|London teacher Dale Hubert with a Flat Stanley cut-out. (SUN MEDIA/Craig Glover)
He has travelled the globe, met Stephen Harper, Muhammad Ali and George W. Bush, and Universal Studios might make a movie about him.
But Flat Stanley, a paper cut-out that elementary students mail to pen pals around the world, has also landed in hot water.
Dale Hubert, a Grade 3 teacher from London who started the Flat Stanley Project in 1995, is in a legal battle with the estate of the American author who created the character.
The estate wants to take control of Hubert's website, www.flatstanley.com, but Hubert said his project is the reason the character became famous in the first place.
"I feel I've taken the Flat Stanley concept further than (author Jeff Brown) ever did. All I want is the opportunity to continue the Flat Stanley project without interference," Hubert said.
On his lawyer's advice, Hubert made a trademark application for the Flat Stanley name in 2006, but the estate objected to it.
Estate executor Marc Ginsberg would not comment, but released a statement asserting the estate's ownership of Flat Stanley.
"The Trust regrets that energy and resources are now required to oppose Mr. Hubert's application and his attempt to claim intellectual property owned by Jeff Brown," the statement said.
Hubert found Brown's book, Flat Stanley, about a boy magically squished by a falling bulletin board, 13 years ago.
Written in 1964, the book was obscure and nearly out of print when he found it, Hubert said.
He decided it would be a great idea for the kids in his class to decorate their own Flat Stanley cut-outs and mail them to friends, relatives or other classrooms across Canada and the world, accompanied by a journal.
The recipients take pictures with the cut-out and send him back with a letter describing Stanley's adventures.
Hubert fired up the Flat Stanley website when the project began.
Since then, Flat Stanleys have been sent across the globe, been to the Oscars with Clint Eastwood and even taken a trip to Afghanistan to visit Canadian troops.
"I didn't think it would become such an international hit. Jeff Brown was delighted, he came and visited and he invited me and my family to visit him," said Hubert, who received a prime minister's award for teaching excellence in 2001.
"What the project had done was it renewed interest in a book that was almost out of print. Sales were increasing."
With some funding from the Ontario government, Hubert has kept the website up and running since 1995.
But after Brown died in 2003, Hubert said things started to go downhill.
A touring musical starring Flat Stanley opened in 2007, and Universal Studios bought the movie rights from the estate.
In the musical, Stanley mails himself across the world and is referred to as the "world's greatest exchange student."
Hubert said they're stealing his idea.
Most of the Stanley books, were published in the 1960s and followed the adventures of a three-dimensional character named Stanley Lambchop.
In 2002, Brown wrote a new book called Stanley Flat Again.
Hubert said that wouldn't have happened if he hadn't started the pen pal project.
"In the book, he was never a pen pal. There's just one page where he wants to visit his friends in California so he mails himself in a letter," he said. "That's the part that I took and I expanded, and I feel I've developed a separate entity apart from the book."
Now Hubert, who said he was never paid for any of the work he did promoting the character, has been asked to give up his website and shift his project to a new name, www.flatstanleyproject.com.
Brown's estate plans to use www.flatstanley.com to sell merchandise and promote the musical.
Hubert said keeping the site going and screening Flat Stanley applicants is full-time work, and to lose his project now would be heartbreaking.
"I would just like to be able to continue to do it on my own. I don't think I've made many false steps here, I have increased the brand and I've provided them 13 years of free web service."
The two sides are gearing up for a legal battle that Hubert said he can't afford. "If I could find a lawyer to work pro bono maybe I would have a chance, but I'm a Grade 3 teacher."