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THE COURT FILES / ANN W. O'NEILL

Mickey's Masters Killed Fellow Cartoon Critter, Judge Rules

September 28, 1997|ANN W. O'NEILL

The killer mouse. . . . Reebok says, "Show me the money!". . . Candy dreams of Cindy as the Garveys turn. . . . It's judgment day for what once was one of the most charming brunch spots in Los Angeles. . . . And Jean-Claude Van Damme flexes his legal muscles. . . .

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HE COULD HAVE BEEN A CONTENDER: Had things gone differently, a cute spotted little cartoon critter known as Marsupilami could have been a star. Even Disney Chairman Michael Eisner once reportedly gushed that "Marsu could be the next Mickey Mouse."

Instead, a federal judge in Los Angeles found, Disney's neglect killed Marsu's career. Other cartoon characters got all the glory. And Marsu was put on the shelf.

U.S. District Senior Judge Edward Rafeedie has ordered Disney Enterprises Inc. to pay a European company, Marsu B.V., nearly $10.4 million in damages for breaching its promise to make 13 half-hour Marsupilami cartoon shows. The judge further found that Disney concealed its neglect from Marsu's corporate handlers so they wouldn't shop him around to someone else.

The smoking gun uncovered during the trial, the judge said in his 22-page opinion, was an internal memo to Eisner that said the company's other "hot properties were consuming all our attention." The memo said Disney's own films "have turned into an embarrassment of riches" that would keep the company's marketeers busy long into the future.

Marsupilami, it said, "had less Disney weight behind it than Aladdin," adding: "If we didn't have the killer film properties, the reception would be different."

Attorney Patricia L. Glaser said Marsupilami's creator, Belgian cartoonist Andre Franquin, "thought he was making the deal of a lifetime with Disney, and then Disney just got too busy for him."

Franquin died in January at age 73.

Disney plans an appeal, a spokesman said. "We believe we fulfilled our obligations to the plaintiff and are disappointed with the ruling."

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SHOW ME THE MONEY: This week's installment of art imitating life imitating advertising is being brought to you by Reebok, which is suing TriStar Pictures for $12 million over being cut from the film "Jerry Maguire."

The trial, set to begin Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, centers around Hollywood's practice, called "back-end promotions," of raising marketing money by featuring recognizable brand names and products in big-budget films.

Reebok contends that it had a handshake deal with TriStar to include a fictional Reebok commercial in "Jerry Maguire" and alleges that it lost a "highly valuable opportunity to gain positive consumer impressions for its products."

The shoe company says the story line of the hit film, which starred Tom Cruise as a sports agent and joyous Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. as his only client, originally ended with Gooding's character making a Reebok commercial. The company even agreed to produce the ad itself.

But alas, the scene wound up on the cutting room floor.

TriStar attorney Louis M. Meisinger could not be reached.

Court records indicate that the commercial didn't make the final cut because, TriStar claimed, "third parties" that included Cruise, producer James L. Brooks and director Cameron Crowe exercised their creative rights to exclude it.

Reebok is alleging that TriStar reneged on its end of the deal and never disclosed that others could nix the commercial. TriStar's basic response in court papers seems to be: Deal? What deal?

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THE GARVEY WIVES: A Los Angeles Superior Court judge tossed out a defamation lawsuit that former Dodger star Steve Garvey's ex-wife filed against his current spouse, who said in interviews that she had dreamed that the ex was out to murder her.

Judge Charles W. McCoy Jr. found that Candace Garvey was protected by the 1st Amendment because she was expressing fear and opinion--not facts. The judge also ruled that Garvey's first wife, former talk show host Cynthia Truhan, is a public figure and therefore needed to show malice on Candace Garvey's part.

"The statements here are at most an expression of subjective judgment," McCoy said in a written opinion. "No reasonable fact-finder could second-guess a statement of fear." He added: "Dreams are not susceptible [to] proof one way or the other."

Candace Garvey was a close friend of Nicole Brown Simpson and testified for the prosecution during the criminal trial of O.J. Simpson. In interviews after Nicole Simpson's slaying, Garvey expressed fear of both the former football star and Truhan. She blamed that fear for a separation from her husband, a former first baseman for the Dodgers and San Diego Padres.

Candace and Steve Garvey have since reconciled, said attorney Anthony Michael Glassman.

"Mrs. Garvey is very, very pleased that this is over," Glassman said. "This case should never have made it to the courtroom. What she said was never meant to hurt anyone."

Truhan's lawyer was unavailable for comment.

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