The black Dalmatian spots are already appearing on backpacks, bedsheets and T-shirts. But a Walt Disney Co. advertising plan to put spots on the world-famous Hollywood sign seemed to be headed for the doghouse Friday.
Facing skeptical city officials and a pack of unhappy neighbors, Disney at least temporarily withdrew its formal request for permission for the stunt promoting its new "101 Dalmatians" film.
Negative publicity "has taken all the fun out of the idea as far we are concerned," the company said Friday in a letter to the city Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners. A company spokeswoman said she did not know if the proposal would be revived.
The city board was supposed to review the Disney request at a meeting next week. Board President Steven Soboroff said Friday that he would have opposed the plan to alter the 45-foot-high metal letters atop Mt. Lee in Griffith Park. And he predicted that the proposal would not have gained board approval.
"That's not my idea of fun, painting spots on the Hollywood sign or the Statue of Liberty," Soboroff said. Although the city wants to accommodate the film industry as much as possible, "there's got to be a line," he said.
Soboroff took pains to describe himself as a great admirer of Disney--even the proud owner of a Dalmatian-decorated necktie. He also said he hoped to be among the first to see the live-action remake of the 1961 animated classic.
Disney had sought permission to paint or attach black spots on the landmark for five days, starting Nov. 27, when the movie opens at the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. In its original request, Disney cited its widely praised restoration of the historic El Capitan and said the proposed spots would encourage more Hollywood revitalization.
Disney won the support of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Hollywood Sign Trust, both of which have a voice on the sign's use. But homeowners on canyon streets near the sign strongly denounced the idea, contending that it would increase tourist traffic and fire danger. Staff members of the Department of Recreation and Parks also opposed commercializing city Historic Cultural Monument No. 111.
Terry Curtin, Disney's senior vice president of publicity, said public criticism from department employees was unfair because the company was not given a chance to explain how it would protect the sign and the surrounding neighborhood.
"We are very dismayed by their adversarial tactics. We do not want to be in an adversarial position," she stressed. The spots are "not important enough to us to have a media circus about this."
Disney will not revive its request unless officials from the Recreation and Parks Department explain "why we are being met with these tactics," Curtin said. Asked about Disney's next move if such talks occur, the company spokeswoman said: "We do not know at this point."
Jackie Tatum, Recreation and Parks Department general manger, declined to comment.
Hollywoodland Homeowners Assn. Vice President Edward Cohan believes that the dogfight is over and that the sign will remain spot-free.
"I'm pleased that Disney was so considerate," he said. "It shows that Hollywood isn't as thoughtless about their neighbors as sometimes believed."
Neighborhood activist Christine O'Brien agreed and offered Disney some solace. "In one sense," she said, "this got the movie more publicity than it would have gotten anyway."