Principal In "Winnie The Pooh" Royalty Battle Dies
Shirley Slesinger Lasswell, who licensed rights to the Winnie the Pooh characters to Walt Disney in 1961, then later sued the company over disputed royalties, died Thursday. She was 84.
Lasswell's death at her Beverly Hills home was due to respiratory failure, family spokesman Lonnie Soury said.
Lasswell was married to the late Stephen Slesinger, who in 1929 obtained U.S. and Canadian licensing and merchandising rights to Pooh, Christopher Robin and other characters created by British author A.A. Milne.
When Slesinger died in 1953, she took over developing the characters and creating products, including clothing, dolls and other items, based on the Pooh stories and characters.
She had been working on developing Pooh for television when she met Walt Disney, who wanted to create TV shows for the characters. She licensed Pooh to Disney in 1961, the first of two licensing agreements between Stephen Slesinger Inc. and The Walt Disney Co.
In 1964, she married Fred Lasswell, the cartoonist behind "Snuffy Smith" and "Barney Google." Fred Lasswell died in 2001.
In 1991, Stephen Slesinger Inc. sued Disney, alleging the company miscalculated royalties due under that deal.
The lawsuit claimed that Disney failed to pay million of dollars of additional royalties due for Pooh videos, DVDs, computer software and other electronic products not specifically covered under the 1961 deal, but promised verbally to Slesinger by Disney representatives.
Disney denies such royalties are owed.
The 16-year-old legal fight has been fought both in California Superior Court and federal courts, with both sides winning and losing key parts of the battle. A dismissal of Slesinger's main lawsuit is being appealed in state court.
Shirley Ann Basso was born in Detroit on May 27, 1923.
She was a Broadway showgirl when she met Slesinger in 1947. Clara Bow and her husband, Western movie actor Rex Bell, were the maid of honor and best man at the Slesingers' 1948 wedding.
She is survived by her daughter, Pati Slesinger, and one granddaughter.