Any longtime Marilyn fan will know the challenges we face in preserving her true legacy, and two recent news stories suggest our troubles are only beginning. Toby Walsh, a professor of Artificial Intelligence (AI), believes that by 2050 – a century after she first found fame – Marilyn will be ‘starring in movies via an avatar program that talks and acts like her, with machines having learned her speech and mannerisms from her films,’ reports The Australian.
Even more alarming is an article in The Sun about the burgeoning popularity of sex robots. ‘Marilyn comes up quite often,’ says engineer Douglas Hines, of the public requests for celebrity lookalike dolls. ‘The caveat is we need the approval of the person or family. If you wanted a robot that looked like Marilyn Monroe, you would have to have her estate approve it.’ (The idea of a ‘Marilyn Monroebot‘ was first mooted – albeit in jest – on a 2001 episode of the animated series, Futurama.)
Fortunately, Marilyn’s estate has not granted permission for a robot MM, and hopefully they never will. But how long will it take until ‘bootleg’ sex dolls hit the market? And meanwhile, CGI ‘hologram‘ Marilyns have already been seen in TV ads, with her estate planning digitalised ‘live’ shows starring Marilyn and other dead icons. They can replicate her body, but not her soul, and Monroe fans of the future will have to be ever more vigilant against degrading misrepresentations.
The ongoing legal battle between Marilyn’s estate and nostalgia brand AVELA (previously reported here) has raised an interesting paradox. As Eriq Gardner writes for the Hollywood Reporter, U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Polk Failla rejected the claim that Marilyn’s estate had ‘monopolised’ her image, but allowed the possibility that MM is ‘too generic’ for copyright protection.
“Upon the argument that ‘Marilyn Monroe’ only reminded consumers of a famous historical figure, the Estate argued that such a proposition was tantamount to a per se ‘rule that names of identifiable individuals are…non-distinctive, contrary to existing law.’
Failla, though, responded that the question of whether a mark has become genericized is a factual one, meaning that it’s inappropriate for an early decision. Both sides will have an opportunity to test the facts — perhaps by taking surveys of whether consumers really associate ‘Marilyn Monroe’ with the Estate.
The judge again stresses the early posture of the case (despite the fact that the complicated case is in its third year), and the Marilyn Monroe Estate at least defeats a claim that it committed fraud upon the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, but she’s at least allowing defendants to attack the notion that the Estate enjoys broad trademark rights to ‘Marilyn Monroe.'”
Authentic Brands Group (ABG), the licensing arm of Marilyn’s estate, is suing a clothing company for copyright infringement over a lingerie line, reports IP Watchdog. (This is not to be confused with Marilyn Monroe Envy, an officially approved franchise, which was launched by ABG in 2014.)
“Defendant Fashion Central is a New York City-based manufacturer and wholesaler of intimate apparel, which includes undergarments. In their undergarment packaging, tags, and other branding, defendant utilized Marilyn Monroe’s image alongside phrases that alluded to famous quotes by Ms. Monroe. The defendant does not have a license to use Marilyn Monroe’s likeness or to use the registered trademarks for marketing/branding purposes.
On August 8, 2016, plaintiff became aware of defendant’s unauthorized use of the Marilyn Monroe marks and likeness and sent a cease and desist letter. Defendant continued with their allegedly unauthorized activities, leading to the filing of the complaint that starts this legal dispute. It is worth noting, however, that the defendant did not use the name Marilyn Monroe in any of its marketing, packaging, or other branding. Any association to Marilyn Monroe is based solely on defendant’s use of her visual likeness.
The fact that the Marilyn Monroe name does not appear on any of defendant’s potentially infringing products does not mean there is not a viable trademark infringement case or theory … According to the plaintiff, the Marilyn Monroe trademarks are highly recognizable and distinctive due to her enduring fame. Therefore, both federal and state law dilution claims have also been brought against the defendant.”
