Gloria Parker, vaudeville star who played her musical wine glasses in a Woody Allen film – obituary

Ungrateful legal wrangling came to define his life. With her manager and fiancé Barney Young (they never married but remained engaged until his death in 1969), she had written a song called Supercalafajalistickespeealadojus (subtitled “The Super Song”) in 1949. Young claimed that he had invented the tongue twister as a child, and sent the song to Disney in 1951, who rejected it. When they went to see Disney’s Mary Poppins in 1964, they were shocked: “Barney’s face was wax white,” says Parker.

Richard Sherman, who composed the Disney song with his brother, also claimed to have come up with the word as a child, and said he was unaware of the 1949 composition: “As God witness it, I’ve never heard of this song.” When Young and Parker sued for $12 million, Disney brought in experts to prove the two songs were musically different, but were truly saved when their librarian unearthed a 1931 example of “supercaliflawjalistic-expialadoshus” in Syracuse University’s student newspaper.

Decades later, Parker would sue Oscar Hijuelous, author of the 1990 Pulitzer-winning novel The Mambo King Plays Songs of Love, for shabbily caricatured her as Glorious Gloria Parker, lech daiquiri-swilling. In the novel, the Mambo King enjoys romantic success with three of his all-female band, specifically “a Lithuanian trombone player named Gertie whom he made love to against a wall of flour sacks”.

Gloria Parker claimed it was defamatory: “He hurt and crushed me…I don’t even know what a daiquiri is. I live an exemplary life. I have never smoked or drunk. My friends call me nun. As a result, she had lost her job, finding herself “suddenly transformed into a ‘character in that dirty book.’ I was the object of ridicule and gossip…”

The case was an important test of whether people whose names are used in works of fiction can successfully sue for defamation. She lost. “It is hard to believe that an average reader would consider either passage to be defamatory,” the judge ruled.

She turned her exasperation in this lawsuit and others into an album called Corruption Reigns in the Courtroom, its 22 tracks ranging from waltz to samba, with titles such as Money Buys Justice, If You Know the Judge, No Need for the Law and What Happened to Justice?

Sarah C. Figueiredo