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Lady and the Tramp


On this day, May 23, 1975, Peggy Lee of Jamestown, North Dakota was presented with the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award for her work in the field of motion picture and popular music. Her list of achievements is spectacular; including 12 Grammy nominations as well as an Academy Award nomination for her performance in "Pete Kelly's Blues." But one of her most enduring legacies and a single showcase of her many talents were her contributions to Walt Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp.”

Working with Sonny Burke, Peggy Lee co-wrote the songs of “Lady and the Tramp,” including “The Siamese Cat Song,”“He’s a Tramp” and the movie’s most memorable feature, “Bella Notte,” sung at the Italian restaurant where Lady and the Tramp share a plate of spaghetti.

The North Dakota native was also the voice of several of the film’s characters such as Darcy, the mother who sings “La La Lu” and Peg, the dog who sings “He’s a Tramp.” The two devious cats, Si and Am, who sing “The Siamese Cat Song,” can also be attributed to the voice of Peggy Lee. She even contributed to the storyline by persuading the writers to let Trusty, the bloodhound, survive.

But Peggy Lee didn’t always have a fairytale relationship with the Walt Disney Company. In 1988, she filed suit against Disney, charging breach of contract in the release of a video-cassette version of “Lady and the Tramp.”

For the original movie, Lee and Sonny Burke had split royalty fees of $1,000 for the sheet-music and phonograph record rights for the film’s musical score. Peggy Lee’s 1952 contract also included a clause that denied the company the right to ''make phonograph recordings and/or transcriptions for sale to the public.'' In the 1988 lawsuit, Lee claimed that “transcriptions” should include video-recordings; especially considering the $35 million the Walt Disney Company had made from video sales of the film. It was “shameful,” Peggy Lee said of the company’s actions, “shameful that artists can't share financially from the success of their work. That's the only way we can make our living.'' The jury obviously agreed. In 1991, she was awarded $2.3 million in damages against the company for selling tapes of the 1955 movie without her permission.

Written by Christina Sunwall


Collins, Glenn. "Peggy Lee Is Suing Disney." The New York Times (17 November 1988).

"Peggy Lee.Com", http://www.peggylee.com/home.html (accessed 2008).

"Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award", North Dakota State Government http://www.governor.state.nd.us/awards/rr-gallery/toc.html (accessed 2008).