Facebook and the Ownership of Marilyn Monroe

Photo by Harry Snowden

In the light of recent events in which ABG – who handle licensing matters for Marilyn’s estate – have had non-profit, fan pages deleted from Facebook – Marijane Gray has investigated the subject in an article for Yahoo! Voices, speaking to fans and legal experts on copyright and fair use.

‘Authentic Brands Group would do well to heed an actual quote from Marilyn: “If I am a star, the people made me a star.” Well, the people still love their star, and love her so much they will rebel against what they see as the commodification of her. Marilyn was viewed as a cash cow in life, never getting the respect she deserved, and it is a great tragedy that 50 years after her death nothing has changed.’

MAC to Launch MM Autumn Line

According to Harper’s Bazaar, MAC cosmetics have teamed up with ABG to create a ‘nostalgic collection, which will be showcased in custom-designed display units…It’s early days for the collection, which won’t launch in stores until October, but you can expect the most opulent red lipsticks, vintage nail lacquers, inky eyeliners and gorgeous pressed powders.’

Networking With Marilyn

In a bizarre sign of our times, Marilyn Monroe – or rather, ABG, the licensing arm of her estate – is now verified on Twitter. She also has a Facebook page.

While I’m strongly in favour of Marilyn’s estate having a public voice, so far I’m not too impressed by the content – too many misattributed quotes, celebrity shout-outs and product plugs. All in good fun, of course, but nonetheless I don’t think this accurately reflects her rich legacy.

I’d like to see fans having more input in these accounts, and a bit more quality control. Ideally, these accounts should be managed by someone who has an in-depth knowledge of Marilyn’s life and career.

Marilyn 3rd on Forbes List

 

Marilyn comes 3rd on Forbes’ list of Top-Earning Dead Celebrities for 2011, just behind Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. She had dropped off the list during 2009 and 2010, but in the last year her estate has earned $27 million.

Writing for Forbes, Dorothy Pomerantz attributes Marilyn’s ‘comeback’ to ABG, the marketing company that acquired licensing rights this year. I would add that the upcoming 5oth anniversary, and My Week With Marilyn have also played their part.

Merchandising and ‘Mister President’ Movie Plans

 

The New York Times reports this week on ABG’s plans to broaden Marilyn’s appeal after acquiring licensing rights from her estate earlier this year.  “This summer, the group consolidated those rights with several photographic portfolios, including Bruno Bernard’s, along with rights to products like a Marilyn Monroe line of Nova Wines, lingerie by Dreamwear and merchandise by the skateboard company Alien Workshop.”

MM fans may recall (with mixed emotions) that ABG head Jamie Salter spoke earlier this year of plans to ‘reanimate’ Marilyn’s image onscreen. I was reminded of his comment when I read this (slightly alarming) snippet on IndieWire:

Roland Emmerich, whose Shakespeare-subverting drama Anonymous will hit theaters October 28, is planning another trip down history lane, but this time not as far back and not any time soon. The director is planning to make Happy Birthday Mr. President – “The title will tell you everything” – but says digital technology is not yet where it needs to be for him to make it the way he wants, i.e. with digitally manipulated and aged actors. Does this mean Marilyn Monroe will actually be the one singing the famous song to John F. Kennedy on his birthday? We’ll have to wait and see; “I think we have to wait another five years,” says Emmerich. For now, we can watch the real deal, or enjoy Michelle Williams channeling Monroe.’

Of course, I’m just speculating here and Emmerich’s movie plans may have nothing to do with Marilyn, or the ‘reanimation’ rumours. But the title seems to imply that they might, not to mention the need to wait (for improved technology?)

Given that the Monroe-Kennedy association is so contentious, I can only hope that any film on the subject would be done with respect for the truth.

No Sale for Disputed MM ‘Sex Tape’

A 1940s porn film, said by current owner Mikel Barsa to feature an ‘underage’ Marilyn Monroe, failed to sell at auction in Buenos Aires yesterday, after MM’s estate denounced it as ‘fraudulent’.

‘Whoever the woman in the film may have been, even alleging that it shows Monroe violates her intellectual property rights and will cost Barsa dearly if he goes ahead with the sale,’ said Nancy Carlson, a spokeswoman for Authentic Brands Group (ABG.)

Collector Scott Fortner pointed out the many differences between the young Marilyn and the girl in the clip in a recent blog post. Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed, told ABC News, ‘Marilyn at the time of this tape had a very slim figure, a widow’s peak and perfect teeth.’

To the San Jose Mercury, Morgan added, ‘Marilyn had no motivation at all to make a porn movie…Her friends all agree that she never, ever showed any signs of having earned money in any other way than modeling or working as a real actress.’

While conceding that Monroe ‘wasn’t a prude’, Dr Lois Banner (author of MM – Personal) advised, ‘There have been numerous tapes alleging to have caught Marilyn at a particular moment in a particular sexual indiscretion, but I would not accept any such tape without a documented provenance…No one would buy a Miro or a Picasso without such documentation, my understanding is that the person selling the tape has brought none of this forward.’

