Man sues creators of Power Rangers

June 14, 1995|By Tom Jackman | Tom Jackman,Kansas City Star

The idea of creating a "Star Patrol," a group of multiracial, teen-age superheroes, came to Herb Simmons more than 20 years ago.

After publishing a book and copyrighting the concept in 1987, then hiring two troupes that made dozens of visits to schools, Mr. Simmons says he took the idea to Hollywood in 1991 and 1992.

The Fox television network apparently wasn't interested.

But more than a year later, Mr. Simmons' daughter was watching television one afternoon in the family's Kansas City, Kan., home when she caught a new show, "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers."

"She ran in and told me, 'Daddy, there's a show on that does the same thing as Star Patrol,' " Mr. Simmons recalled.

Incredulous at first, then angry, Mr. Simmons in February filed a lawsuit against Fox, as well as the producers of Power Rangers, Saban Entertainment, and the people he believes link the network to the producers, Stephanie and Jim Graziano.

Mr. Simmons also has taken his complaint to federal authorities. Last month, Sen. Bob Dole asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Saban had committed a criminal violation of copyright laws.

"I'm frustrated because we did tremendous amounts of research and development," Mr. Simmons said. "I did everything legally right. Now, when I see the Power Rangers, I see Star Patrol."

Saban is headed by Haim Saban, an entrepreneur who has said he got the idea for the multibillion-dollar Power Ranger empire from a Japanese show about superheroes. Saban has filed a counter-action against Mr. Simmons in Los Angeles, claiming there are no similarities between the Power Rangers and Star Patrol.

Angie Small, Saban's vice president of legal affairs, said, "I have seen pictures of Mr. Simmons' Star Patrol, and there are no legally significant similarities between what he allegedly invented and what is included in the Power Rangers."

Fox's vice president of legal affairs, Bonnie Bogin, said Fox had not been formally served with Mr. Simmons' suit. But based on "preliminary investigation," Ms. Bogin said, "we believe the case has no merit. Based on what we've seen of the complaint, we have no knowledge of having seen plaintiff's [Mr. Simmons] material."

But Ms. Bogin acknowledged that Fox hasn't consulted with Stephanie Graziano, Fox's former vice president of children's programming. One of Mr. Simmons' supporters, Jerry Collins of Wichita, Kan., said he met with Graziano more than 10 times to discuss Star Patrol, and that Ms. Graziano has ties to Saban.

Ms. Graziano no longer works for Fox. She did not return phone calls to the North Hollywood, Calif., office of Graz Entertainment, also named in the suit.

Mr. Simmons, 45, spent four years as an FBI agent with training in copyright law, and many more years in various jobs making anti-crime presentations to children.

During that time, he explored what types of characters would both entertain and educate children: Humans rather than animals, brightly colored uniforms, futuristic themes and positive messages, including the motto, "Be the best that you can be."

By 1983, Mr. Simmons had settled on the concept of Star Patrol as teen-age role models for preschool through elementary-age children.

Besides publishing a 56-page book, "Star Patrol, The Adventures Begin," with illustrations by local artist Bill Peck, Mr. Simmons also produced Star Patrol educational film strips, writing tablets and anti-drug posters. He developed a Star Patrol coloring book for a United Auto Workers/General Motors Employee Assistance Program for Kids at the Kansas City, Kan., auto plant.

"The kids loved it," said Marie Grant, who taught fourth- and fifth-grade students and now is principal of Pinkerton Elementary School in Kansas City, Mo. "I thought this would help at an early age, especially with self-esteem."

In 1989, Mr. Simmons held auditions at schools throughout Kansas City for live Star Patrol members. He hired a black boy, a white girl, an Asian boy and a Hispanic girl for the group, and another girl to operate the robot.

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