

According to one Hollywood source close to the author, “a few years ago he sold off all of his rights and was really acting as a creative partner in these projects.” Hence the legacy of one of America’s foremost African-American authors, who adeptly explored the intersection of race, sexuality and spirituality, lies within the hands of an unknown corporate entity.

“Getting there is going to be the tricky part,” explains famous Hollywood attorney Nina Shaw. She cautions that the “upswing” can be achieved, but it will depend chiefly upon “how strategic and how sophisticated his estate and executors ultimately are in their ability to traverse the landscape in the entertainment industry.”

Maybe Harris is the next Tyler Perry — albeit posthumously. And out.