Debbie Reynolds, star of Singin’ in the Rain and other classic Hollywood musicals, has died after suffering a stroke, aged 84 – just one day after her famous daughter, Carrie Fisher, also passed away.
She was born Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso, Texas in 1932. As a child she moved with her family to Los Angeles, and was crowned Miss Burbank in 1948. She began her career at Warner Brothers, where she was renamed Debbie.
In Three Little Words (1950), a nostalgic musical about the heyday of Tin Pan Alley, she played Helen Kane, the singer famed for her 1928 hit, ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You‘ (later revived by Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot.)
After moving to MGM, Debbie’s big break came when she was cast in her first dancing role, as chorus girl Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), recently named as the all-time Greatest Movie Musical (and fifth-greatest movie overall) by the AFI. She went on to star in Frank Tashlin’s Susan Slept Here (1954), and with Frank Sinatra in The Tender Trap (1955.)
In 1956, she played a bride-to-be in The Catered Affair. That year, her marriage to singer Eddie Fisher was feted by Hollywood’s fan magazines as the dawn of a new, all-American golden couple. They were swiftly paired in Bundle of Joy, with Debbie playing a shopgirl who takes in an abandoned baby.
Their daughter Carrie was born in 1956, followed by son Todd in 1958. He was named after Eddie’s mentor, theatrical impresario Mike Todd, who died in a plane crash soon after. The Fishers’ seemingly idyllic life was shattered in 1959, when Eddie left Debbie for Mike Todd’s widow, Elizabeth Taylor. The scandal rocked Hollywood, although the two women resumed their friendship after Taylor divorced Fisher a few years later. Debbie married the millionaire businessman, Harry Karl, in 1960.
Debbie was the best-selling female singer of 1957, thanks to her hugely popular theme from Tammy. She later released an album, and went on to appear in Henry Hathaway’s How the West Was Won (1962), and opposite Tony Curtis in Goodbye Charlie (1964), in a role first offered to Marilyn Monroe.
In later years, Debbie would claim that evangelist Billy Graham approached her in 1962, after experiencing a premonition that Marilyn’s life was in danger. As Debbie did not know Marilyn well, she instead contacted a mutual friend, hairdresser Sydney Guilaroff, who allegedly spoke with Marilyn by telephone just hours before her death.
“She was a gentle, childlike girl who was always looking for that white knight on the white horse,” Debbie said of Marilyn, adding, “And why not? What sex symbol is happy?” Debbie also claimed that they attended the same church, although no further details have been uncovered.
Throughout the 1960s, Debbie played a three-month residency in Las Vegas each year. Her performance in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) earned her an Oscar nomination. Her second marriage ended in 1973. Four years later, her daughter Carrie Fisher found fame In her own right as Princess Leia in Star Wars.
Carrie would later become an acclaimed author. Postcards From the Edge, a novel about her close, if occasionally fractious relationship with her celebrated mother, was filmed by Mike Nichols in 1990, with Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine in the leading roles. Todd Fisher has also worked extensively in film, as well as assisting his mother with her business ventures.
The Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio opened in Los Angeles in 1979, and is still thriving. Her third marriage, to real estate developer Richard Hamlett, ended in 1996. She starred in several Broadway musicals and appeared in numerous television shows, including The Love Boat, Hotel, The Golden Girls, Roseanne, and Will & Grace. A former Girl Scout leader, she has also worked tirelessly for AIDS and mental health charities.
Debbie played herself in The Bodyguard (1992), and was reunited with Elizabeth Taylor for a 2001 TV movie, These Old Broads. One of her final roles was as Liberace’s mother in Behind the Candelabra (2013.) Her memoir, the aptly-titled Unsinkable, was published in 2015; and a new documentary, Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, premiered at Cannes in 2016, and has since been acquired by HBO.
Debbie Reynolds will also be remembered fondly for her efforts to preserve the legacy of Hollywood’s golden age, which began when she purchased costumes from classic films (including many made for Marilyn) at an MGM auction in 1970. Her dream of opening a movie museum was sadly never realised, and in 2011, she relinquished her collection.
