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Disputed MTM pic now in the hands of P.B. photographer's family


Published: February 14, 2014

A 40-YEAR-OLD photograph of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” cast that was shot by a late Pebble Beach photographer is now back in the hands of his family after a two-year legal battle with a Hollywood film giant over the image. 

The photo, which had been used by Twentieth Century Fox after they acquired the rights to the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1998, was shot by renowned photographer John G. Zimmerman, who captured it for a 1974 Time Magazine cover story about actresses Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper. Zimmerman died in 2002 at the age of 74. 

While Zimmerman’s family owns the rights to thousands of his photos, including images from the Time Magazine shoot, the photo in question mysteriously never made it to them.

“We always assumed Time returned all of the photos to us after the story ran,” according to Pebble Beach resident Linda Zimmerman, who manages an archive of her father’s photos in Pacific Grove. “But this portrait, which captures the personalities of the cast to a tee, somehow went missing.”

While searching for her father’s photos online in 2012, Zimmerman told The Pine Cone she came across the missing image, which depicts actors Mary Tyler Moore, Betty White, Ed Asner, Georgia Engel, Gavin MacLeod and Ted Knight.

“When I did a Google search, I got all these hits on that photo,” she said. “It was copyrighted Twentieth Century Fox.”

While copyrighted photos can be used without the owner’s permission for journalistic and scholarly purposes, or for criticism, they cannot be used commercially without the owner’s say-so.

Zimmerman contacted Fox about the picture — which the company had used on the back cover packaging of the 5th season DVD issue of the Mary Tyler Moore show — but she got a less than welcoming reply.

So she hired Los Angeles entertainment lawyer Larry Zerner, a former actor who specializes in copyright infringement, and she filed suit against Fox on behalf of the John G. Zimmerman Archive Trust. However, Zimmerman said the case was challenging from the start.

“Since the archive never knew the photo existed,” Zimmerman said, “it hadn’t registered the copyright, which is a must in order to collect statutory damages and lawyer’s fees.”

Fox also had the original 35mm photo in its possession, which Zerner believes had been inadvertently filed away in the Mary Tyler Moore Show archives where it went undiscovered until Fox acquired the rights to the show 16 years ago.

But after about year and a half of negotiations, which pitted Zerner against several attorneys for Fox, a settlement was reached Jan. 31 whereby the Zimmerman trust would receive the photo and its rights. Fox also agreed to remove the image from the Internet and pay damages to the trust, the amount of which Fox insisted remain confidential, Zimmerman said.

“It’s really tough to hold those big media corporations accountable,” she said. “They admitted zero liability.”

John G. Zimmerman was a correspondent for Life Magazine in the early 1950s before working from 1956 to 1963 as a staff photographer for Sports Illustrated where he quickly made a name for himself with his innovative photographs. From 1964 to 1991, he worked as an editorial and commercial photographer.

“He was the first photographer to put a camera on the backboard of a basketball hoop,” his daughter said.

He photographed the Beatles in 1964, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, models Christie Brinkley and Carol Alt, Richard Nixon, Walt Disney and scores of famous sports figures including Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Frank Shorter and Wilt Chamberlain.

Now that the disputed “Mary Tyler Moore Show” photo is back in their possession, Zimmerman said she’s likely going to contact the National Portrait Gallery, which already has a large number of her father’s other photographs in its collection.

“It would be in good company there,” she said.