Mickey's Masters Killed Fellow Cartoon Critter, Judge Rules

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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BUTTERFIELD BLUES: Ruling that the House of Blues drove a neighboring restaurant out of business, a judge ordered the Sunset Boulevard club to pay $375,000 to the owners of the now-defunct Butterfield's, plus attorneys' fees and other costs that could raise the judgment to $500,000.

Retired Court of Appeal Justice Robert Feinerman, hearing the case for the American Arbitration Assn., found that the House of Blues "was a significant causative factor in the deterioration of Butterfield's business and ultimate demise" in 1995.

Feinerman also found that the House of Blues "misrepresented" to Butterfield's and city planning officials in West Hollywood the number of patrons the club would draw, heading off any opposition to its project.

The judge said in a written opinion that after the club opened Aug. 31, 1994, it created "abnormal conditions" that often were a nuisance to its neighbors.

Occupying the guest quarters and gardens of the former John Barrymore estate, the Sunset Boulevard eatery that was Butterfield's had been frequented by stars such as Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman and Lauren Bacall.

But after the grand opening of the House of Blues, owned by Hard Rock Cafe founder Isaac Tigrett and actor Dan Aykroyd, noise and parking problems caused Butterfield's business to decline steadily. Aykroyd earlier had been dismissed as a defendant in the suit.

Attorney Gary Paul said that on some occasions, Butterfield's patrons found themselves taking 20 minutes to park and waiting 45 minutes or more for valets to retrieve their cars. Meanwhile, the club continues to pack in up to 1,500 patrons at a time.

"This was a classic example of David versus Goliath," Paul said.

Attorneys for the House of Blues declined to comment.

Paul said a lawsuit is pending in Los Angeles Superior Court against Butterfield's former landlord and the developer for the House of Blues, who also are accused of conspiring to kill off Butterfield's. The House of Blues recently took over the Butterfield's site, which it plans to use for weddings and private parties.

It already has paid more than $400,000 to Butterfield's owners for disruptions to their business during the club's construction.

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VAN DAMME YOU!: A Superior Court judge in Santa Monica tossed out a lawsuit against actor Jean-Claude Van Damme, which among other things had alleged that the Muscles from Brussels puffed up his martial arts prowess to an unwitting public.

Judge Robert Letteau granted motions by Van Damme's lawyers to throw out claims made by Frank Dux, who says he is a martial arts expert who met and trained Van Damme a decade ago, when the actor was a lowly carpet layer. Dux has 20 days to revise and refile his claims.

Dux contended in his suit that Van Damme "lied to the public that he was a martial arts champion."

But, Van Damme attorney Martin D. Singer said, those false allegations were made as a publicity ploy to draw attention to an otherwise groundless lawsuit.

"It has nothing to do with what this case is about," Singer said. "I think the guy's just upset that my client has received more fame and notoriety than he has."

Dux's biggest bone of contention involved a dispute over his payment for co-writing last year's Van Damme action flick "The Quest," for which Dux claims he was promised $100,000 plus a percentage of profits. Dux claimed in his suit, filed in Santa Monica, that he has received only $50,000.

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Staff writer James Bates contributed to this column.

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