The stars of the film were cartoon canines, but the soul of the 1955 Disney classic Lady and the Tramp belonged to jazz diva Peggy Lee. In addition to penning the lyrics to the film’s six songs, Lee slunk through a Pekingese torch song; provided the dulcet tones of Darling, Lady’s mistress; and purred the terrorist intentions of the felines Si and Am, whose high-pitched harmonies burned the lyric “We are Siamese, if you please” into the minds of a generation. Or two.
Unfortunately for Lee, who earned $3,500 for her contributions to Lady, her contract was written long before videos. As a result, though the Walt Disney Company has made about $35 million from video sales of the animated classic, Lee’s share of the proceeds didn’t amount to a tray of used kitty litter. Now, in response to a lawsuit brought by Lee, a Los Angeles jury has decided to rectify the situation by awarding her $3.8 million.
Although Disney is expected to appeal, Lee, now 70, is happy to be out of the courtroom for now. “The strain of the trial was tough on me,” says the chanteuse, who has diabetes and heart problems and has been wheelchair-bound since a 1987 fall in Las Vegas. She says the money will ensure a financial legacy for her daughter, Nicki, 47, who manages and art gallery in Ketchum, Idaho, and her three grandchildren, now in their 20s.
“You know, they always say, ‘Don’t mess with the Mouse,’” says Lee, referring to Disney’s big-eared symbol and standard-bearer. “I’m glad that my rights were vindicated.”