EXCLUSIVE: This announcement just went out to retailers. It’s the last shoe to drop stemming from the Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of Marvel Entertainment and its takeover of Paramount Pictures‘ entire worldwide marketing and distribution deal with …
EXCLUSIVE… UPDATE: Sources now tell me that all three female executives in employments disputes with the Walt Disney Co have settled – including one today. This is many months after the women lost their jobs in a Department Of Consumer Products reorganization set in motion nearly a year ago by Marvel boss Ike Perlmutter who is Disney’s 2nd largest shareholder. Former DCP head of fashion and home products Pam Lifford, former chief financial officer Anne Gates, and former DCP HR exec Susan Cole Hill were all represented by the same attorney with the Pasadena law firm Hadsell, Stormer, Keeny, Richardson and Rennick which has sued Disney in other employee rights cases. According to my sources, the three women, who are all African Americans, referred to themselves as “The Help” – a reference to last summer’s hit DreamWorks movie distributed by Disney and set during the civil rights movement about black maids in Mississippi.
The reorganization took place in September 2011 but the negotiations for the exit settlements dragged on. Some insiders claim the law firm didn’t return Disney’s calls because it first wanted a story damaging to Perlmutter to appear in the media. An article appeared on Thursday, and Disney and Marvel and Perlmutter now are in damage control mode. Financial Times LA-based correspondent Matthew Garrahan broke the news about these three African-American female execs, their respective job status after their boss Andy Mooney was replaced as the head of DCP, and their hiring an attorney. At the time he wrote that only one of the three women had settled with Disney.
But the FT story also reported that, when African-American actor Terrence Howard was replaced by African-American actor Don Cheadle in the role of Colonel Jim Rhodes for Iron Man 2, ”Perlmutter apparently told Mr. Mooney the change cut costs. He allegedly added words to the effect that no one would notice because black people ‘look the same’,” Garrahan wrote. A Marvel spokesperson told the FT in a statement: “Mr. Perlmutter and all of Marvel have a long record of diversity in the workplace and on movie sets around the world as evidenced by both Mr. Perlmutter’s own history and Marvel’s management team.”
There’s also conflicting descriptions of a formal complaint with Disney
Human Resources about Perlmutter filed by former CFO Anne Gates before she left the company. Several sources told me it was a racial complaint but others say it wasn’t race-related.
The last thing Disney wants is bad press about the reclusive (Forbes found this 1985 photo, right), opinionated, parsimonious, and incredibly successful 69-year-old Perlmutter. (The Los Angeles Times, ever obliging to advertisers, didn’t even mention the FT accusations in its clip-job story about Perlmutter appearing later Thursday.) Perlmutter’s influence inside Disney is gigantic ever since his $4B sale of Marvel to Mouse House CEO Bob Iger in 2009. I reported back in April that one of the reasons Rich Ross was summarily fired as chairman of the Walt Disney Studios was because the Marvel Entertainment CEO was a very vocal detractor. The comic book, TV, and film company boss is a notoriously tough customer eager to back-seat manage everything. (As I quoted a source saying in April: “Iger has real problems. Bob thought he could handle him. But Ike is uncharmable.”)
Related: Why Rich Ross Was Fired At Disney
High-ranking Marvel sources today tell me that the FT‘s implication that Perlmutter is racist is ”proposterous”. The insiders also claim, about what Perlmutter allegedly said to Mooney, “he [Mooney] never complained about it at the time and then only 5 months later”. Other insiders acknowledge that “it looks bad” that the African-American trio were reorganized out of their jobs but claim the FT‘s information is coming from “disgruntled employees” who have tried to “peddle accusations against Ike” to other media outlets for many months. Trying to give me some context about Perlmutter, one insider made the point that he was “of a different generation and an Israeli immigrant and owner of a private company” whose blunt style is at odds with a public corporate environment like Disney. But these people who know him all flatly deny that he has demonstrated racism.
EXCLUSIVE: Everybody is trying to keep this secret. But I’ve learned that yesterday Disney canned Dana Precious, EVP of Worldwide Marketing for Marvel’s LA Studios (she had replaced Doug Finberg at the end of last summer); Jeffrey Stewart, VP of Worldwide Marketing (he’d been brought in by Dana); and Jodi Miller, Manager of Worldwide Marketing. That’s essentially Marvel’s entire marketing department. Marvel redundant jobs were on the line ever since Disney bought the publisher/studio in 2009. And the marketing department even more so this summer after Paramount released Thor and Captain America domestically and internationally, thus effectively ending that studio’s marketing and distribution of Marvel pictures. I’m told that on June 24th, Rob Steffens, who is Marvel Studios’ EVP Operations, met with all of the department at the Manhattan Beach offices in what was described as a “Disney Rules of the Road” meeting. He told staff that there would be no house-cleaning by the mouse, period, so they were not to fear for their jobs and flee en masse. So much for that promise.
The official line on why Marvel’s marketing team was let go is that Disney will be taking over that function and handling the releases of The Avengers and future Marvel movies themselves. In fact I’ve learned that Marvel will bring in someone in a “project management role”. But Kevin Feige’s continued supervision of all things Marvel should resolve any doubts by fanboys that Disney will screw around or screw up the comic book films. Insiders tell me that Precious and her team were not well-loved by Marvel bigwig Feige and other top execs at Marvel or by Disney and Paramount. (Some of the comments I heard today included: “Not up to or have the skill set to release this brand properly”… “Their job was to keep track of the people doing the real work”… “Paper pushers”… ”Would it have killed them to return an email?”… “Disney doesn’t need someone to cut its trailers”…)
Now Marvel staffers wonder whether the firings were really to avoid duplicating efforts with Disney or just petty vindictiveness.
EXCLUSIVE: Intellectual property lawyer Marc Toberoff has a winning track record when he goes after Hollywood studios on behalf of rightsholders. But not today. I’ve just learned that he lost big in Federal Court for the Southern District Of New York after suing Disney/Marvel for the Jack Kirby Estate. The federal judge not only granted the studio motions for summary judgment but also denied the Toberoff/Kirby’s cross-motion for summary judgment. The ruling revolved around the fact that Kirby was a freelance writer and did work-for-hire and so didn’t retain the copyright. Well, you win some and you lose some. But all the Hollywood studios are chortling because they now see Toberoff as vulnerable and not invincible. “This is just the beginning,” Toberoff just told me, noting that, after the Kirby Estate exercised their termination rights under the Copyright Act, Marvel (backed by Disney) was in the middle of settlement negotiations in December 2009 and sued the Kirbys on January 8, 2010 in NY to benefit from that state’s more favorable work-for-hire case law. UPDATE: The
Walt Disney Companyissued this statement regarding the Marvel Worldwide Inc. v. Kirby ruling: “We are pleased that in this case, the judge has confirmed Marvel’s ownership rights.”
Specifically, the estate of comic book superhero legend Jack Kirby, co-creator of Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, The Avengers, Iron Man, Hulk, The Silver Surfer and Thor, sent notices terminating copyright to publishers Marvel and Disney, as well as film studios that have made movies and TV shows based on characters he created or co-created, including Sony, Universal, 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures. Normally these kinds of lawsuits are run of the mill for Hollywood. But not when they’re litigated by Toberoff, who is the bane of Big Media.