Among the many Marilyn-related items sold in a two-part event at Profiles in History was the cream silk halter-dress designed by Travilla, and worn by Marilyn as she stood over a subway grate in an iconic scene from The Seven Year Itch. The dress sold for $4.6 million, a sum surpassed only by the sale of Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ dress at Julien’s last month for $4.8 million.
Although the buyer was not named, the Seven Year Itch dress is rumoured to have been purchased by Authentic Brands Group (ABG), the Canadian company which is the licensing arm of Marilyn’s estate.
In daily life, Marilyn often went unrecognised. This rare photo shows her wearing a black wig. When travelling ‘incognito‘, she sometimes used false names (including ‘Zelda Zonk’.)
In the summer of 1953, Joe DiMaggio joined Marilyn in Canada, where she was filming River of No Return. She took these snapshots of Joe during his visit. Also pictured is Jean Negulesco, who had directed Marilyn in How to Marry a Millionaire. Although his work on River was uncredited, Negulesco may have helped to smooth the differences between Marilyn and the somewhat tyrannical Otto Preminger.
Shortly before her third marriage to Arthur Miller, Marilyn converted to Judaism. This Jewish prayer book was probably a gift from Rabbi Robert E. Goldburg.
Some photos of Arthur Miller, including one taken with Marilyn in 1959.
Marilyn’s Minolta 16mm camera. This model was introduced in 1957.
These photos are of the farmhouse at Roxbury, Connecticut, bought by the Millers after their marriage. It is incorrectly identified in the Julien’s catalogue as Marilyn’s Los Angeles abode. The Millers’ country home required extensive renovations. After their marriage ended, Marilyn kept their city apartment while Arthur lived at Roxbury until his death in 2005.
Marilyn with her friend, actor Eli Wallach, in 1957. They would later co-star in The Misfits (1961.)
Correspondence with Xenia Chekhov, widow of Marilyn’s acting teacher, Michael Chekhov.
“A single-page typed, unsigned file copy of a letter dated December 19, 1958, to ‘Mrs. Chekhov’ reading ‘My husband and I were so happy with the pictures you sent us of Mr. Chekhov. We will treasure them forever. I am not able to shop for Christmas, as you may already know I have lost the baby, so I would like you to use this check as my Christmas greetings with all my most affectionate good wishes. My husband sends you his warmest regards.’ The letter is accompanied by Xenia Chekhov’s response written on a notecard dated January 10, 1959, reading in part, ‘[Y]our personal sad news affected me very much and I could not find the courage to write you sooner. All my warmest feelings of sympathy go out to you and Mr. Miller.’ This is a deeply personal note with an acknowledgement of a miscarriage in Monroe’s own words.”
“An assortment of receipts from seven different bookstores: including: Doubleday Book Shop, Beekman Place Bookshop, and E. Weyhe Inc., all of New York City, and Wepplo’s Book Store, Lee Freeson, Martindale’s Book Stores and Hunter’s Books, all of Los Angeles. Titles include The Great Gatsby; Van Gogh’s Great Period; I , Rachel; An Encyclopedia of Gardening; Hi – Lo’s – Love Nest; a book listed simply as ‘Yves Montand’, among others. The receipts are dated 1958 and 1960.”
A Royal Quiet de Luxe model typewriter owned by Marilyn.
Various letters from Marilyn to her stepdaughter, Jane Miller.
“A 1957 letter is written to Janie at summer camp and recounts a number of amusing stories about Hugo the Bassett Hound reading in part, ‘He got kicked by that donkey. Remember him? His nose swelled up with a big lump on top and it really wrecked his profile. I put an ice pack on it and it took several days for it to go down but the last time I saw him it was pretty well healed. Bernice is taking care of him and the house while I am at the hospital.We are going home tomorrow and then I will write you by hand. Listen, I had better stop now because I want to get off a note to Bobby today. Don’t worry about me in the hospital. I am feeling much better now and I have the funniest Scotch nurse.’ (Marilyn had recently been taken to hospital after suffering an ectopic pregnancy.)
