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Jimmy Stewart, Burt Lancaster Speak Out for Artists’ Rights

March 16, 1988 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Actors Jimmy Stewart and Burt Lancaster turned lobbyists Tuesday, leading a star-heavy group that pleaded for Congress to halt the ″desecration″ of their classic movies by such things as the coloring of black and white films.

Lancaster played the fast-talking tough guy and Stewart his drawling partner during impassioned meetings with members of Congress and reporters regarding preservation of the original versions of Hollywood movies.

″All of this is done for them to make a buck,″ Lancaster said. ″Let them go out and make an honest buck.″

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Stewart told reporters in his trademark halting speech that he agreed with Lancaster, ″But for me to say the same thing would take so very much longer. I better not say it.″

Stewart said he came to Washington because he was appalled by the colorization of one of his most memorable films, director Frank Capra’s 1946 ″It’s a Wonderful Life,″ after Atlanta businessman Ted Turner bought the rights to the movie.

″As Frank’s health deteriorated, he found to his horror that ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was one of the first films that was colorized. It broke his heart,″ Stewart said in an emotional voice.

″I am determined to do whatever I can to make things right for Frank Capra,″ he said.

The two actors were joined by directors Peter Bogdanovich, Fred Zinnemann, Robert Wise, Ronald Neame and Elliot Silverstein in a series of Washington appearances.

The effort is the latest by Hollywood figures to get Congress to expand the nation’s copyright laws to give directors and writers perpetual ″moral rights″ over what can be done to their works.

Under a plan supported by the Directors Guild of America, those who hold exhibition rights to completed movies would not be allowed to make changes - such as adding color - without the film maker’s permission.

Although key members of the House and Senate support a bill to bring the United States into the Berne Convention on international copyright, most have opposed including the ″moral rights″ provision dear to the artists.

Lancaster and Stewart asked for protection of what they called the life’s work of thousands of actors, directors and photographers.

″I see myself today in movies where the story has been distorted and the movie chopped up,″ Lancaster said, shaking his finger at a packed room of reporters. ″Yet, my name is on it. I think, ‘What are they doing to me? They don’t own me. They’re using my name as a kind of draw.’ That’s felonious, really.″

Noting the odds against them on Capitol Hill, Silverstein remembered a line Stewart spoke when he was up against greater powers in Capra’s ″Mr. Smith Goes to Washington″: ″Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.″