The Pooh Papers
Exclusive: HU.S.BAND OF POOH HEIRESS COULD BLOCK SLESINGER-DISNEY SETTLEMENT
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 26, 2002 -- The estranged husband of Beverly Hills Winnie the Pooh heiress Patricia Slesinger told The American Reporter today he has considered blocking a proposed $200 million settlement offered last week by the Walt Disney Co. in her long-running, billion-dollar royalty suit. That could force the complex case to trial early next year.
In a phone call to the paper on Christmas Day, printing executive David Bentson of Beverly Hills, who in a recent deposition said that he is planning to co-author a book about the case, told AR he is weary of being mistreated by his wife and would use community property rights under two marital agreements with Slesinger to block any settlement of the lawsuit, brought by her mother's branding firm, Stephen Slesinger Inc. of Tampa, Fla., in 1991. In a second conversation on Thursday, however, Bentson backed away from an assertion that he would definitely block the case.
"I haven't decided what to do," he said Thursday.
Bentson said the settlement was proposed by the studio last week and that he was informed of it by his attorney.
Bentson has been gathering information for a book about the celebrated case, the oldest civil matter on the Los Angeles County Superior Court docket, he told studio lawyers in a recent deposition.
On Thursday, Bentson told AR his wife has tired of the matter and wants to settle it. A trial by jury in Los Angeles Superior Court is scheduled to start in March 2003. The couple, who have a 7-year-old daughter, have been separated for several years.
Bentson is not a party to the actual contracts at issue in Stephen Slesinger Inc. (SSI) vs. Walt Disney Co., which have generated huge legal fees. Patricia Slesinger complained earlier this month that her current lawyers, who include Hollywood legal legend Bert Fields, are charging her $500,000 a month to continue the case.
Slesinger's father, New York branding pioneer Stephen A. Slesinger, bought a variety of rights to exploit Winnie the Pooh from British author A.A. Milne in 1930 and 1932. Those rights are the subject of a separate action to recover them by the grandaughters of Milne and his illustrator, Ernest Shepard.
Bentson has been married to Slesinger for 14 years and publishes the Beverly Hills GOLDBOOK. That publication once employed this reporter, who has been deposed by Disney in the case as a potential witness to events surrounding alleged agreements between a Disney executive and Patricia Slesinger in 1983.
This reporter's wife, who was employed by Slesinger in her palatial Beverly Hills home, has also been deposed and is suing Slesinger for failing to complete payments on a claim of a wrongful termination of her employment.
Lawyers for the various parties could not be reached on Thursday.