Monroe Estate Opposes ‘Virtual Marilyn’

Wardrobe test for Love Nest (1951)

Marilyn’s estate is at the centre of yet another legal battle, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

“Virtual Marilyn LLC says it holds copyright registrations encompassing ‘audiovisual work and character artwork depicting a computer-generated virtual actress adopting the persona of Marilyn Monroe.’

The Marilyn Monroe estate has been threatening this virtual character for some time. More than two years ago, we wrote about a volley of legal letters upon talk that ‘Virtual Marilyn’ would be taken on the road to sing and interact with live music stars.

Since then, the Marilyn Monroe estate suffered a great legal loss. In August 2012, in the midst of a battle over licensed photographs, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the estate couldn’t claim in court anymore that the legendary actress was living in California at the time of her death. She was domiciled in New York instead. While such a detail as her place of residence at the time of a drug overdose might seem trivial, New York’s publicity rights laws are far less generous than California’s. Most importantly, New York doesn’t allow post-mortem publicity rights.

So forget about publicity rights, but what about other potential claims? The Monroe estate reportedly makes up to $30 million a year in licensing income, so the question is definitely important.

According to the new lawsuit, Monroe’s estate has conveyed word that ‘use of Marilyn Monroe’s identity and persona without the Monroe Estate’s prior authorization constitutes unfair competition and false designation of origin’ — claims grounded in the Lanham Act — and that its adversary couldn’t use or license ‘marks, names, logos, designs, avatars, or the like.’

So the company now owning ‘Virtual Marilyn’ is going to court for declaratory relief, citing both the previous 9th Circuit opinion, plus more precedents, like the U.S. Supreme Court’s very important 2003 Dastar ruling, which stands for the proposition that trademarks can’t be used as perpetual swords to counter copyrighted work falling into the public domain.

‘Accordingly, in view of these appellate precedents, it is difficult to fathom that the courts would somehow accord a longer period of private protection for a trademark than the time-period that governs the underlying publicity/persona rights from which the trademark interest derives,’ states the complaint filed in New York federal court by attorney Michael Wolk.

The plaintiff has designs of its own. It’s both attempting to knock down defendants’ intellectual property grab while maintaining its own authority to obtain trademark protection on its own ‘branding rights’ associated with the CG Marilyn Monroe. A ‘fractured ownership situation’ involving Marilyn Monroe is not a problem, it argues, because disclaimers can always be used to “make it clear to consumers that the Monroe Estate has no affiliation with the Virtual Marilyn character or the Virtual Marilyn brand.’

Interestingly, it’s remarked in the lawsuit that when the late actress was living, she never registered any aspect of her persona as a trademark and was conscious about who she belonged to.

As Monroe once said, ‘I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful, but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.'”

 

ABG Unveils ‘Mini Marilyn’ Brand

The official licensing wing of Marilyn’s estate, Authentic Brands Group, has announced yet another range of Marilyn-related merchandise, which looks quite sweet although ABG’s commercial ventures so far have been a mixed bag. It also raises issues of whether it is ethical to directly target younger consumers, but then, that is nothing new.

‘Mini Marilyn is targeted to girls, ages 8 to 16, with playful, age-appropriate styles,’ reports License Mag. ‘With her trademark blonde hair and red lips, Mini Marilyn is designed to empower girls to be confident, take risks and dream big…ABG will debut the new brand for the first time at Licensing Expo next week in Las Vegas, Nev. Target categories for the brand include apparel, accessories, tech accessories, toys, mobile apps and virtual goods.’

Anatomy of a Lingerie Ad

ABG, the licensing arm of Marilyn’s estate, has launched yet another brand. Marilyn Monroe Envy is a range of lingerie – which is ironic, since Marilyn found underwear confining and avoided it whenever she could.

The cover image is a merging of two well-known Milton Greene photos. Some fans are unhappy with this, when there are so many thousands of gorgeous originals to choose from. However, Milton’s son Joshua has stated that a unique, one-off image had been commissioned for the advertising campaign.

Merged image without lettering and colouring. Thanks to Fraser Penney

When asked if she wore anything at all to her famous calendar shoot, Marilyn memorably replied, ‘I had the radio on.’ However, at the foot of the page on the website, another sentence has been added – ‘I did too have something on.’ In fact, she never said this. The phrase ‘did too’ was not commonplace in Marilyn’s time, and makes her sound rather like a stroppy teenager!

While I understand the desire to keep Marilyn’s image up-to-date for marketing purposes, I can’t help feeling that her essence is being sidelined, and am doubly concerned that her estate seems to be encouraging this.

For Girls Who Wear Glasses

Marilyn’s estate has teamed up with Allure Eyewear to create a new range of spectacles, reports Women’s Wear Daily. (The cherry pattern in the above model seems inspired by Marilyn’s rodeo dress from The Misfits, while the retro design recalls her near-sighted character, Pola, in How to Marry a Millionaire.)

“Inspired by the iconic actress, the eyewear includes animal-printed frames and upswept cat eye silhouettes. Each style is adorned with subtle Swarovski crystals for an extra note of glam. Marilyn Monroe eyewear brand will consist of ‘The Marilyn’ Limited Edition Sunglass which will retail for $495, the Silver Screen Sun collection that will retail from $98 to $168 and the Optical collection that will retail between $150 and $180.

