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Disney Sues Over Snow White Portrayal

March 31, 1989 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Walt Disney Co. is singing a new tune over a portrayal of Snow White during the Academy Awards: Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to court we go.

Disney is suing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, contending the song-and-dance routine by a Snow White look-alike looked, well, dopey.

Corporate spokesman Erwin Okun said the performance was unflattering to the beloved character and the academy lacked permission to use the fairy tale character.

The trademark infringement lawsuit was filed in federal court Thursday.

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Okun said anyone watching would reasonably conclude that Disney had sanctioned the routine, adding, ″We thought it was extremely unrepresentati ve of our creative work and of the quality of our creative work.″

The broadcast, seen in an estimated 27 million American homes, began Wednesday night with actress Eileen Bowman, dressed as Snow White, following a chorus line of dancing stars into the Shrine Auditorium.

Bowman’s Snow White, in a squeaky Betty Boop voice, then launched into a rendition of ″We Only Have Stars for You,″ to the tune of the 1959 hit ″I Only Have Eyes for You.″

Disney, which has a reputation for zealously protecting its trademark characters, files dozens of suits each year against individuals and companies that copy its characters, especially on consumer products.

″We sue all the time,″ Okun said.

″Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs″ was released by Disney in 1937 and was the studio’s first feature-length animated cartoon. Critics praised the film, calling it a turning point in Disney’s career and a milestone in movie history.

No monetary damages were specified in the suit. Disney is seeking a court order prohibiting the academy’s future use of Disney characters without authorization, Okun said.

″It was a total misappropriation of our copyright characters, and those copyright characters are the heart and soul of our business,″ said Okun. ″The American public saw Snow White portrayed as she never is portrayed in our parks.″

The suit alleges copyright infringement, unfair competition and violation of California’s anti-dilution law, which protects the value of trademarks.

Disney filed suit only after the academy refused its request for a public apology, said Frank Wells, Disney president and chief operating officer.

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Allan Carr, who produced the Oscar show, declined to comment through spokeswoman Linda Dozoretz.

Bruce Davis, the academy’s executive administrator, also declined to comment, saying only: ″This is kind of a down day at the academy. We’re not very organized the day after the Academy Awards.″

Davis said he was unaware of details about Disney’s request for a public apology.

Disney had heard rumors about an ″unauthorized and unflattering″ production number two days before the awards program, Okun said, but the academy did not respond to Disney inquiries until Wednesday afternoon, hours before the show began.

The Snow White as featured in Wednesday night’s ceremonies was inspired by a San Francisco musical revue called ″Beach Blanket Babylon,″ the Los Angeles Times reported.