“Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown was published in 1947. It is considered a children’s classic today, but did not do well when published. About 6,000 copies were sold the first year, then continued going downhill. In 1952 the childless Brown decided to leave the royalties to certain books to the children of her next door neighbor. Nine year old Albert Clarke got 100% of the royalties for “Goodnight Moon.”
Four months later Brown died from a coronary embolism at age 42. The estate was not settled until 1957 and it was then the Clarke family first learned that Brown had given the royalties to certain books to the Clarke children.
By this time the sales of “Goodnight Moon” had grown and 13 year old Albert now had $17, 350. But it was stipulated in the will that he could not collect any monies until he turned 21. Before then he was arrested many times and kicked off his high school wrestling team for a fist fight. At age 21, as sales continued to grow and grow, he was given a check for $75,000. He gave $35, 000 to his family, bought $4,000 in clothes for himself and his brothers and bought a Chevy Impala for $3,000. He ignored the advice to invest in US savings bonds.
When he took the Impala off the lot he was broadsided. Not a good beginning. A year later he had a dented car and 14 pairs of alligator shoes.
But poor Albert, and poor is the correct word, ended up burning through millions of dollars, was accused of domestic violence, lost custody of his children, abused drugs, was arrested many times on various charges, including theft and grand larceny, was a vagrant, and as you can guess incurred a lot of debt. He was pretty much a vagabond, living all over the place, buying houses, then selling them for a loss. By his own admission he was not a good businessman. He also believed for reasons unknown, that Margaret Brown was his real mother.
By 2000, he had gone through $5 million and had $27,000 in cash.
As for his brothers, Austin got Royalties from Brown’s “Sailor Dog.” His royalty checks were pocket change. Same for brother Jimmy who committed suicide in 1995.
Whether Albert is alive or dead, he and his heirs will have royalty rights through 2043. Maybe his heirs will do better.