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Eisner finds support in strange place: Pooh corner
( 2003-12-05 11:08) (Agencies)

Embattled Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner has won the support of an unlikely source -- the woman suing him and his company for what could be hundreds of millions of dollars in missed Winnie the Pooh royalty payments.

Eisner is under fire from two former board members, including company founder Walt Disney's nephew Roy Disney, who resigned earlier this week, who have mounted a campaign to oust Disney's chairman and chief executive, claiming he is doing a poor job.

"I would back him entirely," said Pati Slesinger, whose family firm Stephen Slesinger Inc. is suing Disney in a bitter, 12-year legal battle with Pooh at its center.

In an interview with Reuters, she said the Disney culture was flawed, but that Eisner could not be blamed.

In fact, she called a late summer lunch with the Disney chairman "constructive," and she even complimented him.

"He is an incredibly dynamic business leader," she said.

Slesinger said she sat down with Eisner in a confidential meeting set up without each side's high-priced lawyers.

She declined to comment on the specifics of her discussion, citing a confidentiality agreement.

A Disney spokesman declined to comment on any meeting, but did say, "The posture we always take is to look for principled solutions to business disputes."

The meeting was the first between the two, despite previous attempts by Slesinger to talk with Eisner, Slesinger said.

Slesinger's father acquired the U.S. merchandise rights to storybook bear Winnie the Pooh in 1930 from British author A.A. Milne and later struck a merchandising deal with Disney.

But in 1991, she went to court claiming Disney was underpaying her. Specifically, she claims Disney owes her royalties on sales of items like Pooh videocassette tapes and not just products like pajamas. Disney disputes her claim.

She said she saw eye-to-eye with Eisner on at least one subject -- the possibility of a nonprofit Winnie the Pooh foundation. But she promised to continue the legal battle after a change in lawyers this week,

"We are in an adversarial posture here," she said.

Slesinger's company has just hired Johnnie Cochran, the lawyer known for successfully defending former football star O.J. Simpson on double-murder charges.

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