The 1958 letter is typed on the back of a piece of stationery from the Hotel Bel-Air and is addressed, ‘Dear Janie-bean.’ The letter, written as Marilyn prepared for Some Like It Hot, reads in part, ‘Thanks for helping me into my white skirt. I almost didn’t make it -but now that I’m busier I’ll start losing weight – you know where. Along with ukulele lessons I have to take I’m learning three songs from the 1920 period. … I don’t know how my costumes in the picture will be yet. I’ll let you know.'”
Three colour slides from the estate of Frieda Hull, showing the Millers leaving New York for Los Angeles in November 1959. Marilyn’s parakeet, Butch, travelled with them. He was a noisy passenger, constantly squawking, “I’m Marilyn’s bird!”
An electroplate ice bucket, made in England, and a receipt for 12 splits of Piper Heidsieck champagne, delivered to the Millers’ bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel during filming of Let’s Make Love in December 1959.
Address books from 1955 and 1962. The first includes a handwritten ‘to-do list’, with entries such as “as often as possible to observe Strassberg’s [sic.] other private classes”; “never miss my actors studio sessions”; “must make strong effort to work on current problems and phobias that out of my past has arisen.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Julien’s sale is that Marilyn was planning to buy a home in New York, even commissioning a series of architectural drawings for a property on East 61st Street in November 1961. In addition to her rented Manhattan apartment, she bought a small bungalow in Los Angeles in 1962, but clearly hadn’t given up her dream of a permanent East Coast base.
“An original letter from John E. Holland of the Charles F. Noyes Real Estate Company dated October 18, 1961, addressed to Miss Marilyn Monroe, 444 East 57th Street, New York, “Attention: Miss Marjorie Stengel” (Monroe’s secretary). The letter reads in part, ‘L]ast summer Mr. Ballard of our office, and I showed you the house at the corner of 57th Street and Sutton Place and Mr. Arthur Krim’s house on Riverview Terrace. I spoke to Miss Stengel yesterday and told her of a house which we have just gotten listed for sale at 241 East 61st Street. She asked me to send you the particulars on this house as she thought you might be interested in it. I am enclosing our setup. … The garden duplex apartment is now occupied by the owner and would be available to a purchaser for occupancy. You may possibly have been in this apartment as Miss Kim Novak … just moved out in September. Before that it was occupied by Prince Aly Khan.’
An original letter from John E. Holland of the Charles F. Noyes Real Estate Company dated November 15, 1961, addressed to Miss Marjorie Stengel, stating, ‘I am enclosing herewith Photostats which I had made of the drawings adding a stairway which would include all or half of the third floor with the duplex garden apartments. These sketches may be somewhat confusing, but I could easily explain them if you would like to have me do so,’ together with six Photostat copies of original architectural drawings for the redesign of an apartment located at 241 East 61st Street in New York. The drawings go into great detail as to the redesign of the apartment, with space for an art studio and specific notes stating, ‘This could be another bedroom or boudoir, or health studio with massage table, chaise lounge, private living room…or…with numerous closets.'”
This grey pony handbag may have been bought by Marilyn during her February 1962 trip to Mexico. She was also a keen gardener, and a Horticulture magazine subscriber.
“An extraordinary, blue cloth over board, ‘project management‘ three-ring binder kept by one of Monroe’s assistants chronicling the purchase and ongoing renovation and decoration of her home located at 12305 Fifth Helena Drive in Brentwood, California. The notebook begins with an information sheet and lot diagram as well as a typed renovation and additions budget for the property totaling $34,877.36 against a purchase price of $57,609.95. The book also contains approximately 28 pages of notes on various renovation projects and to-do lists; a page with notes regarding terracing and planting the hillside; seven drawings of exterior floor plan for possible apartment above the garage for a cook; three renderings of options for a table and another decorative element for the home; and a listing of bills due as of August 16, 1962. The last page of the book lists ‘Moet – Champagne vintage 1952/ et Chandon a Epernay/ Cuvee Dom Perignon – 13.88.’ The book lists dates that furniture is due to be delivered from various suppliers, many after Monroe’s death, as well as dimensions of each room of the home for the purpose of ordering ‘white India’ carpet. It also has estimates to have the pool resurfaced, water heater moved, fountain built, and laundry room and shower expanded for people using the pool as well as notes about decoration of a ‘play room,’ fabrication of a new gate, bars for windows, and shelving to be built, among many other things.
