Comedian Katt Williams sparked a media frenzy during his appearance on Shannon Sharpe’s popular talk show, “Club Shay Shay.” While taking jabs at fellow comedians in Hollywood, saying he read thousands of nonfiction books in one year when he was a young child, he also stated that Disney sued him over his old stage name, Katt in the Hat, leading him to change his name.
Many are curious as if his Big Mouse claims are true.
In the episode the “Friday After Next” actor said he received a cease-and-desist letter from The Walt Disney Company for using the name “Katt in the Hat” because it was too close to the Dr. Seuss property that he claimed they owned.
“They tell these stories about how he changed his name. Look… the truth of the matter is Disney sued me,” he said.
Disney Said ‘No’
Williams claimed the mega entertainment conglomerate, currently recognized as the Disney General Entertainment Company with its extensive subsidiaries such as the American Broadcasting Company, ABC News, Disney Branded Television, Disney Television Studios, ABC Signature, ABC Family Worldwide, Hulu Original Content Teams, and fully integrated assets from 21st Century Fox, including FX Networks, FX Productions, 20th Television, and 20th Television Animation, filed a lawsuit against him for using his name, despite his annual earnings with the name being less than $25,000.
The artist reportedly started his career and used the spin on the children’s book classic in the 1990s.
However, according to the Hollywood Reporter, it wasn’t until 2010 that Disney obtained a license for a segment of the now over eight-decade old “Cat in the Hat” franchise.
This license specifically covered a limited run of “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!” for Playhouse Disney channels across 40 territories. The agreement was formed as part of a broader arrangement with distributor Portfolio International. The preschool series, narrated by Martin Short, followed the magical escapades of six-year-old friends and next-door neighbors Sally and Nick, along with the Fish, Thing 1, and Thing 2.
Securing a license agreement or acquiring broadcasting rights for a property differs from actual ownership. The rights to the Dr. Seuss franchise belong to Dr. Seuss Enterprises, a privately held company responsible for overseeing the estate of children’s author Theodor Seuss Geisel.
After Dr. Seuss’s passing in 1991, his widow, Audrey Geisel, established Dr. Seuss Enterprises in 1993.
She set up the company as a way to expand her late husband’s work, and push out his cherished literary works to “the widest possible audience in any and all media throughout the world.”
Over the years, according to Time, the company has partnered with a lot of distribution companies and studios, including Netflix and the Warner Animation Group.
Still, in doing so, the company has been very protective of the brand, working to make sure that the brand is wholesome, including retiring six of its own titles that have content that is racist or xenophobic.
In the late 1990s, there was a lawsuit filed against Penguin Books USA over a blue-comedic parody of the “Cat in the Hat” titled “The Cat NOT in the Hat! A parody by Dr. Juice,” an account of O.J. Simpson’s double murder trial.
The company alleged, according to a summary of the case, its publishing was a copyright and trademark rights infringement on the earlier work, particularly as it had the former NFL player wearing the Cat in the Hat’s distinctive red and white striped stovepipe hat, holding a bloody glove, and narrating the story.
Geisel said that she did not want any commingling of her late husband’s work with the former murder defendant.
“A man this famous/Never hires/Lawyers like/Jacoby Meyers/When you’re accused of a killing scheme/You need to build a real Dream Team,” was a line from the book. Another line was “One knife?/Two knife?/Red knife/Dead wife.”
Despite her objection, in 1997, a court sided with Penguin, saying the work was an allowable parody.
Considering that this case serves as a precedent and Disney has never owned “The Cat in the Hat,” it raises questions about the accuracy of Williams’ claims. Either his narrative may be either untrue or he may be confusing details related to legal actions against him.