May 6, 2011 / 11:44 PM / 7 years ago

Elly May versus Barbie: Beverly Hillbilly sues Mattel

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - The woman who portrayed Elly May Clampett in the 1960s TV series “The Beverly Hillbillies” sued Mattel Inc. over the toy maker’s production of a Barbie doll that she says looks like her.

Actress Donna Douglas, who lives in Zachary, La., filed a federal suit against Mattel in Baton Rouge, La., charging that the toy company “is engaging in the unauthorized use” of her name, likeness and image to promote and sell the “Elly May” Barbie.

It has been nearly 50 years since the fictional Clampett family struck oil and ditched their backwoods home for a life of adventure in California. When the clan, including the beautiful-but-naive Elly May, headed for Beverly Hills, they launched a series that kept audiences laughing through nine seasons, followed by many decades of reruns.

Douglas played Elly May in all 274 episodes of the show, which continues to air in syndication around the world.

In her suit, Douglas says that she “continues to make public appearances in association with” her character. The suit says that Mattel introduced the “Elly May” Barbie doll in December 2010, and even uses Douglas name in promotional materials for the doll.

It claims Douglas “never endorsed the doll and never gave Mattel her permission” to use her name or likeness. It charges that the doll “creates the false public impression that Ms Douglas has endorsed” the doll.

Douglas’ attorney in Baton Rouge, Philip Shaheen, did not return phone messages seeking comment and her agent, Bill Anderson, referred questions to the attorney.

El Segundo, Calif.-based Mattel said in a brief email responding to a Reuters question: “Mattel licensed the rights to Beverly Hillbillies for this product through the appropriate channels.”

New Orleans Entertainment lawyer Greg Eveline, said that while he does not know the terms of Douglas’ contract with the show’s producers, the actress may have a legitimate gripe.

Other celebrities have won such cases based on a clause of the Trademark Act of 1946 stating that it is illegal to use an image or likeness to make it appear the person in endorsing a product, Eveline said.

Entertainers Tom Waits and Bette Midler both won lawsuits based on this provision, he said. Waits sued Frito-Lay Inc. in 1992 and Midler sued Ford Motor Co. in 1988. The two companies had asked the singer to do a song for a commercial, and when the singer refused, the company proceeded to hire a sound-alike performer.

Douglas’ suit against Mattel aims to block the company from using her name or image and seeks damages estimated at a minimum of $75,000.

A spokesman for CBS Television Distribution, which acquired the rights to “The Beverly Hillbillies” in the 1980s, could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit.

Editing by Greg McCune

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