A group of invoices dating to February 28, 1962, from various Mexican boutiques listing the purchase of a great number of pieces of furniture and home furnishings, purchased in Mexico for Monroe’s Fifth Helena Drive residence. Together with a two-page typed signed letter dated July 26, 1962, signed ‘Mura’, giving a full report to Monroe’s secretary Eunice Murray regarding her buying trip in Mexico. The letter demonstrates the fact that Monroe was still quite actively working on her home at the time of her death.”
Following the recent news about the investment firm, Lion Capital, acquiring a minority interest in Authentic Brands Group (ABG) – the company that licenses the estates of Marilyn, and other stars – comes an announcement in the Hollywood Reporter that ABG has signed a deal with One Big Ball Pictures (OBB), a multimedia production company.
“Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali and Shaquille O’Neal are among the Authentic Brands Group brands, which opens the door for OBB to develop film, TV and digital content, both scripted and unscripted, based on these brands.
The plan is for the content to target millennial audiences, introducing this younger generation to these iconic entertainers and artists.
‘ABG owns and manages some of the most iconic and influential brands and celebrities,’ said Michael D. Ratner, founder/CEO of OBB. ‘This partnership provides a vehicle through which we can introduce a broader audience to these icons via unique and engaging content. All of us at OBB grew up following these larger-than-life figures. We are thrilled to tap into their respective histories to bring new stories to existing fans and a younger generation.'”
Lion Capital, a ‘consumer-focused’ investment firm whose clients range from Jimmy Choo to Kettle Foods, are acquiring a minority interest in Authentic Brands Group (ABG), the company which handles licensing of Marilyn’s estate, reports Sys-Con Media. Following ABG’s successful collaborations with Max Factor, SexyHair and other popular brands, it seems likely that the merchandising of Marilyn will further expand under this new alliance.
A press release announcing an interactive, multi-media Marilyn Monroe exhibition has been published at Business Wire. The exhibition will be presented in 2017 by Authentic Brands Group (ABG), the licensing arm of Marilyn’s estate, in partnership with POP Experience, a Las Vegas-based entertainment company. Interestingly, the article has been shared by the estate of Milton Greene on their Facebook page, Archives LLC.
“The POP Marilyn Experience is being curated for a broad audience – from the most avid fans to newcomers. The highly interactive experience will provide a brand new look into Marilyn Monroe’s life, telling the story of how she became one of the world’s most famous female celebrities and why she continues to resonate in the modern, digital age … blending digital, storytelling, and gameplay to create connected immersive experiences. This unique blend of creativity and technology that people use every day allows personalized access and agency into Marilyn’s life.
Audience participation is key to the POP Marilyn Experience, which will allow them to walk in Marilyn’s shoes through intimate experiential content and hands-on interactivity. Combining thought provoking art installations with spectacular design and 21st century light and sound, the exhibition will forge a groundbreaking and lasting impression, outside the scope of a traditional museum exhibit.
With a vast assemblage of rare and many never-before-seen large format photos, a cinema space showcasing films, excerpts and clips from live appearances, original works by famed artists, annotated scripts, movie props and set pieces, home furnishings and artwork from her estate, personal letters and much more, the POP Marilyn Experience will showcase both the public, personal and very private life of the glamorous film star.
More details about the POP Marilyn Experience, including the launch date, city and venue will be announced later in 2016.”
As the legal battle between Marilyn’s estate and merchandiser AVELA continues, the Hollywood Reporter reveals a new development.
