By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Although James gives high marks to security in Maricopa County's Clerk of the Court Office ("Good luck trying to get a file out of there," he says of the place where he unearthed the wills of Buster Crabbe and Don Ameche), he's baffled by the state's refusal to issue copies of death certificates to anyone who requests them. Still steamed because he wasn't able to include a death certificate in his Bob Crane file, he says, "That's public information as far as I'm concerned."
Nor is James thrilled about the recent proliferation of "living trusts," relatively airtight alternatives to probate that, unlike wills, are not in the public record.
"If a person is really together on their estate, is fairly clean of debt, hasn't pissed anybody off and isn't trying to fuck anyone, you generally won't find a probate file," explains James. "We went to L.A. last week, because there have been a lot of great folks who have expired in the past year. Henry Mancini? Nothing. Dack Rambo? Nada." Ditto Nicole Brown Simpson.
"You would think that someone like River Phoenix would definitely have a good probate file, because he was such a young guy when he died," continues James. "Uh-uh, not a thing. He must have had a really good manager who kept everything clean." No stranger to lawyers himself, James has received a "cease and desist" letter from attorneys representing a licensing firm that handles the estates of a number of dead luminaries. As a result, James has temporarily withdrawn the names of James Dean, Greta Garbo, Liberace, John Belushi and Will Rogers from his catalogue until he can do a little legal homework himself. "What an ideal business!" says James, not a little disdainfully. "The guy you represent can't even argue with you. Marilyn Monroe's estate generates over $1 million a year, and it goes to someone Monroe never met in her life." (Acting coach Lee Strasberg, the main beneficiary of Monroe's will, died in 1982; since then, money from the Monroe estate has gone to Strasberg's second wife.)
"When I first started this, I worried about getting letters from the family," confesses James. "If I got a letter from Candice Bergen saying, 'Out of respect for my father, will you take this thing out of your catalogue?', I probably would. I'd sure be more inclined to do that for a family than I would one of these letter-writing attorneys.
"You know what's really sick?" asks James. "Every letter I get from some lawyer is costing that estate at least $200.