When SuperBooty singer Mark O'Hara chose the name of Skippy Tornado for his first solo project, he didn't know he'd be facing a bigger storm in the form of a legal battle with a Florida woman who has been involved in the rights to the Skippy name for most of her 76 years. Joan Crosby Tibbetts, whose father Percy Crosby created a cartoon character named Skippy in 1923, sent O'Hara threatening letters and pledged to battle him until he ceases and desists.
Tibbetts is a force to be reckoned with. Her trademark battle with the Alameda company that began producing Skippy peanut butter in 1933 is one of the longest in history. It reached the Supreme Court in 2004, which rejected her plea. But that hasn't stopped her from making her case at www.skippy.com and from hiring lawyers to pursue O'Hara.
Tibbetts says she has persisted in her fight to preserve the Skippy name despite death threats and what she calls a "conspiracy" that had her father, a cartoonist as famous in his day as Charles M. Schulz, imprisoned in a mental hospital for his last 16 years. She compares her legal struggle to that of intermittent-windshield-wiper creator Robert Kearns, whose fight for his invention is documented in the new film Flash of Genius.
It all seemed innocent enough to O'Hara, the 46-year-old frontman of SuperBooty, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1999. In wigs and shiny suits, the 15-member S.F. disco farce ensemble played with Kool and the Gang and Parliament-Funkadelic and earned a loyal Bay Area following for its funk-in-a-Spinal-Tap mode. Two years ago, SuperBooty folded up its tent when many of the members chose starting families over disco nights.
The singer then resurrected the name Skippy Tornado, the nickname friends gave the lanky, high-wired O'Hara 20 years ago when he formed his first band Brutilicus Maximus in Chico, which played what he describes as "devil disco." As Skippy Tornado, he began writing heavy-metal songs for kids, inspired by his five-year-old nephew's favorite subject: bodily functions. He recorded tunes such as "Barfed in my Backpack," "Who Took a Dump in my Lunchbox?," "Big Boobed Babysitter," "Furious Fart Knocker," and — I swear this one is actually funny —"Jack Johnson's Big Black Johnson."
When Tibbetts found O'Hara's Web site at www.skippytornado.com, she was less than amused. "There is a video that shows him retching," she says. "I mean, come on. A lot of Skippy fans and supporters looked at his site and said, 'Jesus God, this is obscene.' I demanded that he shut down the site, failing which he will be sued."
O'Hara, whose site is ablaze with Flash animation and music, thinks he can outlast Tibbetts, largely because his stage character is a live performer who has nothing to do with Crosby's cartoon or with peanut butter. Also, he says, he has no assets for her to take.