NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York playwright has convinced a federal judge that his new play is a parody of Dr. Seuss’ classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” and that in this legal fight, he was in the right.
U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan on Friday ruled that Matthew Lombardo’s “Who’s Holiday!” transformed the “utopic” and “cheery” depictions in “Grinch” so completely that it qualified as a “parody” and “fair use.”
Hellerstein rejected arguments by Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP that Lombardo’s play infringed its copyrights to the late author’s work.
“Who’s Holiday!” was slated to open Off Broadway last November before its run was cancelled.
Lombardo’s lawyer Jordan Greenberger said his client intends for another production of “Who’s Holiday” to begin running as soon as November.
“Everyone involved with the play is ecstatic, especially Mr. Lombardo,” Greenberger said in an interview.
Lawyers for Dr. Seuss Enterprises did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“Grinch” is about a grouchy, cave-dwelling monster who decides to end Christmas, but has a change of heart after being interrupted by a little girl, Cindy Lou.
The Cindy Lou in “Who’s Holiday!” is less endearing. She’s a profane 45-year-old woman struggling with alcohol and substance abuse, and she spent time in prison for murdering the Grinch, who was once her husband and fathered her daughter.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises accused Lombardo of exploiting the characters and themes of “Grinch” because he was too lazy to try “working up something fresh.”
But the judge said Lombardo turned the saccharine depictions of Who-Ville into an object of ridicule, where green beasts impregnate women, paparazzi “run rabid,” and citizens get high on “Who Hash” to avoid life’s daily hassles.
“The play’s coarseness and vulgarity lampoons ‘Grinch’ by highlighting the ridiculousness of the utopian society depicted in the original work: society is not good and sweet, but coarse, vulgar and disappointing,” wrote Hellerstein, who was born in 1933 during the Great Depression.
“The play would not make sense without evoking the style and message of “Grinch,’ for which there would be no object of the parody,” Hellerstein added. “Whether the play’s parody of ‘Grinch’ is effective, or in good taste, is irrelevant.”
The case is Lombardo et al v Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-09974.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman