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'Judge Sluggo' divvies up Mr. Bill

NEW ORLEANS -- In the spirit of television's 'Mr. Bill' act, 'Judge Sluggo' cut up a model of the clay man and doled out portions to three men who agreed to settle their creative ownership rights suit.

U.S. District Judge Adrian Duplantier convened court Tuesday with a model of Mr. Bill -- the puppet star of a series of films on NBC-TV's 'Saturday Night Live' -- displayed on his bench. A nameplate in the front of the courtroom identified Duplantier as 'Judge Sluggo,' after Mr. Bill's nemisis.

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Vance DeGeneres had filed suit against Walter Williams, who held the Mr. Bill copyright, for half the proceeds from the shows and products. David Derickson, who replaced DeGeneres as 'Mr. Hands,' the human figure who manipulates the clay models, joined the suit for a portion of the proceeds.

After the parties agreed to draft a settlement, Duplantier ended the hearing with a theatrical touch, moving as if to strike the clay man with his gavel in a parody of the television misadventures of Mr. Bill.

However, the judge's clerk stepped in to save the model.

Duplantier then took a pair of scissors and cut the clay man into pieces, giving the head to DeGeneres, the torso to Williams and a foot to Derickson.

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Williams was awarded total control over the characters Mr. Bill, his dog Spot, Sluggo and Mr. Hands. The settlement said Williams was responsible for 'the basic idea in concept' of the characters in the Mr. Bill show, but added that DeGeneres 'participated in bringing that idea' into being.

As a result, the judgment said Williams would have to refile copyrights on the four characters so that they bear DeGeneres' name as co-creator. The judgment also said DeGeneres would receive 25 percent of all net proceeds of articles produced around the four categories.

In exchange, DeGeneres relinquished all claims to copyright and trademark. Copyright, trademark and registration were to be signed by Williams.

Under the agreement, Derickson was granted 5 percent of the proceeds from Mr. Bill records and books on the market and 20 percent of the past, present and future revenues derived from 11 mini-movies that aired on Saturday Night Live, in which he had a part in producing.

Derickson also would receive 10 percent of the revenues from the mini-movies if they 'are exploited' beyond use on Saturday Night Live.

Television viewers across the nation have followed the adventures of Mr. Bill since 1976. His squeal of 'Ohhhhh, nooooo' as he was broken, smashed, punctured and melted by Sluggo and Mr. Hands became a national cry of despair and was portrayed on posters and T-shirts.

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Williams sued DeGeneres in July 1979, shortly after DeGeneres asked for an out-of-court settlement on the copyright and began publicizing his claim.

DeGeneres claimed in his suit that he helped create Mr. Bill, his dog Spot, and their tormenters Mr. Hands and Sluggo.

'It was a real fluke,' DeGeneres testified. 'The whole Mr. Bill concept. It was an amazing event that turned into something great.'

DeGeneres said he and Williams were playing with Play-Do when the primitive character was born.

'He's kind of jerky looking,' DeGeneres said. 'I guess you would be, too, if you were made of Play-Do.'

Williams testified a crudely animated 'Popeye' cartoon inspired him to create Mr. Bill, based on the idea that the art form soon would degenerate to a huge hand moving the characters around.

Williams said DeGeneres helped him in the early stages but tired of the project and of not having control.

Williams later was hired as a staff writer for 'Saturday Night Live' and was contracted for 10 Mr. Bill sketches. Derickson replaced DeGeneres as Mr. Hands in 10 of 22 Mr. Bill episodes ultimately aired by NBC, testimony showed.

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