It may have been a wonderful feelin' and a wonderful day for Uncle Remus when he crooned "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" in the whimsical 1946 Walt Disney classic "Son of the South," but a Washington man has a terrible feelin' that the song belongs to him, according to a lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court here.
Judge E. Peterson, who wants $10 million in damages from Disney Productions, alleges in the lawsuit that he and another man wrote the song in 1939 but that it was pirated by a "long-forgotten impresario" of a Washington theater chain. The promoter eventually "laundered and converted" the true authorship until it was sold to Walt Disney, the lawsuit said.
The result, Peterson said, is that this musical child that Samuel Clemens [also known as Mark Twain] would have been proud to call his own . . . suffers from the curse of illegitimacy."
"I find this hard to believe . . ." commented Disney vice president and general counsel Richard T. Morrow, who said there is no doubt at Disney headquarters in Burbank that Ray Gilbert and Allie Wrubel wrote the lyrics and music for the song.
Peterson protests in his lawsuit, however, that he and James a Payton, otherwise unidentified in court records, wrote it.
The true authors, Peterson said in the lawsuit, never got "the recognition both moral and real that was their just due . . . [for] this masterwork."
"Walt Disney had an absolute legal obligation to ascertain the true ownership of this work but never did so," Peterson's lawsuit said. "The true author of this work received neither material compensation nor the equally important public acclaim" for his effort, Peterson said in court records.
Disney's "Song of the South," an adaption of the Tales of Uncle Remus, was one of the first movies to combine live action with animation.