Shirley Slesinger Lasswell
|Shirley Slesinger Lasswell|
|Born||May 27, 1923|
|Died||July 19, 2007|
Beverly Hills, California
|Occupation||Businessperson and performer|
(1948-1953; his death)
(1964-2001; his death)
Shirley Slesinger Lasswell (May 27, 1923 Detroit, Michigan – July 19, 2007 Beverly Hills, CA) was an American brand marketing pioneer. She is best known for licensing the rights to Winnie The Pooh to the Walt Disney Company in 1961 and later suing the company in a dispute over royalties.
Early and personal life
Lasswell was born Shirley Ann Basso in Detroit, Michigan on May 27, 1923. She was the daughter of Clara Louise Leasia, whose family pioneered new Canada in the 1600s, and Michael Basso, the descendant of a family of Italian toy makers. She had one sister, Patricia Jane Basso (Cornell). Shirley Slesinger Lasswell performed in Olsen and Johnson Broadway musical comedies. She spent 30 months with the USO entertaining American troops at military bases and hospitals in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. She met her first husband, Stephen Slesinger, while working on Broadway in 1947.
Slesinger and Lasswell were married in 1948. Actress Clara Bow and her husband, actor Rex Bell, served respectively as the maid of honor and the best man at the Slesinger's wedding. The Slesingers lived in New York City and on their ranch in the Blanco Basin near Pagosa Springs, which provided the backdrop of Slesinger's Western films and summer programs for inner city youth. Their marriage lasted until Slesinger's death in 1953.
In 1964, she married Fred Lasswell, a Rubin Award winning cartoonist and inventor, who drew the comic, Snuffy Smith and Barney Google. Lasswell also invented the first practical citrus harvester and created creative educational programs for schools. The couple remained married until Fred Lasswell's death in 2001.
Winnie The Pooh
Stephen Slesinger, created famous brands and trademarks for hundreds of literary and cartoon characters. He is credited with creating the iconic image of Winnie the Pooh in his red shirt when he obtained exclusive rights from A. A. Milne, beginning in 1930, to use Pooh as he pleased, outside of Milne's black and white books. In exchange Milne received 3% of sales and 15% to 50% of other Pooh rights Slesinger would commercialize. Slesinger's rights included exclusive rights of character and name reproduction in connection with goods and services and all media such as television, radio and any future sound,word, picture reproduction devices. The deal included the rights to Winnie the Pooh, as well as the other now famous characters, such as Christopher Robin, Eeyore, Tigger and Owl.
Stephen Slessinger died in 1953.His death left Lasswell a widow with a one year old daughter, Pati. Lasswell assumed leadership of her husband's company in 1956 and took over the marketing and licensing of Pooh along with Slesinger's other characters. She later said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, "I thought, 'Now what do I do?' But it was right there for me. I decided to promote Pooh."
Lasswell initially began designing Winnie the Pooh related products, such as clothing, toys and dolls for sale at upscale American department stores in the 1950s under Stephen Slesinger Inc. However, Lasswell also began to branch out Winnie the Pooh for other markets. She was in the initial stages of developing Pooh for television when she met Walt Disney, founder and head of the Walt Disney Company. Disney wanted to create a television show featuring the Winnie The Pooh characters. Lasswell signed the first of two licensing agreements in 1961, which licensed the Walt Disney Company exclusive television rights and certain other rights owned by Stephen Slesinger, Inc, in exchange for royalty payments.
The dispute over royalties between Stephen Slesinger Inc. and the Walt Disney Company had its initial beginning in 1981. Lasswell was on a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Lasswell was buying Pooh merchandise in the park (she described herself as a "Pooh shopaholic") when she said she noticed that she wasn't receiving a royalty payments for much of the merchandise that she saw being sold. Lasswell hired a lawyer to look into the matter.
In 1991, Stephen Slesinger Inc. filed a lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company, claiming that Disney had breached their contract and miscalculated the royalties owed to Lasswell under the 1961 Pooh licensing deal. Specifically, the lawsuit claimed that Disney had failed to pay millions of dollars in additional royalties for Pooh related products not specifically covered in the 1961 licensing agreement, but promised in a verbal agreement with Disney representatives. The products in question included computer software, DVDs, videos and other electronic merchandise. The Walt Disney Company denied owing any additional royalties.
Despite the lawsuit, Winnie The Pooh became even more profitable for the Walt Disney Company since the 1990s. The Pooh franchise reportedly brings in more than one billion dollars a year for Disney, which is more than its Mickey Mouse related merchandise.
The Winnie The Pooh legal battle between Stephen Slesinger, Inc. and Disney has continued for more than 16 year from 1991 to present day. The breach of contract lawsuit has so far involved three judges and a dozen separate law firms in both the California Superior Court and the U.S. federal courts.
There have been victories and defeats for both Disney and Stephen Slesinger, Inc., with both sides winning and losing key legal battles. Disney was sanctioned when it was found to have destroyed 40 boxes of paperwork related to the Pooh dispute. A California state judge threw out the lawsuit in 2004 after finding that misconduct had been committed by the Lasswell family. The judge accused Lasswell of hiring a private investigator in order to obtain Disney company documents from the trash. He also alleged that the Lasswell family altered court papers in order to cover up the charges. The 2004 decision by the California state judge is currently being appealed by the Lasswell family as of 2007.
Shirley Slesinger Lasswell died of respiratory failure at her home in Beverly Hills, California on July 19, 2007. She was 84 years old and was survived by her daughter, Pati Slesinger, and her granddaughter.
Her 1991 breach of contract lawsuit against Disney was still on going at the time of her death.
- Associated Press: Shirley Slesinger Lasswell
- Boston Globe: Shirley Slesinger Lasswell; fought over Pooh royalties
- ↑ 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 "Shirley Slesinger Lasswell". The Associated Press (Legacy.com). 2007-07-20. http://www.legacy.com/Obituaries.asp?Page=APStory&Id=13209. Retrieved 2007-08-07.
- ↑ 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 Nelson, Valerie J. (2007-07-21). "Shirley Slesinger Lasswell; fought over Pooh royalties". The Los Angeles Times (Boston Globe). http://www.boston.com/news/globe/obituaries/articles/2007/07/21/shirley_slesinger_lasswell_fought_over_pooh_royalties/. Retrieved 2007-08-07.