“Now, another merchandising company, X One X Movie Archives, associated with AVELA and dragged into this dispute, has asserted its own counterclaims against the Marilyn Monroe Estate. This time, an attempt is being made to go the distance by cancelling trademarks and holding the Marilyn Monroe Estate liable for alleged monopolization and deceptive business practices.
The court filing on Friday (read here) says that when Monroe died in 1962, she bequeathed $25,000 to her personal secretary and divided the rest of her assets between her psychiatrist Dr. Marianne Kris and her acting coach Lee Strasberg. After those two died in the early 1980s, the estate landed in the hands of Strasberg’s widow Anna and Aaron Frosch.
In 2010, after more events happened including legal fights with some prominent photographers, an entity named ABG is said to have purchased Marilyn Monroe LLC, registered trademarks and established themselves as The Estate of Marilyn Monroe LLC.
X One X regards this all as misleading, reporting that other entities own trademarks and copyright to Marilyn Monroe films and characters while the purported official estate run by James Salter works with Leonard Green & Partners to bully others and perpetuate the idea that it holds exclusive rights to Monroe.
Cancelation of trademark registrations is being sought on the grounds that contested marks (like ‘Marilyn Monroe’) lack distinctiveness, only identify a deceased person rather than the source or origin of any product, and are purely functional in that they are used to describe a famous person in the public domain. The ABG group is also alleged to have made false statements to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office to obtain trademark registrations.
The monopolization allegedly happens through a ‘a vertical scheme with its affiliate Leonard Green & Partners’ such that ‘ABG assures licensees that their ABG-licensed Marilyn Monroe-related products will sell exclusively in retailers owned by Leonard Green & Partners,’ precluding lawful competitors.
The counterclaim goes on to say that a judgment in favor of the Marilyn Monroe Estate would perpetuate a monopoly and that it ‘would outlast any period of copyright, would usurp the right of the public (and X One X) to make commercial use of public domain images, and would enable the ABG Parties to unlawfully restrain any use of Marilyn Monroe’s image, likeness or name in commerce.’
AVELA and X One X have a history of precedent-setting legal tangles that have defined the boundaries of intellectual property. Past battles include a skirmish with the Bob Marley estate and another with Warner Bros. This could be an even higher stakes legal fight with the potential of shaking up the Forbes dead celebrity earner list.”
The Mini Marilyn brand, launched last summer by ABG – the official licensing arm of Marilyn’s estate – is heading to China, reports the Wall Street Journal.
“Chinese film company DMG Entertainment has struck a deal with brand-development firm Authentic Brands Group LLC to develop projects for Mini Marilyn, a cartoon version of the late American actress. The two companies plan to develop the character for film, merchandise and in forthcoming retail and entertainment projects, said Dan Mintz, DMG’s chief executive and co-founder. He declined to disclose the financial details.
The companies are betting that Mini Marilyn, a cutesy cartoon version of her blonde bombshell image, will strike it big with Chinese audiences the way that characters like Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse have.
While Marilyn Monroe isn’t a household name in China, Mr. Mintz said most Chinese consumers know ‘Meng Lu,’ Ms. Monroe’s Chinese name, and are familiar with the image of her holding down her white dress in the film The Seven Year Itch.
They also hope Mini Marilyn will have appeal beyond China. ‘This is a global play,’ said Mr. Mintz. ‘When you look at Marilyn and the figure that she is, no one comes close. Everyone knows her.’
DMG hopes Mini Marilyn will pull in women, who are driving the box office in China and in the U.S, said Mr. Mintz. While there’s little data breaking down China’s movie audiences by gender, e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. said that growth of its online movie tickets is driven by women. In the U.S., 52% of moviegoers are women, according to data from the Motion Picture Association.
Mr. Mintz said Mini Marilyn will come to life in short previews over the next few months and then eventually in feature films, TV shows, short form digital content, video games, mobile apps, music and live venue attractions.”