ORLANDO (CN) – Hasbro stole the moves and likeness of the man who taught John Travolta how to dance for “Saturday Night Fever,” and used them to create a popular cartoon gecko and toy, the choreographer claims in court.
Denis George Mahan, professionally known as Deney Terrio, shot to fame in the late 1970s as the dance coach on “Saturday Night Fever,” the 1977 film that not only popularized disco through one of the best-selling movie soundtracks of all time, but also made Travolta a household name.
Terrio capitalized on that success by hosting “Dance Fever,” a disco precursor to shows like today’s “So You Think You Can Dance?” and “Dancing With The Stars,” that was produced by Merv Griffin.
That relationship became notorious in 1991, when Terrio sued Griffin, claiming the television impresario made a pass at him, and then fired him from “Dance Fever” when he rebuffed subsequent advances. Adrian Zmed replaced Terrio on “Dance Fever” in 1985. The lawsuit was eventually thrown out.
In his latest legal action, Terrio claims Hasbro Studios infringed on his trademark by selling figurines of the gecko with the name “Vinney Terrio” throughout the United States.
In his complaint Terrio accused Hasbro of using his name, image and likeness to make profits without his permission, and in violation of Florida common law and the False Endorsement clause of the Lanham Act.
Hasbro owns the cartoon “Littlest Pet Shop” which features a character named Vinney Terrio, a gecko. Hasbro also sells figurines of the disco-dancing character.
Terrio claims the Vinnie Terrio figures are sold on Internet sites such as walmart.com, ebay.com, and amazon.com. Hasbro even sold the unauthorized figures to McDonald’s who now puts them in children’s happy meals.
“Given the obvious rhyming first names and identical last names, [Hasbro] named Vinnie Terrio after Deney Terrio and intended on confusing consumers into believing that Deney Terrio is endorsing the Vinnie Terrio figurines, which is false,” the complaint says.
Terrio also claims he was often seen in a white suit during his heyday and that Hasbro is using this aspect as well.
The name has already caused confusion, Terrio states, since his friends and colleagues contacted him and said they were unaware he had a doll out and a deal with Hasbro.
Terrio seeks unspecified damages, injunctive relief, disgorgement of royalties from the sale of the figurine, and court costs.
He is represented by Amber Davis of Beusse Wolter Sanks & Maire PA of Orlando.
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