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Lawsuit Over Name : Show's Big Gun Aims at Disney

April 20, 1985|JANET RAE-DUPREE | Times Staff Writer

The dust is flying in yet another Wild West-style battle by a member of the MontieMontana family.

After his father's divorce showdown in December with his wife, Elly, over use of a pinto horse in the Rose Parade, Montie Montana Jr. has taken to the courtroom to keep Walt Disney Productions from shooting down the wholesome nature of his Western rodeo show.

The suit, filed in San Fernando Superior Court, alleges that Disney improperly used the trade name for Montana's show--"Buffalo Bill's Wild West"--in an episode of its television series "Wildside."

The episode, which aired Thursday night on ABC, depicted a group of impostors pretending to be performers in "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" show so that they could commit a murder. ABC is also named as a defendant in the suit, which was filed Thursday.

Permission Issue

Montana maintains in his suit that the production studio should have asked his permission to use the name. His attorney, Robert Swanson, said Montana won rights to the name "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus after a lawsuit in the 1970s. The circus had purchased rights to the show name several decades before, Swanson said.

Disney lawyers, however, contend that the show's title comes straight from the history books.

"Buffalo Bill Cody himself used that name in the 1880s and 1890s, and our show was set in that period," Disney attorney Louis Petrich said. "It's clear from the context that it's entirely fictional, so it's not meant to refer to his particular show."

For his part, Montana has forgone the traditional Western gun duel at high noon and left it up to Swanson to duke it out with Disney. Montana left Tuesday to tour Japan with his trick-riding, sharpshooting show.

Disney's use of the "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" show name "was connecting it with pretty unwholesome behavior," Swanson said. "Mr. Montana prides himself on only having a very wholesome, family show."

Besides, Swanson said, the Disney episode featured Western acts that "were not even close to the quality that Mr. Montana wants connected with his show."

In the recent divorce case involving Montie Montana Sr., a settlement was reached in which the cowboy's grandson was allowed to ride the horse, Larry, from Montana's Agua Dulce ranch, in the Rose Parade.

Petrich said he does not believe he will have to bring out the big guns to protect Walt Disney Productions.

"The show last night was titled 'Buffalo Who?' " Petrich said, referring to the TV episode. "The context was clear. We believe this suit has very doubtful merit."

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