Allure Eyewear will donate all profits from ‘The Marilyn’ sunglass to Hollygrove, which was once an orphanage where Marilyn lived as a child and is now an EMQ FamiliesFirst agency that helps children in crisis.”

MM Estate Sues Florida Strip Club

A West Palm Beach strip club is being sued by Marilyn’s estate for copyright infringement, reports the Sun-Sentinel:

“Marilyn Monroe may have been the most prominent sex symbol of the last century, but her image cannot be used to promote a highbrow West Palm Beach strip club, her estate argued in a federal lawsuit filed last week.

Monroe’s of Palm Beach is infringing on the late actress’ trademark by using her name and image in its signs, its Twitter account and its very name, according to the lawsuit filed by the estate of Marilyn Monroe, which is based in New York.

Until recently, some of its fliers featured a silhouette reminiscent of the iconic scene from The Seven Year Itch in which Monroe’s skirt is blown from a blast of air coming from a subway vent.

A manager at the West Palm Beach club, who identified himself only as John, said the business has stopped using the skirt silhouette, but denied the club is trying to profit from the memory of Marilyn Monroe. The club uses images of numerous 1950s stars, including Lana Turner, Bettie Page and the Rat Pack, he said.

‘Monroe,’ he said, was the name of the club owner’s cat, and the name was chosen in jest as a challenge to Rachel’s, a rival strip club believed to be named after its owner’s cat.”

Marilyn at Macy’s

 US department store Macy’s has launched a teen range inspired by Marilyn, reports the New York Times.

“Macy’s plans to carry Marilyn Monroe designs in 150 stores, targeting younger shoppers with updated styles for modern blond bombshells. Not to sound prudish, but this means shorter, racier, Kardashian-er.

Take a very little red dress for $59.50, a preview of what is to come, sold at Macy’s this month to benefit the American Heart Association. It evokes several famous Monroe looks, only she typically wore her dresses below the knee, as opposed to below the nothing. Denim shorts, $39.50, are cut short enough to see pockets.”

The range – which was designed in conjunction with ABG, the licensing arm of MM’s estate – seems very loosely connected to Marilyn’s own style. While I appreciate that their aim was to modernise, you could construct this ‘look’ in any chain store, and for far less money.

While I’m glad that ABG are keeping Marilyn’s profile high, I had hoped for a better quality product than this seems to be.

 

Marilyn’s Gift to London’s Children

Marilyn by Willy Rizzo, 1962

London’s Anna Freud Centre for children suffering from mental health problems, a beneficiary of Marilyn’s final will (via Dr Marianne Kris), has been given a £5 million windfall by her estate, reports the Daily Express.

“The Anna Freud Centre in Hampstead, north-west London, has been supported by the Hollywood movie legend’s will since 1980.

Recently, however, the clinic, which helps distressed children with mental health problems, has benefited from a £5 million windfall.

The money was proceeds from Marilyn’s iconic image when the rights were sold by her estate to a commercial branding company for up to £30 million…

…She made her psychiatrist, Dr Marianne Kris, a beneficiary of her will provided she used the money to help children…When Dr Kris died in 1980 she bequeathed her Monroe rights to the clinic. Anna Freud and Dr Kris were family friends and the two worked together throughout their careers in psychoanalysis.”

Marilyn’s Will and Her Beneficiaries

Marilyn with poet Norman Rosten and his wife, Hedda, in 1955

NPR takes a look at Marilyn’s will. Made in 1961, it remains controversial, and it’s rumoured that she had wanted to change it in the weeks before her death.

“Monroe grew up in an orphanage and foster homes. She had no relationship with her father, and her mother spent most of her adult life in mental institutions. In her will, the actress set up a trust to care for her mother until she died; left money to her half-sister, who Monroe didn’t even know existed until she was 12; and made bequests to a poet friend and his wife (she loved poetry, and even wrote some herself) and to others she trusted.

According to Anthony Summers, who wrote a best-selling Monroe biography, the people named in her will got to know her as a real person who loved children, animals and cooking.

‘They took Marilyn under their wings,’ he says. ‘They gave her uncomplicated privacy and companionship.’

Monroe also left a bequest to her psychoanalyst, Marianne Kris.

‘She felt that [Kris] was very helpful and sympathetic,’ says Sarah Churchwell, author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe. ‘She found that [Kris] was starting to help her understand what it was that she was going through.’

After Kris died, her portion of the estate was transferred to the Anna Freud Centre in London, which is dedicated to working with children with mental health problems. Churchwell says Monroe would have approved.

‘That would have made her really happy,’ Churchwell says. ‘She did want to do good, and she wanted to feel as if she had accomplished something.’

But Monroe left the bulk of her estate to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg. He and his wife, Paula, also one of her acting coaches, were like surrogate parents to Monroe. When Strasberg died in 1982, his second wife, Anna, inherited the Monroe estate and eventually hired CMG Worldwide, a company that specializes in managing the estates of dead celebrities, to license Monroe products. That’s when the actress started making big money.

Several years and a variety of lawsuits later, Strasberg sold what remained of the Monroe estate to a new company, Authentic Brands Group, or ABG, for an estimated $20 to $30 million. Strasberg remains a minority partner in the deal.”