Mr Barsa – who was previously threatened with legal action when he first revealed his discovery in 1997 –  commented, ‘It always is the same story when it comes to Marilyn – to deny, deny, deny and to threaten.’

Greene, Kelley, Bernard Join ABG

Statement from PR Newswire:

‘Authentic Brands Group (ABG), in addition to its recent acquisition of The Estate of Marilyn Monroe owned in partnership with NECA, Anna Strasberg and Anna Freud Center, announced today it has consolidated the licensing efforts of the Marilyn Monroe brand by signing exclusive agreements to represent the Marilyn Monroe photography of Milton H. Greene, Tom Kelley and Bernard of Hollywood – who together produced the most celebrated and recognized photographs of Monroe.’

CMG Sue After MM Rights Sold

Photo by John Florea

CMG Worldwide, who held the licensing rights to Marilyn’s estate for 20 years, have filed suit in Indianapolis after Lee Strasberg’s widow, Anna, dropped them recently in favour of ABG (Authentic Brands Group.)

‘CMG is asking in the suit for unspecified fees believed to be in the millions of dollars from royalties and other expenses the agency says were agreed upon during the split.

Strasberg reportedly received more than $20 million for the Monroe materials from Authentic Brands, a Canadian company with offices in New York.

CMG’s website continues to show Monroe, along with James Dean and dozens of other dead celebrities, among major clients. Authentic Brands claims to represent her, too.

“We’re still in the Marilyn business,” said Mark Roesler, chairman and chief executive of CMG.

The company negotiated nearly 2,000 product licensing agreements worth millions for her estate and still represents photographers and others who have Monroe pictures or other items.

“Parties change, and the Strasberg group sold to the group from Canada. CMG remains in the intellectual property business, representing the estates of our clients, just not the Strasbergs anymore,” Roesler said.

The latest suit was filed in April in Hamilton Superior Court and then moved last week to the U.S. District Court for Southern Indiana in Indianapolis.

CMG is suing Authentic Brands Group, the Anna Freud Center, Anna Strasberg and her son David, and book editor Stanley Buchthal, plus two limited liability companies created by the defendants.

Roesler and New York attorney Terri Dipaolo, representing Authentic Brands, said the two companies have reached a private agreement, so Authentic Brands may be dropped from the suit. CMG claimed in the suit that at least $1.6 million was owed by Authentic Brands.

The Strasbergs, Buchthal and the Freud Center in London, founded by one of Monroe’s psychiatrists who was named an heir in her will, are accused of fraud and breach of contract in the breakup of CMG’s long-running representation of the estate. Their attorneys could not be reached for comment.’

More at Indystar

 

Irreplaceable Marilyn

‘Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul,’ Marilyn Monroe once said. ‘I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.’

Since Canadian businessman Jamie Salter acquired the rights to license Marilyn Monroe’s image for $50 million from Anna Strasberg last week, there has been talk of Marilyn being ‘reanimated’ in future advertising and even movies.

This is not an entirely new idea – footage from Some Like it Hot was used in a Holsten Pils lager commercial back in 1987, replacing Tony Curtis with Griff Rhys-Jones. But Marilyn’s dialogue remained unaltered.

In a 2010 commercial for Citroen DS3, ‘Anti-Retro’, vintage news footage of Monroe was over-dubbed with promotional dialogue. Some journalists  mistakenly reported that the lines were Marilyn’s, although the original interview is well-known to fans and has appeared in several documentaries.

In December 2010, comedian and writer Mel Smith spoke of the Hollywood director George Lucas‘s plans to reanimate stars of yesteryear in new movies. ‘He’s been buying up the film rights to dead movie stars,’ said Smith of Lucas, ‘in the hope of using computer trickery to put them all together in a movie, so you’d have Orson Welles and Barbara Stanwyck appear alongside today’s stars.’

A Lucasfilm spokesperson denied the rumour as ‘completely false.’ However, Mark Roesler of CMG, the company that licenses the estates of many past celebrities, including – until recently – Marilyn Monroe, confirmed that he had been approached by Lucas.

MM will now be represented by Authentic Brands Group. ‘I had Marilyn Monroe locked up before he told the world he’d like to do a Marilyn Monroe movie,’ chairman Jamie Salter boasted last week, adding, ‘I’ll make him a better deal then he’d get with Angelina Jolie.’

Salter predicts that the first full-length film featuring a dead celebrity could be released within just two years. He insists that he will protect Monroe’s legacy: ‘When she’s on the set, we’ll manage her. She’s not taking off her clothes, I can tell you that!’

What concerns me most about this development is the distinct possibility that Marilyn’s image will be used in ways that she may not have approved had she still been alive. ‘These celebrities don’t talk back,’ Salter told reporters last week. ‘They don’t go out on the town late. They are ready to film every day.’

In 1962, shortly before her death, Marilyn said, ‘An actor is not a machine, no matter how much they want to say you are…everybody is always tugging at you. They’d all like sort of a chunk of you.’ Her words seem as relevant today as they did nearly fifty years ago.