NEW YORK – Last year, a young, Botswana- born model mischievously blew the cameras a kiss after a photo shoot in South Africa — and forgot about it. Imagine her lawyer's delight, then, when the same playful image, or at least one looking just like it, turned up without the model's permission on the wall of the Schubert Theatre, advertising "Spamalot," the smash Broadway show that earned $27 million in advance sales alone.
The model, Carla Collins, 24, is now suing the Schubert and Spamalot's ad company, seeking unspecified damages for the alleged unauthorized use of her picture.
"We were having dinner, and Carla casually mentioned that her friends were walking by the Schubert Theatre and saw her picture," her lawyer, Leroy Wilson, said yesterday.
Wilson said he knows the model, who is studying acting here, because she is his fiancé's goddaughter. "So we went down and looked, and I said, 'I'll be damned,' " he said. "It was her."
The 5-foot-high picture in question depicts a medieval princess with a plunging neckline, blowing a kiss at the sold-out crowds who stand in line to attend the triple-Tony-winning musical. It appears on the theater wall, alongside a knight, a killer rabbit and a cow.
"They gave her some features that she did not have, in her chest area," Wilson said elliptically. Asked if he were referring to cleavage, he answered, "There you go."
The lawyer said he had alerted officials at Spamalot's advertising agent, Serino Coyne Inc., in hopes of an amicable arrangement. But the advertisers, he said, are insisting that the image is not Collins', and that their model releases are in order.
"We had hoped not to file suit, but we have heard their position that it was not her, and we just know that is not the case," Wilson said.
Officials for the theater did not return calls for comment; a lawyer for Serino Coyne said she could not comment until she had reviewed the lawsuit.
Wilson notes in the suit that Collins' companions on the theater wall — a killer rabbit, a cow, and a Frenchman — all refer to characters in the play.
He argues that that implies Collins' image must also refer to a Spamalot character — that of the "witch," Guenevere, the Lady of the Lake.
Collins is a blonde, and Guenevere is played by a brunette, Lauren Kennedy, Wilson concedes. But Sir Dennis Galahad has a line about "soggy old blondes with their backsides in ponds," he notes.
"Carla's likeness portrays Carla as a witch," the suit insists, "with falsely enhanced physical features, and wearing a dress that she was not wearing when the photograph was taken of her in Cape Town, South Africa," the suit says.
"Defendants' use of Carla's likeness depicts [her] in a foolish, unnatural and undignified manner, and tends to hold her up to public ridicule and contempt," the suit says. It calls the use of the image, "shameful, willful, malicious and unlawful," and claims it has greatly damaged her career and caused her "great anxiety of mind, humiliation, and mortification."