The singer Peggy Lee filed suit in Los Angeles yesterday against the Walt Disney Company, charging breach of contract in the release of a videocassette version of the 1955 movie Lady and the Tramp without her consent.
Miss Lee, who is suing Disney for $25 million in royalties and damages, wrote all the lyrics and some of the melodies for the six songs in the animated classic, and performed voices “for two cats, one dog and one human being,” she said in New York yesterday.
“We have not yet received the papers, and we have no comment,” said a spokesman for the Walt Disney Company, Erwin Okun. Miss Lee’s lawyer, Alvin Deutsch, said the suit was served yesterday at the Disney offices. A complaint was formally filed in the Superior Court of California for the County of Los Angeles.
A Disney spokesman said the cassette version of Lady and the Tramp has sold 3.5 million cassettes since it was released in 1987, earning $90 million. Mr. Deutsch said Disney had earned more than $140 million from the film both in theaters and on cassette.
“I’m not being a saint, saying I don’t want the money – I want it,” Miss Lee said. “I think it’s shameful that artists can’t share financially from the success of their work. That’s the only way we can make our living.”
Miss Lee and the songwriter Sonny Burke split a royaltee fee of $1,000 for the sheet music and phonograph record rights for the film’s six songs, she said, which included “He’s a Tramp” and “Bella Notte.”
Miss Lee said she was paid an additional $3,500 for her singing and for performing as the voice of Peg – the dog who is jilted by the Tramp – as well as the cats Si and Am, and Darling, a human character in the film.
At issue is a clause in Miss Lee’s 1952 contract with Disney that denies the company the right to “make phonograph recordings and/or transcriptions for sale to the public.”
Mr. Deutsch says that the word “transcriptions” includes videocassettes, since phonograph record and sheet music rights were bought separately.